Nobody Does it All

Nobody Does it All

I'm always suspicious of those impeccably clean houses where children also live. I imagine that the parents either made a pact with evil forces and have no further use for sleep, or they have found a legal way to temporarily sedate the sand storm energy of humans under the age of 10. 

When I look at my living room, I often feel like Sisyphus, and the Cheerios and juice boxes on the floor are my eternal tormentors. 

Between my 9-5 job, the children, my publishing deadlines, my performance schedule, and quality time with my husband, there aren't even 60 seconds to put this year's school photos into photo albums (but they are the neatest pile in the place where I keep all my piles. What kind of mother do you think I am?).

My poet-mom-friend Cheryl Boyce-Taylor (check out her new book Arrival!) asked me once, "Woman, how do you manage to do it all?"

I don't. And no one does, actually. Don't let their hotel lobby living rooms fool you. There are closets (and emotions) full of hastily hidden items, just waiting to burst out.

So please release yourself from the pressure of being what you believe to be perfect and just visualize an ice tray. You are the water. Every day, a little bit of you gets poured into one cube called poetry, more goes into another cube called exercise, even more goes into the cubes called parenting, bills, and so on, and so on. When there's no more water but still empty cubes called thank you notes and networking lunches, that's when you go to the reservoir of your friends, family, and the Internet. You ask for help!

I did something fantastic for myself last year around my birthday--I asked for help. 

If there were a contest for the most stubborn and fiercely independent people alive, my parents would enter my name and my address. I can hear my mother's Jamaican accent now. "She determined, you see?" 

Hey, I like all my successes to be my very own. But I've also learned that you will fail miserably at everything if you're exhausted, mentally scattered, or pushing your health beyond safe limits. Allow the right others to help you help yourself, and have zero guilt about it. 

If writing and making art is your highest goal, then you simply must outsource much of the mundane. And yes, you can afford it. 

Here's my advice for working-parent-artists-multitalents:

  1. Hire a house cleaner. I used to feel guilty about this until I saw the futility of trying to clean a 3 bedroom townhouse at 11 pm on a Saturday, after groceries, laundry, ALL the children's activities, and scheduled fun time with my spouse and/or friends goddammit! My husband teaches high school and you already know what I do. We needed to make time to rest, and just enjoy our family. For the cost of dinner for 4 in an average restaurant twice a month, you can get a reliable house cleaner to come in twice a month and spare your mature knees. So start cooking at home more often and divert those sushi take-out funds to an individual or cleaning service. You won't regret it.
  2. Find an assistant. I found a great personal assistant on And there are many similar sites where you can post what you need and find someone anywhere in the world to match your needs. Their rates vary widely. Another option doesn't involve money at all. You could be a great mentor and professional resource to a young person, who in return handles your social media strategy, for example. Experience, knowledge, and access are the real professional currency, as we know, so put feelers out and create a meaningful mutual exchange. Don't be shy about asking your family and friends either; we have to support each other to really get anywhere. And you'll never know unless you ask. 

  3. Designate a sacred hour. This has to do with time management, people. Look, there's just no way around it. And it doesn't matter your financial status, or whether or not you have children. All of my books have been written during the sacred hour, which no person or situation is allowed to interrupt (ask my mother about my temper too). Between dropping the children at school or waiting for them to finish their piano or violin lessons, or riding the subway to work, there's a sacred hour in there. You have to decide to claim it. Now you may not get deep enough into yourself to write a whole poem or a chapter in an hour, but you can get the bones of it down on paper, the main ideas, the outline. In a word, you can empty your brain. Or, you can let that sacred hour be your time of stillness, meditation, and relaxation. Turn your phone off and just be present. These sacred hours are tiny conscious pressure valves that release the tensions of just living in a world that seems to move at the speed of a text message. If you've done this every day of the week, you can then block out two Saturday's a month to consolidate what came out of these hours, and in a year, you may well have that first draft of a poetry manuscript or a novel. So step away from the illusory race to acquire--money, attention, stuff--and explore the terrain of your own mind. That is where the all the best art comes from, but you have to consciously go there to retrieve it. 

I hope you give yourself some slack in 2018 and realize that you only need to do one thing excellently, instead of 10 things shoddily. No one does it all, but putting your all into one good thing that only you can do will open a thousand new doors for you. 

Good luck. And sign up for my monthly newsletter at I've got some great events in store this year, including being Bloomfield College's Scholar-in-Residence for its annual Writing From The Margins conference. Go me! So let's stay connected.