Another Thursday Edition of:
How to Balance Your Life.
Today my featured guest is Pamela Bitterman
How one balances a writing career with “real life”, or in my case raising a family, is a question close to my heart. I have written and had published three books and one homily thus far and have two new books in the cooker as we speak (write?).
I am extremely fortunate to be able to write full time these days. However when I penned my first book, Sailing To The Far Horizon; The Restless Journey and Tragic Sinking of a Tall Ship, I was chin deep in kids, dogs, husband, household and the daily call of myriad activities attached to being an Uber-Mom. One would think that under those circumstances, getting my mind right to write would have been a challenge. Yet I found the shift from mom/wife to writer/author to be as peaceful and welcoming a transformation as the soft sultry breeze following a chilly rain squall.
Please, make no mistake. I have always loved being “mom”, raising our brood, juggling all the various demands of the alpha parent in the home (my wonderful husband has always been the bread-winner). Conversely, however, conforming to the typical “housewife” designation was what initially presented a problem and ultimately resulted in a concession I was would never be able to pull off gracefully.
My husband and I embarked upon family life while living aboard our own traditionally rigged and maintained fifty-foot brigantine sailing vessel. Our son was a year old when we purchased her, our daughter born on board a year later. I was a mom, to be sure. But I was a “Boat Mom”, and that distinction carried with it a particular pride and a call to arms – arms, hands, feet and fingernails – that suited me to a tee.
The role of sailor was one my husband and I had been forced to relinquish a couple years earlier when we lost our circumnavigating schooner, which was our home and our chosen lifestyle, in a violent storm off the North Cape of New Zealand. We miraculously survived the sinking (read the full account in my first book). But in the wake of our rescue, we found having to squeeze our by then very square-pegged, wander-lusting sea-bum personas into land bound predictable family dictated round holes was a feat akin to finessing the toothpaste back into the tube.
I immediately took to the earth-mother role itself with natural organic aplomb. However, performing all the strange tasks and assuming the unfamiliar responsibilities expected of a “suburban (albeit admittedly unlikely suburb) soccer mom” was infinitely more difficult. Consequently, I became able to justify all the mundane foreign parts I was suddenly having to play by reminding myself that I’d be returning each day to my singularly unique home and life afloat; my dock, my boat, my berth, my galley, my ongoing varnish, paint and rigging projects, and all my familiar and oddly soothing shipboard responsibilities.
Then a decade or so later, when my husband correctly sensed that our kids would soon outgrow their shared bedroom in our boat’s warm and woody lovingly child decorated and outfitted fore-peak, we bought a house. And with all the wonderful new space, amenities, comforts, and convention that it afforded, I found that rather than reveling in the decadence, I became destitute, lost and foundering. Stripped of my former contented shipboard character born of fifteen years living and working aboard proud salty sailing vessels, I had difficulty recognizing the woman I was being asked to become. So when I settled on the notion that I could use my new-found extra time and unnaturally empty hands to pen the true story of my previous life, love and loss aboard a circumnavigating tall ship, I discovered that I found myself again, someone in whose skin I felt comfortable and confident. And I was “home”.
Writing that first book became for me a catharsis, an escape, a near demented obsession. I wrote at the kitchen table while the kids were at school and the dogs were nose-butting my ankles. I wrote longhand with furious pencil on fat yellow legal pad. I wrote for blurred hours at a stretch, blew out my shoulder, filled over a thousand pages with the sea, the storms and the calms, the ports, the people, the brave and adventurous gal that I had once been. I wrote to reclaim her. I succeeded. I found myself rescued once again. But this time the act was not merely for myself, it was so that who and what their father and I had once been would now be forever memorialized for our children as well.
My next two books and the adventures that prompted them have taken my life on a life of it’s own. Today I have nothing but time to travel, and to then write about my journeys. Though surprisingly, I find this new freedom to be almost as much of an impediment as an asset. Talk about pressure! I now face not only the blank page but also the blank daily planner, blank calendar, blank future! And all of it is waiting to be filled in, meaningfully, purposefully, solely by moi. It is daunting to exist outside the comfortable confines of an imposed writing (to say nothing of living) schedule. Consequently I have learned a new form of discipline – to continue to take dangerous, exciting leap-of-faith journeys, and to then make myself carve out the hours for committing these ventures to print. It is daunting, yet Child, You Are Miracle, MUZUNGU; A-frican Lost Soul’s Reality Check, and When This Is Over, I Will Go To School, And I will Learn To Read; A Story Of Hope And Friendship For One Young Kenyan Orphan, are the happy results of this new writing regime. And I hope they are just the beginning.
Pamela Bitterman’s first book, Sailing To the Far Horizon, published by Terrace Books a Trade Imprint of The University of Wisconsin Press, the author’s own story of life, loss, and survival at sea is graphically biographical. It encapsulates the author as product of the first thirty years of her life. It is published in hard cover, and will soon be released in paperback as well as digitally. A translated version titled MOT SODERHAVET has been published in Sweden by NORSTEDTS, NAUTISKA BIBLIOTEKET.
Muzungu, the author’s Travel/Adventure/Memoir of her unlikely escapades throughout Kenya picks up on that journey a couple decades later.
She has also written an award winning (CBC GOLD MEDAL WINNER and SHARP WRIT BOOK AWARD FIRST PLACE WINNER) children’s book titled When This Is Over, I Will Go To School, And I Will Learn To Read; A Story of Hope and Friendship for One Young Kenyan Orphan.
Finally, the author has penned a homily entitled, Child, You Are Miracle, published by World Vision.
Links to these, plus PR Events, reviews, and trailers to her three published books can be found on her website: www.pamelasismanbitterman.com
Bitterman’s writing has emerged amidst her travels, adventures, and finally her marriage and children, her persona as wife and mother – the heart of her; the author as her best self.
Her future remains to be seen, and to be told.