I was really excited to see a full house at Polly Rosenwaike’s reading at Literati. She read the first story from her book Look How Happy I’m Making You, titled “Grow Your Eyelashes.” There was a Q & A afterwards hosted by her colleague, followed by a book signing. There were a few speaking points that really stuck with me.
One was Rosenwaike’s description of her writing process and timeline. She said that this book took her twelve years to write—which equates to about twenty pages per year. She is not a fan of outlines; instead, she often starts with an idea or a feeling, or she moves the story forward based on her characters’ motivations. This makes me think of the process for crafting a poem. The birth of most poems, from personal experience, begin with an idea. But because of the nature of poetry—how it is a culmination of linguistic surprises and skill—the poem unfolds itself as it is written. Poets often do not know what the finished product will look like. Once it is on paper, the poem seems to grow separate from the poet. This felt very much true about Rosenwaike’s work. Many of her short stories have been published in various magazines before she released her book. They have grown over time, and she has edited each narrative based on where each one wanted to go and what they wanted to do.
Another talking point that resonated with me was her process of choosing a title. She went through several ideas, some of which were rejected by her editor (such as “Baby Person”). Initially, she read through poems for inspiration. Eventually, she skimmed through her own stories and found the line that she thought was both intriguing and informative on the overarching themes and purpose within the short stories. “Look How Happy I’m Making You” was said by one of her characters who appeared in “Grow Your Eyelashes.”
“Grow Your Eyelashes,” and other stories in the book, interlaces the joys, griefs, and ironies of early motherhood. From wanting a baby, to needing a baby, people often romanticize parenthood. Even from the beginning, they search for answers. Do babies really make people happier? How do you care for this new living being? There are books and articles and poems and essays on how to raise a child. Motherhood propels people toward the search of information and the need for a community. As Rosenwaike said, infants are very much like birds. They flap and chirp and make a mess. They don’t yet communicate (at least well), and it can often feel like a one-sided relationship when you are a mother. It is not until later that the child begins to become “more human.” Motherhood and the domestic role of a woman comes with unforgiving scrutiny. How can one survive it without a supportive community?
Rosenwaike’s book is in conversation with Rachel Cussk’s A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother, and Helen Simpson’s Getting a Life.
You can purchase her book at places like Literati, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.
More info on Polly Rosenwaike can be found here.