Writer's Note: Anna Goldsworthy on Welcome to Your New Life
When I fell pregnant with my first child, I felt ill-equipped by my reading for what was to follow. ‘English literature had never interested itself in mothers or motherhood,’ said Germaine Greer, although there have been notable exceptions, such as brilliant memoirs by Rachel Cusk and Anne Enright. I wondered if motherhood had been considered too lowly a subject for serious literature, or perhaps it is just that mothers have been too busy. Childbirth is such a comprehensive assault on everything – your body, your mind, your day, your night – that survival becomes a greater priority than making art. There you are, as close to the mystery as you will ever be, and you have neither the faculties to grasp it nor the memory to record it. It is an experience that is largely inarticulate; an experience in which the body trumps the mind. And if you do try to write about it, you quickly discover that you have – well – genre issues. This is because your entire life now has genre issues. Is it comedy? Poetry? Horror? Could it really be all three at the same time?
When I became a new mother, I jotted things into my notebook because it’s what I had always done. After childbirth, these jottings became proof against amnesia. The magnificent trauma was already receding, and I hurried to transcribe it. And then, amidst the chaos of early motherhood, I continued writing in order to reclaim some small skerrick of self. As if to thwart me, the narrative immediately veered to second person: the infant’s ever-demanding you. Over the months that followed, I wrote through my anxiety, clinging to my pen as an emblem of sanity and perspective. Then I entered the foreign countries of Mothers’ Group and Sleep School, and continued writing out of anthropological curiosity. Mother love fascinated me in all of its forms – not least mother vanity (in this I was my own chief specimen). The book that emerged is a document of anxiety and a testament of obsession, but also a love letter to my oblivious child.
I was so pleased when Mitchell Butel approached me about an adaptation for State Theatre Company South Australia. It soon became clear that the device of second person lent itself to the theatre, as you – the audience – become the beloved you of the baby. And the implied music of the journey has become much more explicit, bursting through the texture in Alan John’s gorgeous songs. It’s been a great pleasure working on this production with this brilliant creative team: motherhood has never felt less lonely. I just wish I had the backing vocals for those early chaotic years.