Parenthood and Place: Notes on Writing About Stuff When You Have Nothing New to Say

Aside from being commissioned to write ridiculously detailed 20,000 word guides for relocating to Chinese cities I’ve never even visited much less lived in (I’ve written ten of these in the past year, which must qualify for a work of relentless, massive fiction on par with Tristram Shandy or War and Peace), I’ve been notably silent on the textual front for nearly a year now.

Well, notable to me, at least. I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed. My productivity has slowed to a post every month or so, and even these have been half hearted and forced and not exactly inspired.





I could blame Thwack- lovely, smiley, howly, bitey, energetic, impatient, restless toddlers are the black holes of the coherent, expansive adult mind.

I haven’t had time or energy to formulate a proper, well thought out notion in ages. When I do have the time to theoretically put together a thought (nap time, going for a walk, Sunday afternoon babysitter time), my brain roars with the deafening rattle of cerebral cicadas, with half formulated sentences bouncing around, banging against my skull walls, not quite going anywhere.

I don’t want to put those rattly brain thumps into writing because they’d all just be a sentence long, hesitant, ridiculous and always ending in ellipses.

But I’m not going to blame Thwack because that’s just lazy. He’s a really nice, interesting kid. His animal noises are expert.




My tiny little corner of Hanoi.


I could blame Hanoi- it often feels like a mad, noisy, thoughtlessly propulsive city, where everyone and everything is obsessed with just moving forward, regardless of who or what’s in front of them or how they get there.

It’s tricky to write a non-whiny, nuanced piece about a place and your place within that place when you spend your days trying to not get hit by big black SUVs with tinted windows and guys with mad egos at the helm or having to squeeze yourself and your toddler flat against a mildewed concrete wall (again) because there’s no sidewalk and no motorized vehicle recognizes your right to be on the road, propelled by just your two blistered feet. I’ve had my arm clipped by taxi wing mirrors and my leggings hooked and shredded by cocky young guys on scooters who cut a bit too close.

Or the constant loud drone of relentless construction- the drilling and hammering and clanking cement trucks- at all hours of the day and night, on all sides (currently three sites surrounding our house, deep in a previously calm alley), so loud that it has become an expected backdrop to whatever is playing on the laptop.

Or the powerful summer heat that makes any excursions between 11am and 4pm brutally dizzying and sweaty, with outdoor public places emptied of human life and the roads filled with faceless women on scooters covered up in their full-body zip up anti-sun suits.

But I’m not going to blame Hanoi and all it entails because that’s also really just lazy and reductionist and incorrect.

I’ve met and spoken with a lot of people who are invigorated by and inspired by this city- something I have so far failed to feel.

That’s my own fault. I’m barely even tapping into the possibilities and I know it.

The ones who thrive here are the ones who are putting themselves boldly out there- the ones not working from home, the ones without kids,  the ones who do have kids but who also have extended families or nannies or kindergartens and contact with a wider world. There’s art and awesomeness out there, but they’re tricky to access with a sweaty, bored toddler strapped to your front.

Neither the urchin nor the city are to blame, nor are they really as mentally debilitating as they sometimes seem.

That’s just how it feels when I find myself drained and annoyed and a bit freaked out by the fact that I haven’t had the time, energy or wherewithal to do any of the things that used to be the cornerstones of my self-defined self: the writing, the cooking, the music, the curious exploration, the invigorating and spontaneous social encounters, the sense of taking intellectual and emotional ownership of a place and riffing on it.

Not even mops.


hanoi reggae mop

Reggae Mop remains uncaptioned.


My current world is a surprisingly small and repetitive place. It’s a bit embarrassing. I don’t really want to write about my limitations.

I walk the same walks every day and know the lotus ponds and alleys in our neighborhood intimately. I read Thwack the same books over and ever and play the same peekaboo-level games until I feel my brain glaze over. We have routines and patterns and rhythms. They are comfortable. They are unchallenging. They are remarkably solitary. They are not bold or innovative or worth parsing.

Maybe I’ll get the hang of things again next year.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.