[CONVERSATION]: Mining the Margins of Motherhood with Dominique Matti
Self-described as a ruminator, Dominique Matti engages her memory and living in tandem to articulate the value of her presence, on her own terms. She articulates the totality of her experience with a warmth that aims to be fair not kind. Matti's Medium and medium are the match striking her readers' throats — an opening and invitation feral in its honesty.
— On ‘sacrifice’
Ashanti of A Note to Zami: What is the sacrifice like on both sides of the fence — when you feel like you don’t balance motherhood or you don’t balance writing?
Dominique Matti: My mom raised me by herself; so there was a lot of demand on her. That meant that a lot of things that I wanted from her didn’t get met and because of that with my kids I struggle a lot with feeling like I’m unavailable to them, or I struggle with being unavailable.
One thing that I had to learn early on, particularly with Miles, before I had Theo was that when you don’t have your own needs met, it’s very easy to get resentful being in a position of meeting other people’s needs. With my writing and motherhood, I’ve had to figure out how to learn to merge the two. To see writing as taking care of myself and to see taking care of myself as taking care of my children. Because when I don’t, it impacts everything. There’s so much stigma around taking time for yourself as a parent and creating boundaries for yourself as a person. It’s hard, it’s really hard not to have multiple vantage points at once and to be decisive about that.
I am simultaneously aware of the fact that I am a person but also really aware of the fact that my children can’t intellectualize that. So it’s this weird tension between wanting to be able to assert “Mommy needs to take care of herself and do this right now, because Mommy’s a person.” But also to them, I’m just not there. I wish I had a clear cut answer but for now, right now, it’s really a struggle constantly to assert my own needs in a role that is all about meeting other people’s needs. I mean, how I’m doing this interview is how I write — being climbed on.
— On ‘second chances’
Ashanti of A Note to Zami: Do you think you afford yourself a second chance of those wants and needs being met with your sons? And the relationship that you’re building with them?
Dominique Matti: When I got pregnant with Miles I was thinking a lot about trauma, particularly from my childhood and all the ways that I didn’t want to replicate that. And that came a lot from a place of fear generally. Like I was scared that I was gonna mess it up or like break them somehow, on accident. [laughs] Um, you know, just going about a day and not realizing something that I’m doing is harmful to them and I’ve learned. So I’ve become very hypercritical and nit-picky with myself about not being harmful or not doing any emotional damage. But, in that way, I feel like I kind of skyrocketed to the other end of the spectrum from my mom and where I needed to be was more like in the center.
What I’ve been working on lately is trying to recognize what she did right and take what I like and leave what I don’t. So, in some ways that experience allowed me to provide Miles and Theo with something different but in other ways it got in the way of me being able to like mother from a comfortable place. Now what I’m trying to do is approach my own healing from a place of compassion and love and not a place of just fear and anxiety, because that just perpetuates a lot of what was there before.
— On ‘writing as a guide in life’
Ashanti of A Note to Zami: How does your writing encourage the way you mother?
Dominique Matti: A large part of this [writing] is trying to document things for them [my children]. I’ve been thinking a lot about the recurring thoughts that pop into my head, that narrative underneath everything. What comes up a lot for me is ‘Am I here?’ You know, it’s really easy to feel lost in a day sometimes, especially being a mother. When I write, I think what I’m trying to do most of the time is just document that I am, that I was and that there are like…
Ashanti of A Note to Zami: There’s some record, for the following.
Dominique Matti: Right. And that there’s just multiplicities of ways of being in a moment like when I look back at my mom. You know, it really made me think after watching Ladybird. I always think about her in the context of my needs and in the context of what she did or didn’t do for me. In what ways she showed up or in what ways she failed, but I never think about her in the context of somebody who has her own needs or is there — just waking up at the beginning of a day and trying to get to the end of it. So if I can do anything for them, through writing and mothering, it would be to like not allow them the opportunity to do that. To never look back with only the lens that society generally allows for mothers.
— On ‘bravery’
Ashanti of A Note to Zami: When do you feel most brave in your mothering and in your writing?
Dominique Matti: So, as an Aries and as an insecurely attached ass bitch, I’ve really mastered this thing that I like to call controlled vulnerability, were I will be extremely comfortable revealing details of trauma or things that most people will consider private. It creates this sense that people know something about me but I’m also keeping whatever my deepest insecurities, feelings or struggles are — under wraps. I’d say that I feel most brave in my writing when I’m able to transcend that protected vulnerability and process something that I didn’t recognize in myself or that I am afraid to recognize in myself — not necessarily just because of the confessional nature of it but because of the process in itself.
It feels brave especially to confront things that are stigmatized. In my writing, when I can process, reconcile and be compassionate and forgiving of uncomfortable truths about myself, my own life or the way that I engage the world that feels good. It’s real easy for me to go off on society or some avatar for some segment of society like it’s some person doing some shit. It’s much more difficult for me to evaluate myself in an honest way so I’m proud of myself when I do.
In my mothering, honestly I feel most brave at the end of the day were I’ve been present for the whole thing. Like there are days were the difference is astounding between whether or not I am trying to escape my environment or not. Like whether or not I’m trying to slip into my phone or slip into some task where I’m just passing time.
Recently, I’ve realized the reason why I tried to escape all of the time was that I have this very much intense attachment panic. So forcing myself to be present means forcing myself to process and reconcile that throughout the day. So that’s why I say the days where I’m able to be as present as possible despite what that means for me — what type of internal labor I have to do in order to do that. That makes me feel brave because that shit is terrifying. I am more terrified about what my own brain can do when I feel safe. Safety is very triggering for me because I’m like [hushed] ‘How is this gonna get fucked up?’ On the days I’m able to fully show up and process this, I feel most brave.
— On ‘purpose’
Ashanti of A Note to Zami: What do you want your life to reflect?
Dominique Matti: If I can do one thing in my career, my life and my writing, it’ll just be to make sure that people come correct about Black moms. I had no real concept. Like everybody else in this world, I erased all the work that my mom was putting into shit. I didn’t see her as a person — that’s not to say she didn’t do some fuck shit. The pressure is just so much. There are so many parts of Black motherhood that I don’t ever tap into in my day-to-day life. After I had Theo and my load increased by two, I don’t really write about racial trauma. I can’t think about it.
I can’t feel how I feel about it, be bold enough to write about it and then deal with how the world feels about it after that. That shit is so painful. Every time something happens it’s so hard to not like see how readily that could be me. Or us. To deal with the callousness, I have to employ so much tunnel vision and cognitive dissonance to get through the day, that I’m acutely aware of how much picking and choosing Black mothers have to do in this climate, in this environment. Black moms, I think most of us, are handed this impossible bag and again it’s not to say that we can’t fuck it up immensely. I know from experience that that shit can happen. I have so much more respect and appreciation for what it all is.
Check out a few of Dominique’s favorite things at the links below: