According to Anne Lamott, “December is traditionally a bad month for writing.” And I’m inclined to agree. I’ve had to surrender to life lately because it is so very full. The Christmas countdown is on, and I’m doing my annual scramble, though with less anxiety than usual. I’ve let the Christmas cards fall to the wayside this year because something’s got to give. I’m working on some special gifts for my parents, and that’s where my energy is going, to these quieter, more important projects. Writing–even these mundane, surface-y posts–helps me focus, identify priorities amidst the competing swirl. My output here is not so grand or deep. It’s more about the practice of staring at the blank page and getting the words down, constructing sentences, following a thought, discovering what comes next. It’s an inward looking. This morning I scribbled this Virginia Woolf quote into my notebook, a mantra for the hectic month: “No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.”
(Post 327 of 365)
“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer.”
Let me add that so is being a mother.
“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”
I am waiting and watching and working. I am finding every cranny of time and I am writing. In notebooks while my daughter climbs me like a jungle gym. In the notes app on my phone while I’m on the treadmill. On the computer at night. Now, when I should be in bed, ready to wake with Isabella at 3:00 am.
I’m getting closer to hitting my stride.
Coffee. Below zero February morning. The truth.
The truth is my last few posts have been a struggle. You can hear it, right? No wind in my sails. The truth is we were sick and sleepless for two weeks with racking coughs. I don’t go to the doctor unless it’s dire, like broken bones or stitches. It’s all lemon water homeopathic cough syrup tumeric cinnamon bone broth humidifier wet sock treatment herbal tea around here. Between the sick and the snow, I’m feeling housebound and a little stir-crazy. We make our little outings… Yale Peabody Museum to see the dinos on Thursday afternoons when admission is free. The library. The grocery store, always multiple trips as I can only ever seem to buy two days worth of food. We made it to the playground those few warm days before the temperature plunged to subzero. But Lordy, being home in the winter with a little one requires creativity and imagination. Play dough and books and dress-up and hide-and-seek and dining room table forts. Little 25 month old nursling commands, “Sit on the couch, mama. I need milky!” I give in, and while she nurses, she flings her toddler feet into my face and says, “My socks are orange!” and I say, “Yes, your socks are orange.” And she says, “My socks are orange. It’s like red. But it’s not yellow.” And I think, she’s a color genius! I go on a brief hunt for my watercolor paper, which has to be somewhere in this house, because if I can’t get my writing done, then I ought to add some painting to the heap of unfinished projects. My sneakers look like a dog chewed the heels out. (We don’t have a dog.) I don’t buy anything for myself. Minimalism is good for you. Deciphering between necessity and luxury is good for you. Not buying into our culture’s compulsive over-consumption is good for you. Last week I binge-read The Chronology of Water and had a reading hangover. The writing entrances while the content guts you. And how did she write a book of short stories and a novel during her child’s first year of life? C’mon Lidia, please tell me you had a nanny. Things like that make me feel hopelessly inadequate. Like how am I not getting more done? (If you’ve read that book, you’re thinking, seriously, that’s your takeaway?) But even this paragraph, I’ve been writing it in five minute spurts for four hours, and I ask myself, is it even worth it? That’s how things happen with a toddler, in five minute spurts. Nine minutes if you’re lucky. Sometimes I think I would like another baby. I wonder if my sweet girl is missing a companion. And then I think everything is perfect just as it is. I think about my body going through pregnancy and postpartum again and my brain shouts, NO WAY! And then I remember it’s not up to me anyway. The universe waves its magic wand. Or it doesn’t. I want to write a novel. I want to write and illustrate a children’s book. I want to finish one damn essay. I think about homeschooling and veer off into Waldorf curriculums. I want to raise backyard chickens. What else having I been meaning to say? That Anne Lamott talk from a few posts back. She quantifies writing time and it makes perfect sense. She says if you’ve got three hours, that’s two hours and ten minutes of writing time. Ah, so true! Little light bulb moment. I would like to quantify writing time + toddler. After I painted that Phoebe Wahl valentine I listened to an interview with her on the podcast While She Naps, and while the conversation is mostly around running a small creative business, it drifts into feminism and motherhood and miscarriage and homemaking. It struck a chord deep in my heart, the love of homemaking and childrearing and creative project making and being there for ordinary moments. And I was surprised to hear Phoebe, this young RISD grad, declare, “To say that domesticity is synonymous with submission is to dishonor the thousands of years worth of strong and independent women who have acted as homemaker, and the men and women who continue to passionately fill this role of their own volition.”
Now, instead of getting self-conscious and editing the heck out of this post, I’m going to hit publish and go look for that watercolor paper again.
Here I am again, writing in the evening. I prefer early morning. Fresh start, clear mind, hot cup of coffee. But my family demands my clear mind and efficient hands during those first early hours, and I’m coming to accept that mornings aren’t mine right now. It ends up feeling like a battle, and I need to choose peace. So I’m raising my white flag. I surrender to writing at night with my tired brain.
The upside: twenty days ago, when I began this project, I would get panicky if I hadn’t written during the day. What if I couldn’t come up with something? I’ve learned, just twenty days in, that something always comes. It really is as simple as showing up to the page. Granted, the something that comes might be crappy or only a few sentences long. But it comes.
I love this talk with Anne Lamott. Around twenty minutes in, she confesses her fear around starting her next project. Then immediately counters, “take the action, and your insight follows.” She talks about the necessity of carving out time and how it will be inconvenient for the people you love.
It turns out I couldn’t surrender my morning. I made a few grabs at the computer with my lukewarm coffee. I eked out a few sentences between wiping up blueberry yogurt splatter and sucking snot from my wailing toddler’s nose with the Nosefrida that’s missing half its parts.
I couldn’t completely surrender. Nor could I deny my family’s needs. I guess I’m still figuring it out.
*Updated the following afternoon, February 9, 2016.