Is it weird to tell you how hard it has been for me to write? Because it is hard. To find time, sure, but to choose the time, too. Because we all know this: there is time for the things that matter. Sometimes the thing that I’m choosing to matter is rest: to sleep a bit later in the morning instead of yanking my bleary-eyed self out of bed to stare at a blinking cursor. Of course, there are the things that matter always: packing lunches, and brushing little ones’ teeth, and paying bills. Sometimes, even, the thing that matters most is sitting with my face in the sunshine and doing very little.
When I’ve been away this long, I have a hard time catching you up. But the truth is there isn’t much to catch up on: the kids are growing, we’re marching one foot in front of the other like everybody else, through soccer practices, and homework and preschool pick up. Through making dinner, and maddening bedtime routines, and reminders to stop all the shouting. There’s BIG STUFF, and little stuff, and everything in between. We’re finding ourselves outside mostly, because it’s that type of weather, and we’re filthy-dirty at the end of the day. That’s life, isn’t it? Maybe the catching up is more in my own head, because it’s never quiet, never still there.
I’m writing, sure, even if it’s not here. There’s always something going, always an idea, or a project, or just a sentence, even. But if I’m honest with myself, I’ve also been avoiding writing. It’s hard work, don’t you know? And while it feeds me, truly deeply is the thing that stirs my soul, it can be so difficult to do it. For so many reasons.
Anne Lamott is known to have said that in order to be a writer, one has to glue one’s butt in the seat and write. Stick it out, and do it. This is wise in that the only way to do something is, of course, to do it. (Here I am, glued to my seat, finding the words, tapping them out).
But to glue myself to the writer’s chair it takes me from where I’m most needed now: in my home, as the mother of this family. It is downright messy and unbeautiful to unglue something, or more accurately rip it off – I’m envisioning ragged edges and apologetic offerings. There is very little flexibility in this line of thinking.
I have found that I have a remarkably low ability to multi-task (or, more rightly, that I can multi-task, getting things done, but with only mediocre results). I can make dinner, while helping with homework and braiding hair, but inevitably I’ve forgotten if I was at two teaspoons, or three, or that the worksheet was addition and not subtraction. What I’m saying is this: writing, good writing, real writing, takes my entire brain. My entire being, really. It’s not something that I can enter lightly, or leave easily.
A room of one’s own may be the exact prescription, here. Virginia Woolf’s observations that concentrated creativity can be groomed out of luxurious sequestering does seem indeed both and truthful, and indulgent. If what I’m saying is that in order to think clearly, and therefore write clearly, I need to enter into time and space with my whole brain and body, then yes, there is truth to this prescription. But I also know this: without the volume and mass of life around me, I have not little to write about.
But maybe that’s it exactly: that being a writer is so pervasive that it seeps into all these other aspects of my life. Just as I’m a mother, always, even when I’m all by myself in the grocery store, nary a kid of mine around (this has only happened to me, like, twice) so also am I a writer, always, even when my fingers aren’t at the keyboard. It is simply truth that I can’t turn my writer brain off. In any ordinary day, I’m forming sentences, jotting notes, describing whole scenes in mind alone . I’m paying attention to my life, seeing these ordinary things and holding them to the light, turning them around, feeling them from underneath, observing the shadows.
Maybe this whole “gluing to your seat” thing still applies, just not the way I’ve been thinking about it. Maybe it has more to do with gluing myself to my life. Staying here, staying in it. Maybe it’s about escaping less, and sticking through the hard stuff. The boring stuff, the tedium, even the straight up pull-my-hair-out hard stuff. It’s about continuing to scribble notes on the back of a groceries lists and old envelopes, or talking into my phone while I’m driving. It’s about noticing the sound the last autumn’s leaves make as they tumbled down the hill, pushed by the warm spring air. It’s about noticing what is going on underneath it the surface, mining life for the truths that connect us to each other. It’s about simply finding pockets of time to tap away at the keyboard, stringing it all together, not in a room of my own, but on the laptop at the kitchen table next to the kids who are pounding out their own play-doh masterpieces.
That’s my experience of being a writer. Glued to the seat of life, with pen in hand.