These Are the Small Blessings When the World Falls Apart – July 2020 Month in Review

In my office right now is me, a desk, a chair, my computer, a coffee mug, and the echo of potential in this space. I just sneezed and it sounded so biblical and so funny I laughed, which also echoed. Excellent. 

I’m moving in after months and years of my things scattered to seven hot spots in the house as, first, my youngest arrived, then my twins each needed a door of their own to close. The lives between the covers of all the books will echo in here as well.

Now I have an office again, and it is spacious enough I can think the things that let me be Me the Writer.

We’d been planning construction for almost a year, and when COVID-19 hit, we decided we should move forward because our contractors needed the income, we still needed the space, and we were able to do it safely (the biggest thing and something I took very seriously.) Everyone masked, disinfected, distanced, hand-washed.

While I don’t recommend trying to write while your house is being added on to during a pandemic while three kids are eLearning, I love my little space. For the first time in four months, I might soon enjoy a complete thought, and maybe that will lead to another, and another, and another, until something resembling competent writing emerges.

Welcome to my Little Writing Womb. 

I’m a sucker for books about writing.

I’m re-reading Stephen King’s On Writing, one of the best of its kind, and I’ve forgotten so much I might as well be reading it for the first time.

He is inspirational with his suggestions for reading and writing, and with his guide for writing The Big Three: narrative, dialog, and descriptions (which is by far my biggest challenge). His style is easy to read, conversational, and inspirational. He holds writers to great standards and is not afraid to name books he holds in low esteem. (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Daniel Steele, and thus far he’s named Bridges of Madison County twice.)

I ignored his dislike of personal essays but stopped in my tracks when he talked about writing/reading 4-6 hours a day, and suggested if that is a burden, perhaps turn off the television. 

If I’m not writing/reading 4-6 hours a day, it’s not because I’m spending that time in front of the television. 

Sometimes there are things that need to get done. Sometimes there are emotions and struggles from other members of the household that linger, fogging up my creative process. 

My husband, while equally concerned about anything the kids struggle with, doesn’t have this problem. He shuts it off and buckles down. I have a hard time asking my emotional radar to please go take a six-hour lunch. I do it, but it’s there, nibbling away.

And working while they’re home, as many of you realized during your own wrestling match with distance learning, is not ideal. 

I wake up early, but so do they. As long as I live, a part of me is on-call. That may be a mom thing, or it may be a me thing. It’s the same reason I was the one who jumped out of bed at 2 am when I heard a crib mattress creak in a certain way, and my husband would never wake up unless there was crying. A lot of crying.

When parenthood is mentioned by advice-givers, usually it is a general acknowledgment of the difficulties of the newborn phase, but hoo boy, the writing should occur while bleary-eyed and walking into walls from exhaustion. When the kids are older, close the damned door and write. Transport thyself to a non-worried, non-anxious, non-curious, non-attentive space, even and especially when they’re at school ok. 

I wonder if the Tabitha King version of making time and space to write would be the same as her husband’s? Indeed it might be.

I know a couple, both excellent writers, both published. The husband works a non-writing full-time job. The wife raised the children and did the usual school volunteering. Guess which one published several books and articles while the kids were under 18, and which had a drastically lower output?

Is this a compartmentalization thing? Do I need to learn how to do that? Do I want to?

Little moments these days. My kids are become good enough cooks to take over dinner prep a few times a week. Sure sometimes dinner is guacamole and chips, but shouldn’t it be? They can now open pop-top cans, and they assumed all their laundry responsibilities. In a few more weeks, if somehow lost in the wilderness and came upon a not-entirely shabby shelter, they could fend for themselves for a few days. They are helping me move books into my office. They are, except for a few snipes and swipes, getting along better than ever…and they generally get along well. It is what we are most proud of as parents: When my husband and I are gone, they will be fine, they will uplift one another, and they will carry on. This helps me during those moments when all my parenting failures come to light because those always do, don’t they?

They are growing taller and smarter and individual and interesting. Shoes are outgrown and upper cabinets are reached without a stool, and they are now as tall as my mid-neck when only last week they were at my shoulder. 

One has started gardening with zeal. Another has continued to dive deeply into computer coding and game design, as well as making videos about it. Another has undertaken writing stories and artwork. Amazing what happens when they explore. They will never be sporty outdoorsy types, but they are good types. 

What can I say about June? I struggle with my state reopening and no one being able to keep six feet apart. A spike in cases is inevitable, and we’re still waiting to hear what the kids’ school situation will be. I fear it will reopen in some capacity, especially as too many folks live in a “me” as opposed to a “we” state of mind. 

The writing is both going well and not going well. I had high hopes of having a readable draft by end of summer, and now I’ll be happy if I have a readable first act by end of summer. It’s demoralizing, but I have to trust that the story I want to tell isn’t quite there yet, and I must rise to the level of the story. It takes time and patience and one damn word at a time. If Lin-Manuel Miranda can take 6-7 years to write Hamilton, I can take the time I need, too. I am not comparing myself to Lin. Just saying he didn’t rush his work and that’s a valuable model.

I’m learning to tell myself when I hit parts I’m stuck at that I’m just not ready to write them, meaning I don’t have the experience or the inspiration at this point, I’m not in that place in my life. Then move on to the next scene or next edit. 

I don’t think I’m editing at this point. It still feels like a first draft. Or maybe a second. Like a Draft 1.5? Version 2.0? Who knows? But I’m not giving up and I haven’t any desire to do so. I’m still learning how to tell this story. 

June Highlights:

  • The highlight of June was getting published on McSweeney’s again.
  • Finally, finished Wanderers and Olive Kitteridge (that one on audiobook.) I love the writing in both for very different reasons, but my absolute favorite this month was the gentle How To Be An Artist (remember, I love craft books.) Few new ideas, but an enthusiastic challenge and a boost of energy right up procrastination’s keister.
  • Watching Extant a Halle Berry vehicle from 2014. Nice to see Goran Visnjic though the story loses credulity even with my very-happy-to-suspend-disbelief self about 9 episodes in. Fun watch.
  • Also more fun than I expected were the Percy Jackson movies (yes, I know.) I know they are not anywhere near the books, but sometimes kids just need some fluff, too.

For now, we’re here, and yet I sense the ending of a cycle drawing nigh in the next few years. I look forward to new starts but for now, I eat ice cream and look ahead and look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now (yes, we watched it, too.)

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