Writing Anyway

What’s your excuse not to write?

Usually, my excuse is that I’m busy. I have three kids! I have a mother who needs me, friends who depend on me, a husband who likes to have his share of attention. Shopping to do!

With my ankle broken, all of these excuses have fallen away. Yes, I can still stumble up and down the steps to do laundry. I have one extra kid of late (Annie is home for spring break). I have managed to drive the car (it’s the left ankle) and I even made it to see The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug at our local discount theatre. But for the most part, for most hours of the day, I’m sitting in this chair or surrounded by books and notebooks on my bed (or napping; I seem to need about twice as much sleep as usual). My excuses are greatly, GREATLY reduced. Most of the time I’m sitting in this chair with my leg propped up, or it’s propped up in my bed, where I’m surrounded by books and notebooks. So, do I write?

What I’ve discovered is that I still have excuses, and that they are specially tailored for this situation. I’m exhausted (what’s with all the napping?) My leg hurts. My 20-year-olds keep invading my space and turning on the television. (Not to mention the novels I read instead of writing…)

Here’s the thing. We all have excuses. All of the time. If we’re lucky, we also have moments of consciousness in which we can make a conscious choice to face our excuses, to let our dreams (mine=writing) be greater than our excuses.

If Bilbo Baggins can face down a dragon, surely you can face down your excuses.

Try to flip it around. Use any excuse TO WRITE.

The Percheron in the Tunnel

“I want to enlarge my knowledge of the world because the world is such a staggering and uncanny and heartbreaking place.” -Jim Shepherd

Yesterday I came across a video lecture by writer Jim Shepherd that profoundly moved me. I dreamed about it — that Percheron in the coal mine. You can read it here; at the bottom of the article (from the Williams College site) you’ll find a link to the video.

 

Where Do You Work?

Lately I have felt like a one-woman tutoring center, helping to write English papers — one, notably, at midnight — and Political Science papers and Northwest History papers, graphing sunspots for Physical Science (that was interesting), and running through index cards of Spanish vocabulary. But my two oldest daughters are — finally — on spring break. Which leaves Emma, whose teachers seem to have ganged up on the assignments. Out of six classes, she has homework in four of them tonight. So we have decamped to Barnes & Noble (first time since my ankle injury). Emma is drinking a Hazelnut Mocha Frappuccino (did I spell that right?) and I’m having a Chai Tea Latte (stomach wonky from taking pain meds). Annie came along, ostensibly to drive, but she’s drinking a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino (no coffee in hers either) and doing something or other on her laptop.

One would think it would be more efficient and cheaper (at the very least) to work at home. But sometime back in the years of the Annie&Pearl high school circus, it became apparent that I had to do something different if I was going to get my non-academic kids to actually focus on their work. It must have something to do with my own background as a waitress, that the whoosh of coffee machines and clatter of dishes, not to mention people talking at the table behind us, helps me ignore the clutter in my own head and concentrate on a bit of work. My kids do not have restaurant backgrounds, and still it seems to work for them, too.

Just for good measure, here’s an old poem (one of mine).

English Café

The hostess greets us with a simile, waves
her oversized thesis like a shield.
Will you have regular verbs?
My friend orders braised clause

with a side of apostrophes.
I want only articles and prepositions.
Our waitress prompts, No dative?
No genitive?
She offers Shakespeare

or D. H. Lawrence for dessert.
We sip from snifters of Strunk & White,
trade adverbs as coordinating
conjunctions rise languidly to dance.

(Between parentheses, a gerund
cracks jokes.) Our repast now
past tense, we pay in participles, tip
a metaphor. As we slip

through a semicolon’s swinging door,
our waitress calls after us, You’ve forgotten
your predicate,
dangling
a ring of modifiers on circle of nouns.

 

 

Leap of Faith

About a month ago I was at Village Books with my daughter Annie, and I spied a copy of Pema Chodron‘s Taking the Leap. This is a book I’ve picked up multiple times, held in my hand, read the first few pages…and put back on the shelf. $14. Do I really need one more book?

Annie was in a hurry and had no patience for this. “Mom,” she said, “it’s called ‘Taking the Leap!’ Buy it!” So I did. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“As human beings we have the potential to disentangle ourselves from old habits, and the capacity to love and care about each other. We have the capacity to wake up and live consciously, but, you may have noticed, we also have a strong inclination to stay asleep. It’s as if we are always at a crossroad, continuously choosing which way to go. Moment by moment we can choose to go toward further clarity and happiness or toward confusion and pain.” (1)

All stuff I know. Right? “…the only way to experience our pain is to experience it fully” (28).

Whether you’re in the middle of a writing project or contemplating a big change in your life, the key is to not let your fear — and your aversion to that fear, your tendency to flinch away — dictate your actions. Stay with it.

About Time

From photobucket…though this looks exactly like our mongrel, Duke, from my childhood. A thoroughly mischievous dog (who soon disappeared from our menagerie), but full of joy.

As my husband has generously pointed out, the paperwork sent home with me the other day from the orthopedic visit specifies a lateral malleolus fracture. The x-ray report in my GHC inbox states:

1. OBLIQUE NONDISPLACED FRACTURE OF THE DISTAL FIBULA.

2. OSTEOCHONDRAL FRACTURE OF THE LATERAL TALAR DOME.

I have been doing some time-tripping. I’m rereading Kate Atkinson’s 2013 novel, Life After Life…which is a time-trip even the first time through. Our heroine, Ursula (“Little Bear,” as her father affectionately calls her), dies at birth — comes back, dies as a very young child in a swimming accident — comes back, dies in a fall from a roof, and so on. In some lives she is brutalized by the sort of people she cannot comprehend (her mean older brother’s suave yet oafish American college friend, for instance); she meets Adolf Hitler; in one life she marries a thoroughly detestable man; in another life she marries a flawed man (well, are there any other kind?), but eventually, every time, she gets a chance to do it differently. It’s a brutal book in its way. So brutal that I hesitate to recommend it to you. But maybe that’s just me talking. (My mother’s voice here: YOU NEED TO HAVE A THICKER SKIN!) Meanwhile, lyrical passages abound. I am in love with Ursula’s childhood home, Fox Corner, and astounded to learn (I thought I knew!) how dreadfully Londoners suffered during the blitz in WWII. In a couple incarnations, Ursula falls in love with a German man and spends the war in Berlin. It isn’t men, Ursula (and Atkinson) concludes, it’s war that’s evil.

Meanwhile, my daughter bought me a copy of About Time, a movie by Richard Curtis, starring Domhnall Gleeson as the main character, Tim, Rachel McAdams, and Bill Nighy. Plus other notables. (Including Lydia Wilson as Tim’s sister Kit Kat, a personal favorite.) As with Atkinson’s Fox Corner, I wanted to come home to this family and have tea with them. On the seashore in this case. The premise of About Time is that the men in this particular British family can, after a 21st birthday, travel in time. Bill Nighy, as the wise father, says that going after money or prestige has laid waste to some ancestors’ lives, and he can’t recommend it. Tim, wisely, decides that the mother ship is love.

There are a great many things in my life I would like to do over. I would like to be very, very careful as I walk down the wet grassy hill to the St. Andrews lodge on Sunday, March 9, 2014. But like the About Time characters, I would also like to go back and experience my children as small children again. I would take a walk with them. We would get a dog.

Where My Heart Wants to Be

Okay, okay, so it really is broken. The fibula has a nice diagonal crack in it, and the talus is probably broken, too. (Treatment is the same, no worries the PA said.)

I’m not worried, I just don’t want to wear this dang boot 24/7. I don’t want to keep all weight off the ankle for the next four weeks.

In my roaming across the blogosphere today I came across this video of Steven Pressfield talking with Oprah Winfrey. I am going to take his advice to put my ass where my heart wants to be. I want my ankle to heal. I want to finish this novel and move on to the next. This chair (with this laptop computer, and wearing this extremely uncomfortable boot) is where that’s going to happen.

My daughters are working on final papers for history and English classes. This advice did not really work for them. “My heart is not involved in this paper,” one said. But is her heart set on getting an AA degree and eventually becoming a music teacher? Well, abstractions are hard when you’re 20. I get that.

But, still. Where does your heart want to be? How do you put your a** there?