I have a good friend who is more of a hippie than I am—more believing in afterlife and auras and juicing
and in taking long, deep breaths. And while I guzzle coffee with milk and she sips lemon water, she talks a lot about a book called The Artist’s Way. I know it well. I have bought it for many friends over the years—poets mostly, people who look at the world through open and evaluating eyes, people with things to say. But I just glug, glug my coffee and listen as her voice gets high and turned on by the book’s assignments the way some writers do. Because while you might think I would be one of those people, I am not.
Like many writers, I spend a lot of time not writing. I need groceries for God’s sake. I have beds to make, carpools to drive, volunteering to do. Never mind the fact that I have kids who are in school almost never between snow days and sick days and holidays and the short school day. When, at 2:30 on the nose, my kids run toward me in their backpacks across a crowded gymnasium filled with cheerful moms and caregivers ready for the next thing, I see a whole other day stretch out in front of me. What to do? Playdate? Music lessons? Get a headstart on the colonial diorama I know is coming our way? Family composting of their half-eaten lunches for an organic vegetable garden? When you work creatively, when you do not have an office and a 401K and train to catch, you are not only left to your own devices more, you are often expected to play a more dynamic role at home and it gets a little confusing.
Confusing as in having a compulsion to exercise as part of my work day by either attending certain morning-interrupting gym classes or enjoying the occasional therapeutic walk with a friend. I could do without them. I could go straight home from morning drop-off and write. But again, I do not. I have things—besides writing–that I want to accomplish and that in some ways I feel expected to accomplish given that I don’t have a typical day job—committees and projects and a community to be a part of, newspapers to read, yoga poses to nail.
Which brings me back to that pesky The Artists’ Way. I know, I know. It’s a classic. Maybe you have it on your bookshelf, too–its dusty thickness representing another stage of your life. Dog-eared and highlighted and devoured by you then, it sits now as a tribute to the person who intended to get up and write, censoring the Censor (with a capital C!) by waking before the sun was up, writing before you could think too much, do too much, distract yourself too much from the job at hand. You see, you are supposed to write in the morning, spilling out of bed before the day gets in the way. Before the caffeine can kick in and sharpen you, censor you, and preclude (presumably) your very best writing.
But what is the job at hand, exactly? Is it the writing? Or is it the grocery shopping, the cleaning, the cooking, the volunteering, the fretting over the kids’ schedules, their woes and their smooth transition to the Common Core curriculum? There are so many jobs to do and they all start bright and early. And the day goes late—with nighttime activities like homework, dishes, and the binge watching of Breaking Bad. (I know.)
And really, how does a mother “spill” out of bed anyway? Lurching is more like it. Startled out of a too-short night of sleep by an 8-year-old in need of waffles and socks, only to spend the next 18 minutes dragging an 11-year-old out from under her covers and into an outfit and pulling her hair, tangled with sleep and spit, into some semblance of a ponytail. And there’s the yelling and the snack-packing and the last-minute trips back into the house for a reading log or a forgotten violin. And it all feels like a cartoon rumble until 12 minutes later when it’s all over—and the only people who have done any spilling of any kind are the 8-year-old (his juice) and the kids and the husband who have by now spilled out of my car and into a schoolyard and the train station, respectively.
I am alone in my car and I could go home and write, but there is that pesky Censor. To me, the Censor never (okay, rarely) says, your writing isn’t good enough, that sentence is a mess. Give it up, you imposter.
It says this: You have no fresh fruit at home, you have no plan for dinner, you didn’t go to the gym yesterday and the PTA is short volunteers for the 5th grade mixer. Get it together, man. (My Censor is still a hippie.)
So I’m home today, dealing with the minutiae of running (or being run by) a household and I should be writing this novel that I am loving writing. And I would be writing more of it except I had to check Twitter to make sure the entirety of my writing peer group is well ahead of me (they are) and I had to check Facebook to make sure my mom peer group is well ahead of me (they are) and I had to write this blog piece. Because I keep thinking about that spilling out of bed line and the morning pages and the water with lemon and I feel like I am missing the Artists’ gene. So I have to work this thing out.
I don’t write first thing in the morning. To be perfectly honest, I never did, even before kids and their early morning waffle needs. I write when I have a minute, in between carpools and sick kids and holidays and homework. Mine are mostly afternoon pages, and some are midnight pages but most of them are uncensored and all of them are tucked somewhere inside the creases of my life, like the piece of paper you might have torn off to mark off a passage of The Artist’s Way or some other prescriptive writing book. (I’m more of a Stephen King On Writing kind of a girl as it turns out—tell me your deep, dark ways, and I’ll tell you mine.)
And this will get tucked in there too, and maybe that novel will get published and someone will dog-ear some of the pages, never having one little inkling that the page they love the most was probably not written in the thick of an early and sluggish morning, but somewhere else. Somewhere less quiet and more frenetic. Somewhere with less spill and more thrust.
Somewhere in between making a bed and making a mark.