Aaahhhh...do you hear that? No? Silence but for the gentle whir of the laptop fan. Yes the boys left for a football weekend in D.C. I have the entire house to myself for two days. Well...except for the dog, the cat, the laundry, the yard work, the treadmill, the yoga mat...and...oh yeah...the writing.
It's funny how the thing I love to do, the thing I yearn to do, the thing that fills me with energy and satisfaction seems to always come last on the list. What's worse is that I know it's my own damn fault.
When my husband decided to take our youngest son to a football game this weekend, my mind teemed with possibilities on how to indulge myself with no one around to judge me. I had no one's schedule to consider, no meals to cook, no need to drive anywhere, no guilt for choosing the garden over the husband. Imagine bowls piled high with ice cream, pajamas all day, Netflix marathon...I could go to the movies, or a museum, or for a hike...
Then my well-intentioned husband said something last night that changed my plans completely:
"I have a little homework assignment for you this weekend..."
My immediate reaction was one of indignation. Why does he think I need ideas on what to do with myself this weekend? I don't tell him what to do in his free time. A homework assignment? Good Grief!
After a couple of seconds, my attitude shifted to rebellious amusement. How funny, he thinks he can assign me a task. I refuse, but I won't tell him. I just won't do it. Instead, I will do what I never feel like I have complete freedom for more than a few hours to do. I will write!
I have always struggled with finding the freedom to write. I recognize it's mostly in my head, a creation of mental barriers erected by my own feelings of duty and guilt. I am a full time wife, mother, and household manager. It's my job. It's my contribution so that my husband can focus on his career and support us. The system was mutually agreed upon and works like a charm.
Years ago when the kids were very young, I watched the movie The Hours. The story revolved around Virginia Woolf and her story Mrs. Dalloway. Woolf suffered manic episodes during which she would write with furious obsession, holed up in her room, not eating, not sleeping, and abusing those around her. I saw a possible version of myself in that Virginia Woolf. Compelled to write a journal entry immediately after the movie, I explained my fear of writing:
"It's not that I'm afraid I won't know what to write. I'm afraid that once I start, I won't be able to stop."
During those years, I had no time to write and my mind had no room to think about writing. However, story ideas for Mother's Nature would bombard me at random moments, building up behind a mental wall I had erected to protect myself from becoming a neglectful mother. I could feel the pressure like water behind a dam, just waiting for a crack to form a breach. I allowed myself small moments of reprieve by jotting down bits here and there, but nothing substantive.
Now that we only have one child left at home, and he's in high school, how on earth can I complain that I don't have time to write? Why am I not cranking out four novels a year? When our youngest entered Kindergarten in 2006, I was grateful for the few hours I could spend each afternoon hunched over my brand new laptop, furiously typing what would become Mother's Nature. Now I see three hours as not enough time to get "in the zone". What happened?
What's the Big Idea?
Maybe it's human nature to always want more. The grass is always greener and all that. More likely, it's just an excuse given to cover for the fact that I am afraid of failure. "If only I had this or that, I could be an amazing writer."
I jokingly blame the Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design for putting these thoughts in my head. I've mentioned the show before, specifically the first episode which details the creative process of illustrator Christoph Nieman. At one point, he describes his work days as getting up in the morning, sitting at his desk and staring at a blank piece of paper, just thinking and playing with no goal in mind. He allows his mind to explore ideas with no time limit. He might sit there all day and not come up with a single idea, but that's part of the process. That's his job.
I've watched several documentaries about musicians, artists, and writers, and the one thing they have in common is time to create without distraction. These artists live a life filled with hours of uninterrupted time to create. That is their job. That is all that they do.
When I read Stephen King's book On Writing, I was struck by the fact that his wife Tabitha bent over backwards to remove any and all distractions and responsibilities so that he could focus on writing. She recognized his talent and bet their future on it. Smart move.
All successful artists have one thing in common: they live an artist's life.
The Artist's Weekend
A few years ago while I was working on The Orbiter, my husband gave me a weekend alone at a B&B so I could finish the first draft. He is very supportive of my writing, always telling me to take all the time I need. Forget the housework, the cooking, the cleaning, and the kids, he says. Go write. We'll be fine.
That weekend at the B&B was fantastic and productive. After spending a little time basking in the fact that I was alone and away, I settled in for several uninterrupted hours of writing. It was divine. I managed to finish the first draft while there and got a little taste of a writer's life. I was grateful for the experience, and yet it seemed like such a tease!
I returned to a house where everyone was still alive, even though they had survived on food from cans and boxes. There was still laundry, cleaning, and cooking to do. While it was fine for two days, my ideal family life could not coincide with my ideal writer's life. The dream weekend was over. Back to reality.
So this weekend is another tease, but I'll take it. After it is over, I will return to the reality of family life. I will continue to "carve out time" and "find time" and "take time" and "steal time", when what I really want is "all the time".
I wish there were two of me. I wouldn't trade family life for the writing life for a million bucks, but I wish I could do both without compromise. Don't we all? In a couple of years, when our youngest has flown the coop, who knows what life will bring? Will I be satisfied then? Probably not.
I must concede that part of the problem might be that I am not currently working on a new novel. I definitely have several story ideas lined up for when I'm ready to begin again. I recently realized that I have written three novels in six years and I might need a break from novel writing. I am currently working on another children's poetry book, but I'm so used to having a novel in progress that I'm nervous without one. It's new territory, so I'll roll with it.
In all fairness, my husband's intentions were pure regarding the "homework assignment". It consisted of compiling a list of all the concerts we've been to in the last few years which he could use for some secretive birthday gift. Although, it does require me to work for my own birthday present? Hm. That's fine. I'm not doing it this weekend, though.
I write novels and poetry and this blog.