SOME DAYS YOU’RE A GOOD WRITER

Other days, you’re something else

Umbrellas

November 23, 2003

I would really love to be working this morning. It’s Monday morning, and I have a deadline breathing down my neck. I’d really like to meet that deadline for a change. I never missed one for years and years, for the first eleven or twelve years of my career, as a matter of fact. I had little kids, then a little bit bigger kids. I had dogs and cats and a whole family to take care of, big meals to fix every day, the shopping that attends that. I managed to meet my deadlines, year in, year out. One year, I’m pretty sure I wrote four books.

I haven’t been on time with a book for the past three years. I don’t understand it. I never cook supper anymore, unless I’m really in the mood and avoiding the work–then I cook big, elaborate, multi-stepped meals of my own choosing, like roasted garlic soup, which I absolutely love, or fajitas, which take much chopping and tending. I no longer have hordes of children running through my house. I do still have the dogs and cats, but they can be shooed away.

I have me. I can wake up when I like, go to bed when I like. If I chose, I could write until three in the morning and sleep until one, which would at least put me on the same schedule as my vampire child, who is eighteen and even more footloose than I at the moment—I had forgotten how loose 18 can be if you are not in college, and he’s just not ready to do that. I wish he were traveling, exploring his life, but he’s not. He’s hiding a bit while he gets ready to face Adulthood, and I’d be worried about it, but he’s light years ahead of most of his friends. At least he knows Adulthood looks like a person by himself, paying his own bills, fixing his own meals and shopping. He does practice Adulthood by taking $20 to the grocery store to buy supplies for the long weekends when I’m away, and paying for the upkeep and insurance on his very nice 1988 Buick Regal (which was purchased for $3400 and had exactly 40,000 miles, and truly was driven by an old lady who drove it to church-we found her Sacred Heart of Jesus and Virgin Mary and-I made him keep this one in the car-St. Christopher statues and medals.)

Anyway, my unstructured life: I take walks and exercise. I read books. I paint my walls and watch movies and go to the shops late at night when I feel like it. I do not have to answer to anyone, ever. I keep thinking I want to join the gym because it would be a destination other than my own head, the computer, the ideas that may or may not be working. It would feel productive, too.

Or maybe it only feels that I don’t have to answer to anyone. If I look back over the past week to see where my time has gone, I discover I answer a lot to others. I’m a single parent, and even though the children are 20 and 18, there are things that must be tended-dentist and doctor appointments and tuition arrangements and suchlike. There are the animals, who need walking and petting and tending. There is a gentleman friend and I genuinely enjoy his company, even if he doesn’t quite understand why, if I’m feeling panicky about the impending deadline, I don’t just sit down and write. I have been writing, I tell him. I spend five, six, seven hours a day at it, until I truly am dizzy and spent. There are no more words in me at the end of those stints. There’s not much of anything in me, to tell you the truth. Vague space between my ears, which I must fill with movies and very excellent stories (my quest for which could fill an entire other column–how precise this search! How particular!). I’ve done virtually nothing the world can see but those six or seven pages, those few few few pages to account for my entire day’s work.

And too, there is the boy. The vampire. Yesterday afternoon, I intended to work and get a few extra pages done, even though it was Sunday. (What is Sunday to me now, anyway? There is no difference between Wednesday and Sunday in any real terms-I am not bound by Work Week and Weekends. And yet, somehow, I am, still. Friday doesn’t feel the same as Monday.) The boy was home, for a change, and not feeling very well. He has a bad cold, and like all man-children or woman-children (or mothers or grown men) he wanted some tending, though he didn’t say so. He wanted chicken and stars soup and someone to sit with him. He dragged all six-feet-three inches of his hulking, tattooed, and pierced self into the kitchen and invited me to watch The Italian Job with him. So I did. Which would still leave some time in the evening, but I figured I should get the groceries in the house on a Sunday evening before Thanksgiving. Shopping now would be a far more efficient use of my time.

And it was. I was in and out in less than an hour. I am going to my mother’s for Thanksgiving dinner, and she always cooks the turkey, but my boys like and I decided to cook one so there will be lots and lots of food for them all weekend. Even four days early, I found I was almost too late-I was planning to get a small one and there were only monster-sized ones left. What the heck. It’ll freeze. Feeling virtuous, I figured I’d get home, make some light supper for the vampire and I, then do a little work.

But the boy has friends and one of them arrived to keep Boy comfortable. Friend had brought a movie, and I gave over the main rooms, which is where my computer is these days (to escape a dreary, dark cell with enough room to turn around only if you kept your elbows in close). I took a notebook upstairs to my very pleasant bedroom and watched a Tony Hillerman movie on PBS, which was excellent and inspirational and reminded me of why I love the desert so much–a landscape that figures prominently into the current MIP (manuscript in progress). I went to sleep early, determined to get up early and get right to work, the spirit of the desert freshened in my heart.

Well, I awakened with a little bit of cold, but nothing too much. Wakened a little later than planned, too-7:30 instead of 7:00, but not so bad. I wandered down to make my coffee, turn on the computer, and let the dogs outside into the very cold morning.

The phone rang, and it was my father. My mother had fallen, and he needed to take her to the emergency room, and they needed me to come take over watching my three-year-old niece, whose mother was at work.

Of course, of course. I clambered into my jeans and tennis shoes, and with untended hair, I rushed over there. Where I found, to my alarm, that it wasn’t a simple fall–they took my mother to the emergency room by ambulance. And she’s not a frail old woman—she’s in her early sixties and quite sturdy, thank you very much. My father rushed out to be with her, and I am here, with my very, very cranky niece, thinking with dismay that I’m not going to get much done this morning, either.

The niece also has a cold, and she wants nothing to do with me, and she’s understandably a bit flummoxed by the commotion. I’m trying to be patient, but I haven’t had coffee and I’m a little flummoxed, too, and I really did want to work and I feel as cranky as.well. a three-year-old. Finally, the niece falls apart and goes to sleep. I get some coffee. I can sit next to her and work on the computer, at least check email. Think about what the next scenes in the book are and maybe construct them during the precious time when Jessie is sleeping.

Instead, I’m thinking that it’s good that my father could call me and I could be here in five minutes. Good that my sister-in-law can still go to work and earn the extra holiday cash she’s trying to get, even when her daughter is sick and cranky and sloppy with a head cold. Good that I can sit down at this computer on the first real winter day of the year, a day just before Thanksgiving. I’m grateful, considering that my mother’s arm might be broken, that I just happened to get the giant sized turkey, that is thawing now in my fridge.

Now I’ve been writing this while Jessie slept, and she’s waking up beside me in a far more cheerful state. As I am, since we’ve heard from the hospital that it’s probably a chipped elbow-awful, to be sure, but not life-threatening-and this counts as work, even if it isn’t pages.

In return for letting me write the last paragraph or two, I’ve promised Jessie I’ll have a tea party with her (and she’s chattering to me now about her cat and the hissing noises he makes).

Some days, you’re not only a writer. Some days it’s okay to be a good mother, a good daughter and a good auntie, and write just a little bit. Another day, I’ll snarl the intruders away and immerse, because I need to serve the work, too.

Somehow, it tends to work out in the long run. Like that giant turkey I bought last night..

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Barbara

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