When do you write? I am often asked. Today, it is 5:41 a.m., and the sun has risen with me. The wall-mounted air conditioner unit hums upstairs, the first cup of coffee has saturated enough blood and consciousness to make this word dance possible. I like to write in the mornings because it's then I am most alert. And if someone pads downstairs in his pajamas earlier than expected, rubbing sleep from his eyes, he will know reflexively to find a book. I also write in the afternoons, during the soon-to-be-eliminated and much-to-be-missed afternoon nap. After the twins make their persuasive Olivia arguments about the number of books we must read, after they jump on their beds in high Olivia style giggling, after they finally lie down and Andrew reminds me to keep their bedroom door, “a little open,” I draw the door closed (almost), head downstairs, and sit at my desk.
On most days, this is my routine, except for days like yesterday when life, like an overgrown lawn, demands some attention. I write a check to Audrey’s clarinet teacher, three weeks overdue. I order library books from the summer reading lists I had put together weeks ago. I answer email and try working magic on the chair cushion I’d brought home from a friend’s. (Her two-year took to coloring permanent purple circles with on it.) I text a friend to find out about the urgent business decision she was facing. I sort through file folders on the desk, I add to the accumulating to-do list of things to buy, do, and not forget when we go back to the States in another two weeks. I find a French workbook, flip through the exercises, and decide to review Part III: Locutions Idiomatiques before leaving for our three-week stint in Montréal this summer. I don’t even get to the laundry.
There’s a fair amount of regular neglect that happens around here in order for me to write. Not the children. Not the food. Usually, not even the laundry. But the house persists in a general state of 80% picked-up-ness. The 20% of scattered debris usually consists of legos, shoes, nerf gun bullets, books, papers, hairbrushes, and assorted medicines (this time, for last week’s ear infection and asthma flare-ups). And while I might admit this here to you, I feel hot and bothered when Audrey tells me tearfully in the car yesterday, “I don’t like our house.” It is too small, and it is always a mess. WHAT????? It was either this accusation or the iced coffee I drank yesterday morning that inspired the long overdue attention to life and house.
I don’t find this whole thing easy, really, figuring out how to balance writing with living. I know I can’t write unless I live. And while I hate to sound as emphatic as this, it may also be true that I can’t live unless I write. I’ve got to do this thing here. Without this keyboard, it’s as if my mind returns to its state of sieve-ness, all of my attention draining down the sink. Writing helps me live better. I know this. But the summer will demand a change in the routines. The children will be home, we will traveling, friends are making plans to visit us, I have a project for Today in the Word that is due in July. I believe in commitment. And I also believe in flexibility.
It may simply be that I have to figure out what it looks like to write in the midst of life that’s busier and nosier, as Madeleine L’Engle admits in Circle of Quiet that she had learned to do. “I can concentrate in any amount of noise. I wrote my first novel while I was on tour with a play, in dressing rooms, waiting in railroad stations, anywhere I had a moment to pull out my notebook and pen. I am grateful for having been taught concentration so early. I don’t need to wait for the ideal situation in which to write.”
But of course, she’s Madeleine L’Engle.
I am not.