My husband and father-in-law just returned from a week in Thailand, visiting one of our former coworkers in Chiang Mai. This is the third spring break we’ve taken separate breaks, me home with the kids, and he getting stamps in his passport. I like it this way because the alternative is more un-restful (it took them twenty-two hours to come home yesterday!) than loading the washer for the fourth time in a day or looking at the clock to see we have five hours until bedtime, if everyone is amiable to an early bedtime.
The first spring break we were apart I wanted to be supermom. Activities and outings. Good cheer. No swearing. Approaching holy. Claire was four and Grant was two then. Our first full day together started with me pulling the car over and yelling that they’d better stop scrapping at each other in the backseat or – I don’t remember what the threat was. No ice cream, maybe. This was before both of them could watch an entire movie. That makes a big difference. Last year’s spring break was fine. It was easier with kids who both wore underwear. And this spring break was awesome. I bought watercolors and good brushes for us and we took over the dining table. It’s been so long since I’ve drawn or painted and the pleasure of playing with colors and lines instead of words reminded me not to become so rutted in one particular art.
That was a huge difference this break: I gave myself over to each day. Not entirely. Don’t think me too saintly. I got a good run in each morning and didn’t freak out when Claire beat me to the kitchen and made herself a breakfast bowl of cheese popcorn. If we didn’t have plans to meet anyone, I didn’t care what we did. One morning we returned to an old favorite walk in Fahaheel, along the sea. When Claire was two and Grant a baby, it was the distance we could manage, with coffee for me and cocoa for Claire at the end. We rarely go there anymore, now favoring smooth cement for roller blades and bikes. But returning was sweet, for me.
I didn’t write much. Both writing chunks I’d planned were cut short. And at home, I enjoyed painting or playing or baking more than sitting with my notebook. When I did open my notebook, I wanted to continue writing Tally and Carl, but did something I’ve only just started practicing with fiction: I wrote the story in note form.
This works well for me. It smashes daydreaming with a pen, giving me a rough outline of the next part of my story. And it makes me think through a story more completely. By the time I type a scene, I’ll have visualized it a couple of times. Even so, I often pause while typing to see what’s going on before I write it. I still draft plenty of snags. But what finally gets typed has already been through a mini-revision in my head.
There’s another reason why I’ve started drafting in note form first. That is: kids. My time is frequently interrupted. I parent, I teach. But when I get a chunk of time to myself, I’m more likely to burn through a dozen Candy Crush lives while listening to Slate’s Political Gabfest or This American Life. (I’ll save that for a confessional post later…)
I guess what I’ve come to is what many interrupted writers before me figured out: take what you can get. And what the better writers must know: use wisely what you can get. Daydream, take notes, write whole paragraphs and pages. Finish something in increments. Keep on.