Notes Pass As Drafting

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.

If By Wishing: Still Holding Back

A week ago I started writing around the phrase

If by wishing

and filled a few pages. I wish a lot. I grew up daydreaming. Going to a story (wish, want, fantasy) is easy. This is great for writing fiction. But sometimes wishing can be dull ache under the perfectly fine present. It kills me.

This essay (draft excerpt below) hurt to write. I remember a lot my wishes. My childhood and early adolescent fantasies are unremarkable. But when I started writing my adolescent and early adulthood wishes, and then my marriage and parenthood wishes: something turned in my heart. It’s familiar territory, my selfishness and unhappiness. Answered by my dependence on God’s love and grace. Answered by the guilt-saturated sense that I have nothing to be unhappy about.

I wanted to end the piece with my current wishes. I wish a lot. But I couldn’t think what to choose.

I lack. I want. God sustains. I hold what I can in my hands. I let go. I am done fighting. I give up. Alone in my bedroom, on my knees, then stretched flat in security that demands surrender. I wish. I doubt. I go back to that posture of humility. I beg. I wait. That is where I am now.

I would love to post the entire essay here, everything that comes between the first paragraphs I’ll share below and the last above. But I’m in the middle of deciding where my writing belongs (seeking publication) and how much I’m allowed to post as a writer when I am also an educator. The way we share our art is shifting rapidly but publication continues to lend greater validation than a personal blog post and so I hesitate to give you my finished work here.

Be content with excerpts, friends. They are likely enough for now.

If By Wishing

I make my M&Ms last, like my brother, instead of eating them one after another because they were too good to save for later. I jump the alley distance from our roof the neighboring roof where an Italian girl invites me to come play. I listened to the funny belly feeling.

I have curly hair and primary colored wardrobe. I grin in a detergent ad in one of the women’s magazines. In the middle of the summer I toss autumn leaves for a fall catalog. At school, friends trade their sticker collections to me. At home, Mom doesn’t make me eat goulash. I’m not punished for saying damn when I failed a spelling test. In the spring, I get a ten-speed bike with taped curly handlebars I hunch over. The wind roared in my ears.

I need a training bra instead of the pastel undershirts I wear. My fifth grade teacher tells me my story is the best. Friends from my old school like my friends from my new school. No one leaves my slumber party crying. The boy with ruby lips I like likes me back. I’m allowed to read my book through math. I don’t feel so dumb when my teacher moves me to another math class with a lot of kids who don’t know what they’re doing. I’m a gymnast. I couldn’t stick the landing.

Try similar. Take

If by wishing

on a tour of your years.

Daydreaming as Drafting

Daydreaming was my first practice at drafting and revision. I remember car rides to the grocery store, sitting in the backseat of the station wagon. I remember my daydreams: waking up one morning with curly hair like the girl in the magazine ad for Tide; hunching over the handlebars of a skinny-wheeled ten-speed bike, racing downhill; creating a new wardrobe of primary colors and white Keds. Behind the wheel in the front seat, my mom might have been daydreaming too, the back roads familiar enough to let her mind wander.

We have sweet spaces of time built for daydreaming and thinking. In college I began running longer and longer distances, mapping twenty-mile routes through the middle of nowhere. I ran with a tape deck once because my CD player wouldn’t fit in my Camelbak. Yes. A dubbed tape. But aside from that anomaly, my long runs were open to whatever thought flitted through my mind. I counted to a thousand, and then back down. When I started using the time to think about pieces I had in workshop, running and writing became more tangibly connected.

We often return to the same daydreams or thoughts, just as in our notebooks. In the back seat, the underbrush or open fields flying by, I could start over: change small parts of my fantasy, reconstruct dialogue.

But give yourself those sweet spaces. I made a list of times or places where I can let my mind wander. Do the same. Unplug for five or ten minutes of waiting in a line, turn off the radio on your drive home or keep the TV off for an evening. Let quiet and boredom invade. Make a practice of this. Find a question or an answer. Write a story in your head and take it to the page. Pray.

A while ago, I read “In Defense of Boredom” by Carolyn Y. Johnson in The Week, first published in The Boston Globe as “The Joy of Boredom.” I read it with a kind of AmenPreachIt response. Take a moment to read the piece.