I’m a writer who only writes for short periods of time each morning. This is because writing is not my day job. Mothering is. But just because I’m not sitting in front of the laptop doesn’t mean I’m not in writing mode, if only in my mind.
Of course, I’ve found that it’s not always possible to muse about resolving tricky plot issues or tightening up the dialog in my work-in-progress while also being a mom and teacher to my three kids. They’re old enough to recognize the vacant look in my eye when I nod at something they’ve said, but am really on chapter seven in my head.
You’re doing it again, Mom.
Sometimes, though, I can sharpen my writing skills (or at least stoke my imagination and strengthen my powers of observation) without actually writing. And, when everything goes the way I want it to, I can include my kids in the process.
Today, for instance, my family and I drove to a park next to an immaculately kept cemetery to get some exercise. Once there, we soon abandoned the park’s walking trail to read headstones, as often happens. As we ambled along shady footpaths, we wondered aloud about the might-be stories behind those names etched in gray. Our conversation planted in me seedling ideas for future story characters, while looking at the stones gave me their names.
Then there was the drive-thru lady at Sonic with unusually precise diction, the one who sounded happy. As she repeated our list of slushes back to us, I imagined the kind of face that went with a glad-tidings voice like that. A face I could write about, maybe.
A few minutes later, we turned onto our street and I watched our Asian neighbors bend low, pruning their velvet lawn with salad tongs. They’d placed orange cones in their driveway (again) to keep others from pulling onto their asphalt.
What makes people go to such lengths to perfect and protect their tiny plot of earth, I wondered. Had they always lived like this?
Flecks of imaginary back story glinted before me, the maybe answers.
Of course, none of this translated into immediate words on a page, but it fueled me all the same. It kept me thinking about people and ideas, about colors and what-ifs, preparing my mind for the moment I could write again. It counted for something, if not word count, exactly.
This is what I’m doing these days–trying to be present for my children and to grow in my craft. It’s awkward and precarious, keeping these two lives going. They’re never as integrated as I’d like them to be, though sometimes–like today–they hold hands.
And that has to be good enough.