These last few weeks I’ve been immersed in the final edits of my novel. It’s the slow time for my gardening day job. I sit for two-hour-long chunks (or more) and I read and type words. This has been productive. I’ve lived in the world of my novel: Paris, plants, the people I’ve created. I hear nothing else except the dog barking occasionally, the hum of the heater blowing warmth into the room. I can concentrate, I can think, “No, ‘harsh, steady rain’ is better here because I use downpour two paragraphs down.” I imagine the railing on a stone building, imagine my protagonist examining a plant, and create words to describe these things. It’s empowering. I have the power to create a world with something so simple as an arrangement of words.
Time of course evaporates when I’m in this meditative state. Then my kids come home, one by one, and the situation changes. While I’m thinking, “What does he (my protagonist) see when in the car on St. Honore, and what would be reflective of his story about it?” I hear my son come up the stairs. Sometimes he goes straight to the bathroom, sometimes he says hi, and sometimes he has words to ask or say to me. Eventually, as my two daughters stream in, the puzzle of what I’ll include in my story dissolves into which snack I’ll get up and make for the kids. And then, their words: A form needs to be signed. Can I go to the pool with a friend? A boy fell on the playground. I drew a dinosaur. We have a concert in two weeks. And on and on and on.
Soon, the last trickle of words and thoughts I had for my novel are drained. They disappear into the activity of my kids running around, talking to each other, asking permission for whatever, bickering, water running, doors closing. It’s transition time. If I return to the book, I feel displaced in the words. Where was I? I was going to change the phrase on a sign but what was the new phrase I’d thought of? So I close my computer and move on to unloading the dishwasher.
There are moments, when a child isn’t coming in the kitchen, where I have quiet, alone time. But creating in miniscule windows is impossible. So on the radio goes as I do chores that can be interrupted. Voices talk about the drug dealers camping in RVs in Seattle. A commercial warns of gum disease. If I switch the station, NPR’s discussing Syrian refugees. If I switch again, Adele is singing “I’m in California dreaming about who we used to be…” A podcast jokes about Uber and the Eagles Club. The phone rings and my mother talks about mice in her basement. For each set of minutes that I hear these words, I travel to these places. I think about these issues. I feel, I worry. This is what fills my head. This is me now. A receiver of changing words and emotions.
Silent time is the most precious thing to a writer. There are no words and emotions coming at you. You are in control of creating them. And yet we’re social beings. We have families, friends, workplaces, a society with events. But lately, in these immersed days, I’ve realized that though I have housework and correspondence and errands to complete, the silent creating has to come first. So I’m not just reacting to the outside world’s words, but sitting with my own. Spending time where I imaginatively want to be. In a place that feeds my soul. In a place where I accomplish something important to me. That I even get some hours of the day and evening to be in that imaginative space is a gift. The best part is the more I get that gift of my own words, the more I’m able to give back later to the world’s.