Hey everyone! We’re about a month away from The Forgetting Flower‘s release so I thought it would be fun to do a 30-day blogging challenge. I’ll blog every day until the book’s release on Tuesday, June 18th, at which time I’ll fall flat on my face on the floor!
The Topics of the Day
Spring is here so I thought I could tackle a few gardening-related topics as well some book inspiration, travel memories, and writing. So in no particular order, here’s what I’ll be tackling:
- My Garden. It’s starting to fill in so I’ll share what I’m doing in it and some advice for newish gardeners. I’m also trialing some new plants from Proven Winners and I’ll let you know how those do.
- Paris Memories. In the year 2000, I worked and lived in Paris with a corporate job. It was an interesting, wonderful, and lonely experience. I’ll share some snippets of my time there and other travel memories.
- Book Ideas & Writing Advice. I glanced at my book shelf today and realized I have a bunch of craft (and other) books I love that I need to share with my fellow readers and writers.
- Weekly Inspiration. I used to post inspiration weekly on Mondays to inspire readers to take on their workweek as best they can. I set it aside as I grew busy with my novel but it’s time to bring it back.
- Fun With Kids & Pets. I have three kids and four animals. Yes, that’s a lot but those little souls mean the world to me. I’d like to post some thoughts on my kids/mothering and pics of my two dogs (Zeke, Olive) and two cats (Maddie, Aleksy). The idea of it already makes me smile!
- The Latest. This will be a post where I talk about what’s happening in the world and how it’s affected me and/or my writing.
- The Forgetting Flower Tour. I have a few friends around the world who have photographed themselves in a TFF T-shirt. I’ll run short interviews with them and the books they love. We’ll start in Seattle and end in Paris!
I hope you’ll join me. This should be a fun challenge. Not sure if I can do it, but I’ll try!
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 in the room. I can concentrate, I can think, “No, ‘harsh, steady rain’ is better here because I used ‘downpour’ two paragraphs before.” 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.
The Silence Interrupted by Other 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. Where was I? I was going to change the phrase on a street sign in the story but what was the new phrase I’d thought of? So I close my computer and move on to the mundane task of unloading the dishwasher.
Others’ Words Fill My Head
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.
Silence During Writing Is a Gift
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 can later give back to the world’s.
Labor Day marks not only a day for those who toil to make this industrious earth go ’round, but a time when I can get back to work. Either gardening or writing. In these last weeks, I’ve managed both, mostly small jobs in the mornings, writing in the afternoon. Of course, by writing I mean “revising.” I’m back to my novel, the one about the botanist who discovers a rare medicinal apple. He’s hired to propagate it but mysterious forces want to stop his project. I still like the premise. I still like the characters. And now, without little voices saying “Mommy, what fun thing are we doing today?” or “Watch!” or “I need a Band-aid,” I can slip back into the silence of my imagination.
It’s amazing how this time revives my spirit. I was feeling worn out in August. When I wasn’t working, I was hosting guests. Thankfully not high maintenance ones. Still, I was wandering through museums and parks and the hollering Pike Place Market. I was mapping destinations, hanging up swimsuits, walking long distances in uncomfortable sandals. Figuring out which restaurants could seat seven people. I was vacuuming every other day so my cat-allergic relatives would breathe easier. I was finding spots for the extra knick knacks I was given. Breaking down boxes and throwing away wrapping paper. Rearranging furniture. Cooking like crazy. Barbecuing, playing badminton, setting up tents, fixing sprinklers, folding laundry, weeding, sitting in traffic, hurrying to feed the parking meter. Stress, stress, stress.
Now the true vacation is living inside my story. Visualizing the world, hearing my characters speak. Making it all better. Realizing a character needs to go here before they can do this. Rewriting a section so that an incident happens in Chapter 3 instead of Chapter 8. I write notes to myself in the margins. And carry out my earlier margin commands. This is a time when I praise the public school system. It’s educating my children for me. They’re gone. Engaged and on course to learn math and writing and science. I’m on course to pursue my bliss again. I have no other responsibilities in these stretches of time than to open the door for the dogs. And as I read and type and erase and type again, time disappears until I hear my son outside, the slow roll of the gate opening, the gentle click of the kitchen door. It’s then that I realize I’m ready to take a break.
During this last spring break, I took my three children to visit my mother and aunt in Tucson, Arizona. It was a bright, loud, active, social time. We yakked on about everything from politics to the names of my daughter’s new dolls. We went swimming. Drank smoothies. Ate dinner in the warm shade. Broke up arguments about who’d done the right or wrong thing. Walked around the desert. Watched birds. Avoided touching cactuses. Shopped. Cleaned. Laughed. And all else interactive and external.
Kids Are Interactive and External
While I enjoyed myself and my family, I realized the interactive and external are vibrant experiences but not conducive to creating art. Creating art requires silence, focus, imagination, the inner voice. Children, by their nature, annihilate these qualities. Their presence is what is present: not you, not your characters, not the dialogue you heard upon waking. Just the innocent banging of a stick on a rock, the random piping of a recorder, whatever their experience is at the moment.
A New Mother Earning Her M.F.A.
I think about how my external and internal experiences clashed when we first adopted our children. I was in a low-residency graduate program and living in Poland with the kids in a tiny apartment. (My husband was working to pay for it all back in Seattle.) Every night, I’d put the children to bed, get out my laptop, and work on my thesis, which was a novel. I had to. There was no other choice. The blur of activity that began in the gray dim of morning and lasted until seven-thirty at night was the kids’ time. It was “Let’s make leaf imprints” and “Get scolded for cutting our own hair” and “Take a bath in a shower stall” time. It was new for me but I was happy. I was happy to be a mother.
But a writer yearns to tell the story she has to tell. And I yearned to tell my story. In fact, in graduate school, you’re on the hook for it. So I did the best I could when I could. I hired a babysitter, even there in Poland, and I went to the mall where I could get free wi-fi, and worked on my manuscript. When we came home from Poland, I hired another babysitter and went to the coffee shop and worked on my manuscript. It was well worth the money. On weekends, my husband took the kids to the playground and I worked on my manuscript. These were not ideal situations. They were difficult. They occurred in small chunks of two to three hours at most. But I finished my thesis and earned my M.F.A.
What I Learned About How to Be a Writer and Have Kids
Six years later, this is what I’ve come to learn from having kids and being a writer. Time is limited. It’s precious. It comes in small chunks (sometimes suddenly cut off by an unexpected event or accident but it comes). You can clear space for that time. And if you’re serious, you must. Because the idea that you’ll have as long as you need to render your inspiration on paper disappears. (As I write this, I hear the car pulling into the driveway, I hear the doors slamming, I hear annoyed voices. The quiet is about to be blasted into noise, the stillness of space broken by bodies and jagged talk.)
And so, I head for the door to our office and close it. I ignore the conversations swirling outside the room. Let go the guilt of knowing I should get out there and help my husband. I plod on, I keep working on the words. I block out the responsibilities I have of “elsewhere.” This pushing out while trying to stay in the creative moment is the paradox of what some call a “selfish” mother putting herself first. But it’s not selfish, it’s vital to my sanity. The creation of art gives me the blissful state I need to return to my children with fresh energy and love.
The Work Slows Down
Still, interruptions are inevitable. Sometimes the child bursts into that office, already in mid-sentence about a petty grievance. And so, I’ve learned to accept that my work will get done more slowly. What would take a childless writer three days to accomplish will take the mother writer three weeks. Just when you get into a daily routine of producing quality work, a child unexpectedly must be picked up from school with the flu, there’s a teacher work day, a dental appointment, a grandma visiting, and then, when all of that has ended, another weeklong school break around the corner.
But now, I’ve surpassed the feelings of frustration, of constant resentment. Yes, it is frustrating, but with each passing year, the child grows and matures. They want their own independence. My youngest can actually read to herself and give me an extra fifteen minutes (to finish even this). The siblings can play with each other or choose on their own to retreat to their bedrooms for drawing or microscope fun. And while my (currently well-deserved napping) husband is the true savior in this story, I have to say the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that we all make time to do what we truly want. If you want to write, whether you have multiple children or not, you will. You will drum up the gumption to be “selfish,” you will make time to write. And if you don’t, well raising kids is a darn good reason to put it aside.
What are your challenges in being a writer and having kids? Let me know in the comments below.
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