I’m having one of my patented meltdowns. It’s midway through one of my U of T terms, and I’m doing a lot of critiquing. Also, I’m now over a month into a new job, still feeling slightly unbalanced, certain I’ll screw up big-time, any day. I’ve been chipping away at the same goddamn scene in my Minoan Beauty & the Beast novel for months now—getting nowhere fast, except perhaps for that place where I cry and pummel the ground.
“I can’t do it,” I gasp. I’m sitting on the couch in our living room. It’s a supremely comfortable couch: dark blue, cushy, full of cats. Tall Science Fiction Writing Husband Peter nods at me with equal parts understanding and dread.
“Can’t…write! No…routine!” Which is to say: I wrote my third book in a small notebook, which fit perfectly into my lap as I traversed the city by streetcar, from home to work. I wrote my second book in my then-basement, whilst one daughter was at kindergarten and the other was napping upstairs. Routines. Moments, however fleeting, that were given over to writing, day after day, until the books were done.
“No…time! Gah! Blargh!”
Peter holds my hands. He’s so focused he’s barely noticing all the cats. “How about evenings?” he says. “After work. Why don’t you take 45 minutes then, somewhere?”
Funny thing: I’m always exhorting my students to resist old patterns and be open to new ones—to go longhand after years of computer, or café after an era of solitary confinement at home. And yet. It never occurred to me that I could write after work. That my girls were big enough to manage without me for 50 minutes.
My husband, the visionary. I dissolve a little more—gratefully, this time.
I’m trying out this brave new thing. I’ve discovered that there are chairs at a particular Second Cup that are also cushy (though lacking in cats). I’ve discovered that I’m as susceptible to and inspired by distraction as I ever was. An old, bedraggled woman insisting she’d put $30 on her card earlier that week and not comprehending (stridently) that the card is empty; a mother asking wearily whether the breakfast sandwiches are grilled; a 4-year-old girl demanding that the mother pick her up and swing her; that mother swinging the girl so that her boots nearly touch the counter with the milk and stir sticks. The girl laughing, and everyone in the entire place smiling—including me, sitting in a cushy chair, trying to write about a bull-boy and a labyrinth.
This just might work. Stay tuned.