I’ve been staring at my laptop screen for the past five minutes, trying to think of something to say.
It happens a lot. The blank stares. The empty right brain. I’m outside on the back deck right now, squinting through the sunshine at the computer and waiting for the caffeine to kick in. (David’s gone for work, so I had to make my own coffee this morning. It’s horrible. I make terrible coffee.) Quinlan was outside with me earlier this morning–she, playing with slime, me, eating a bowl of Golden Grahams–and as we watched a distant storm cloud dump rain over our town, she asked me if I’m still an author even though I haven’t been publishing any more books.
It’s 10:34 a.m. As I sit on the deck, my children–who can now all feed and dress themselves, make their own beds (hallelujah!), brush their own teeth, and do their daily chores with a simple reminder of “remember to go through your morning routine!,” because thank you, Lord, it does get easier–rest on the platform of the neighbor’s swing set together, drinking Capri Suns and eating Fudge Stripes (my hippie ways have been suspended now that I realized my children would never keep friends if they continued to offer them homemade power balls as a snack. Judge as you will). Five girls and Cian play together almost every day. They usually get along insanely well, too, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that.
(Check that. I’ve just broken up two fights, threatened all of my kids with getting grounded, told one daughter to stop yelling because the whole neighborhood can hear, and called the dog back to the deck twice. I do love summer, I swear.)
I told the kids at the beginning of this summer that mornings are reserved for my writing work. Yes, we’ll do a day trip once a week or so, and every afternoon will be theirs, but the mornings are officially reserved so that the author-even-when-she’s-not-authoring can get her words down.
It’s not easy. I’ve already had to tell a friend I couldn’t help her tomorrow because of it. My friends are more understanding than I am–“Yes, you’re writing in the mornings, that’s right!”–and yet I cringe. Yes, I’m writing. But why must I always feel ashamed that it’s what I’m doing while they’re babysitting each other’s kids and my husband’s in meetings for work and my children are playing on the neighbor’s swing set while I watch from afar?
Honestly, I’m not ashamed of being a writer. It’s not that. I certainly don’t feel guilty about working anymore, because I know that I’m working toward something bigger (90,000 words bigger. Hey-oh!). I think I cringe because so much of my time spent “writing” is more often spent staring at this screen, mouth slack, letting my mind drift to thoughts like how much dandruff, exactly, is in all that fur my dog is shedding, or how, exactly, people with really long nails take out their contact lenses, all the while just hoping for the words to come. I AM AN AUTHOR, the books on my office shelves declare. But the blank stare and drool and sudden fear of pet dander? Well, that’s just me being a writer.
And I’m chugging terrible coffee while my children play and my husband earns the mortgage payment and my friends take their kids strawberry picking while the mornings are still cool. I stare and stare until the words come, and finally I type. And I’m happy because this is exactly where I’m supposed to be and my kids are happy, and my husband is rocking his job, and just like I know the daydreams eventually turn into stories, I know I’ll keep typing until I’m an author all over again and my daughter doesn’t have to worry about what she’s supposed to call me anymore.
I’m a working mom. It’s taken me three years to be able to say that without qualifying it, or hiding it, or wondering if an author can be called a working mom when she doesn’t have childcare or a 401k or a company email address. It’s taken me three years to realize that the sheer fact that I like what I’m doing doesn’t negate it as a job, either. That that’s actually a good thing, and it’s not something from which to shy away (I don’t have anxiety you have anxiety!).
Do you like what you’re doing? Can you say that where you are is exactly where you continue to hope to be? When David and I moved from Baltimore to PA, I taught high school by day and college courses by night (I’d been so worried about not being able to land a single job that I took all the jobs I could snag at once). It was draining and exhausting, and until all the commuting burnt me out, I loved using all of my brain (the right AND the left!) so much of the time. I loved being useful and necessary and helpful. I thrived knowing that I was making money (well, sort of, because: teacher) doing something that was helping shape other people’s lives. But I also liked having the immediate feedback you receive from a “normal” job, and that’s the tough thing about writing: you’re pretty much just throwing yourself out of the plane and hoping there’s somebody on the ground to catch you.
Being miserable at your job isn’t a requirement for having one, but so many of us think it comes with the territory. (Neither is having a 401k, though you and I know perfectly well that if I weren’t a spouse of someone with one, I wouldn’t be writing this so blithely.) But it’s not just me: David likes his job a lot, and I’m grateful that my kids see that contentment, but he also tells them that he had to work really hard and go back to school and get the education that allowed him the freedom to jump. And then? He had to work some more.
Work begets happiness. Happiness begets better work. I think you just have to settle in and decide what work you really want to do. And if you’re lucky enough to do it–either full-time or part-time or late at night while the kids are sleeping even though you have to get up early for your day job–I think you shouldn’t cringe. You shouldn’t qualify. And you should be okay with working even though you can’t expect immediate feedback. You should be satisfied that you get to daydream over the laptop because you know you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, on this sunny deck while your children play and your dog grunts and you’re about to plunk one word after the other and then do it all over again because this is the job you’d been working toward all along.
The person on the ground waiting to catch you is strong. Once you realize you don’t have to be nervous, the whole sky is yours–even if it’s one tiny drooling leap at a time.