August Q&A 1
Q: L. Crampton weighs in with a question that may be a good place to begin: My wonder-about is, what role writing plays when the rest of your life is demanding, as July was for you. I tend to feel most ‘anchored’ when writing well daily, but when my mom was ill for a couple of years and dying last year, I couldn’t seem to settle to writing unless there was a penalty for not doing so.
I write best when times are neither Too Good (too much fun to be had) nor Too Bad. Goldielocksish, I suppose.
A: Once upon a time, I was writing my first book that had been sold before it was written. TO PLAY THE FOOL drew on ideas that I had worked on years before in my undergraduate thesis on the Holy Fool, in this case, fleshing out the archetype of the Fool and setting him down in San Francisco. Among other challenges, I decided that my Fool needed to speak entirely in quotes.
And then my mother, who lived in a separate house next to ours, stepped off some stairs in a darkened theater and broke both her wrists. While my husband was off in China. And my sister had various obligations that made it tough to take over much of the feeding/dressing/caring duties. A person with plaster from fingers to armpit on both arms canâ€™t do very much for herself.
So my life became: Get up. Get kids and mother up, fed, dressed. Run kids to school. Spend day looking for snippets of Shakespeare and the Bible that fitted what the fictional Fool wanted to say, alternating by running next door in response to the jury-rigged doorbell my mother could use when she needed something. Pick up kids, run out to check that the garden wasnâ€™t dying, take deep breath. Cook dinner, put everyone to bed, go to bed, wake up a couple of times to help my mother, catch sleep in between, and the next morning start again. I could make it to the grocery store in ten minutes, but Iâ€™d be home in 45, just in case, envisioning my mother in need.
Youâ€™d think the book would have suffered, if not completely fizzled and died, but oddly, the utter immersion of the writing task made it the only thing that kept me sane for the five weeks and three days (but whoâ€™s counting?) until her short casts went on. The utterly focused hours I was bent over my writing pad, or fossicking through Bartlettâ€™s for nuggets that could be turned to my purpose, kept my mind from the frustrating madness of those weeks, when I was the only fit adult in view.
This time is different, in many ways. Part of it is the amount of support I have, no longer being locked into the solitary life of a young mother. But that is countered by the enormous amount of stuff I have to do in the course of sorting out my husbandâ€™s treatmentâ€”this week alone I will see three doctors, two physical therapists, and make a trip with him to the hospital to get blood drawn. A writer canâ€”mustâ€”be able to take a certain amount of distraction in the course of a day, but at a point, and particularly when each distraction requires attention and follow-up, work gets pushed further and further back on the stove. I am, as regular readers of the blog may recall, in the rewrite phase of TOUCHSTONE, but Iâ€™ve already told my editor that sheâ€™s not getting the book anywhere near when I said.
Maybe it’s because I’m 53 now instead of 38, and there’s just that much less of an energy store to draw from. Or perhaps because I’ve been a professional for all these years, the thrill of the job isn’t enough to drive me on. Or it could be simply that the attention required of a rewrite is both more demanding and less enthralling than that of a first draft.
In any case, I grab an hour here and two hours there, and it progresses, albeit slowly. And each time I pick it up, I do remember what the book was about and what I’ve been trying to do, which I take as a good sign. The book is worth doing, I will finish it and make it good, just not quite as quickly as I would have without the current trials.
(Oh, and one of the cats needs to go to the vetâ€™s. But heâ€™ll just have to live until next week, sorry.)