Writing is Everything
December 11, 2017 § 70 Comments
By Ann V. Klotz
These days, not a lot of writing is happening in my life. Even at the writing retreat I had looked forward to all year, I produced very little; my school needed me—about twelve times—and my family needed me: my adult-ing daughters, my teenage son, my husband. Finally, I surrendered, realizing I would not be doing as much writing as I had hoped. We can’t choose when we are needed. I consoled myself with the idea that perhaps there would something to learn to write about later. Six weeks post-retreat, the need to write is making itself manifest a million times a day. Earlier this week, I heard myself saying to my husband, “Yes, right now,” but in my head, I had said, “Yes, write now.” Writing is everything.
Even when I am not really writing, the rhythms of my life remind me of writing or of not writing.
Awake in the middle of the night, sentences form, but I am too tired to write them down. In the morning, they are gone, geese honking in formation, headed South. Who gives the signal to land, drop back, switch formation, I wonder, hearing their honking. A few nights ago, the first freeze descended on our garden. Beneath the bathroom window, I note the herbs staggering, browned unexpectedly in their pots, branches stretched, desperate supplicants—all the writings I’ve started and abandoned.
Those abandoned projects reproach me. In the family room closet, I discover a bag of knitting, soft black wool shot through with colors–a shawl started long ago on huge needles. Some pieces call me years later, not yet finished, but patient, knowing a burst of inspiration will bring me back.
Stopped at a light, I watch a neighbor raking leaves, piling them at the curb. It’s a Sisyphean task, really. Rake, rake, scatter. I remember my Dad burning leaves in a tall metal basket, the smoke delicious at the other end of the garden where I clutch my bamboo rake, its teeth scratching across asphalt as I pretend to be Cinderella dancing with the Prince instead of doing housework for the Stepmother. I think about all the words I wish I had time to pile, one on top of the other. A gust blows a swirl of leaves into the street: all the pieces that get away.
I walk on the treadmill thinking about habit, how good it is when my writing habit and my exercise habit are integrated in my daily life, how frustrating it is when one or both lapse, how fragile my well-intentioned routines. “I am not a tumbleweed,” I counsel myself. “I have agency. Nothing is stopping me from walking, from writing. Just get on with it,” I scold myself. It sounds so easy.
I empty the dishwasher, drive our son to school, tidy piles of books and papers throughout my house, talk to my adult daughters. I am moving through my life but fretting, too, about my stalled memoir. Am I stuck because I don’t have time to dig in or am I avoiding the hard stuff?
Recently, I came into the kitchen at 5:30 a.m., started the coffee and got ready to feed the dogs. There, in front of the cabinet where we store kibble, lay a decapitated chipmunk, paws high in the air. Shrieking, I fled. On the other side of the swinging door, I felt embarrassed, trapped, helpless. I wanted to be brave, to cope calmly with this unexpected gift from our cat. Is the rodent a symbol of the tough stuff I’ve maneuvered around? Is it a call to action? There was no avoiding this corpse. I should not be afraid of small dead things, but I am. Reluctant, I climbed the stairs and rouse my sleeping husband, who is annoyed. When he understood the thing was not entirely the thing, he came downstairs. I needed to do the dishes, feed the dogs, make the coffee, I bleated. He knew what I needed was his care. I felt guilty and grateful when the small body wrapped in a blue plastic grocery bag was deposited into the kitchen trash. I spilt the basket of old coffee grounds over it, ashes to ashes, grounds to grounds.
Last Saturday I found myself with several unscheduled hours. My son was occupied, my husband napping. Could it be true? Time to write? Inclination? All those weeks flood onto the page, a dam unstopped. I’m back.
Ann V. Klotz is a writer in the early hours of the morning and the Headmistress of Laurel School during the rest of the day and night. Her house is overrun with rescue dogs and tiny cats. She is trying a “do it yourself MFA” in Creative Nonfiction by taking one online course after the next, ordering too many books to read about craft and too many memoirs to read in one lifetime, studying recently with Kate Hopper and Joelle Fraser, and taking a zen position about the loss of her shift key.