Today was a rare Saturday – rare because for the first time in months, I didn’t spend the day with my girlfriend. Since she had to work, I had a long span of time to fill up. I had breakfast with my friend Andrea, went to the grocery store, and then allowed myself the afternoon to write.
I’ve been really aggressive about trying to carve out time for myself to write. I’ve reigned in the amount of time I spend working on teaching, taking advantage of my office hours to plan and grade so I won’t be tempted to do it at home. I’ve scheduled my time a little bit better. I’m poised and ready to go. But as of yet, I’ve not written a single page. I’ve stared out windows and scribbled pages and pages of notes and ideas and questions – which does count for the process – but I haven’t gotten down to the business of writing a blasted story.
But one thing I have started doing more of, something that, if I’m not careful, will become a way to avoid writing: reading. Today my friend Leslie shared with me an article that Margaret Atwood wrote for the Guardian where she talked about her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, and how that book has haunted her over the years. I read the novel last year and thought it was fantastic – until the end. An epilogue that she added, she says, because it fits with the conventions of the genre of dystopian novels, infuriated me. I was glad to read her article and see what her thoughts are about the novel in retrospect. I’ve also finally made some progress with reading an Ann Patchett novel, The Magician’s Assistant, which so far I find heart-breaking and beautiful.
What else did I do with my writing time? I wrote in my journal for awhile, meandering through my thoughts, questions I have, both about my writing and my life. And then I got down to the business of writing about my stories, the ones I have banging around in my head at the moment. One involves a male point of view character, a feat I’ve not attempted before (my writing is a bit of a girls’ club). One is a re-write of one of my thesis stories about a woman who begins to doubt her identity and her marriage when she has a chance encounter with an old flame.
And what amuses me is that I then actually wrote this sentence in my journal today: “I need to bake some cookies so I can think this through.” I need to walk away from the task at hand, start a whole new task, make a mess in the kitchen, search for a recipe, and bake cookies in order to think something through, something like whether I should attempt to re-write a thesis story that, to me, felt like a story that was close but managed to miss the mark at the time it was going through thesis defense; a story that I haven’t looked at in over a year but still know like a formerly favorite sweatshirt, the kind you find in your closet a year later and then wear for a week straight.
This either sounds silly or spot on. I know many people need to do something else to occupy their hands so their mind can wander. I remember watching a clairvoyant on televison several years ago, and he would scribble lines on a sheet of paper to distract his body so his mind could make contact with spirits. Maybe baking cookies is like that: a way to busy my body so I can make contact with the ghosts of stories past and present. Either way, the cookies are baked, the mess cleaned up, my hands washed, and I’m back in front of my computer, and still not a page is written. And for today, that probably has to be okay. Some day, I’ll have baked as much as I can and have no choice but to just sit in front of the computer and make a decision and let the ghosts speak out while I munch on sugary treats and wear that old sweatshirt to death.