On not writing.

Schriesheim, Schloss

Schriesheim, Schloss

I’m not writing right now. It goes without saying that this blog post doesn’t count. I haven’t really written since April, when I set a writing goal and failed spectacularly to meet it. It’s a testament to how preoccupied I was and am with other things (see: gestation of third child; preparation of house, spouse, and other children for birth of third child; quietly freaking out about becoming a parent of three children) that I didn’t mind the failure. This is not the season for writing productivity, and that’s OK. I will get back there again.

By the time the third child (another daughter, have I mentioned?) is here and nicely fattened, I will probably be tearing out my greying hair, cursing my past self for not seizing every minute of free time before her arrival to write glorious polished prose and incisive illuminating poems. Here is a note to my future self: you couldn’t have, even if you tried. Oh, phrases float by me, and I note them down; ideas for stories occur, rising like whales from the depths, only to dive down deep again. Time is flowing quickly, surreally now, and it feels impossible to grasp free moments and wring them for all they’re worth. Mostly I don’t mind this. I’ve been through it twice before, and I have faith that writing will wait for me, if I am prepared to listen.

Two years ago, we were spending the summer back in Germany. We sublet a house with a garden in a town not far from Heidelberg, where we’d lived previously. The kids were just over 3 and newly 1, and I was so tired. Mr. S was still nursing and waking constantly at night, N was at her most tyrannical, and A was busy at work, preparing to host a big international conference. My German had somehow improved in the two years I’d spent completely ignoring it, which made it possible for me to understand our absurdly charming neighbours, even if I couldn’t speak to them very well.

I was writing in a dogged but bitter way when we arrived. I was trying to get in fifteen minutes each day, but was dissatisfied with what I was producing. But then a couple of things changed. First, A’s fellowship was generous enough that we were able to hire our regular babysitter as our au pair for six weeks, which improved my life in a huge way. I was able to leave the kids for several hours each day, shutting myself in our stifling attic bedroom to write and edit non-native English speakers’ academic work for cold hard cash. Second, we were living in an affluent suburban German paradise with no car. Our little neighbourhood abutted fruit-heavy orchards, wineries, and a stable. We biked everywhere, hauling the kids along in the Chariot left to us by the regular tenants. The town, cascading down the Odenwald mountainside, was crowned with a ruined castle. The views from the valley where we lived were of gorgeous, forested sandstone cliffs from which paragliders flung themselves into thin air. Whizzing along the bike paths to the city, joyfully moving my fatigued body and breathing in the scent of ripening fruit, I started hearing poems again. My relief was intense. I hadn’t lost the ability; only the time required to pay attention.

Though the baby isn’t yet here, I’m back in that place where I can’t quite hear the words. In truth, I’m not listening hard enough right now, but this is only half the issue. I think of myself as an astronaut orbiting a heavenly body, feeling its gravitational pull, but isolated and discrete in my spacesuit. The time will come to descend to the surface, and until then, there’s little point in wasting my reserves feeling frustrated. This begs the question: am I happier when I am not struggling with writing? Does it improve my life to set it aside? I don’t think so, no. I will return to it. I need only wait.

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