The Desperate Hours

January 26, 2004|Posted in: Uncategorized

I spent the weekend running hither and thither, in pursuit of about 20 different things and accomplishing just about one of them. On the horizon we see no fewer than ten bareroot roses, haphazardly leaning in the garden, begging to be planted. We see Mt. Laundry, defying me to conquer its mighty slopes. We consider the state of our sheets (hey, it’s cold, we’re not sweating, nobody in there but me)…(and the cat). We contemplate the dust bunnies — or shall we just call them dust oxen? We see the filth of the commute in dried dribbles of grime on our vehicle; it is only a matter of days before some wicked yet observant child graffitis those dread words on the back window. My office in my new house is a shambles of boxes labeles “Important Papers” and “Office Supplies,” and one doesn’t know where to look for one’s tax documents, for example, or one’s daughter’s birth certificate, and one’s paid bills are in a sliding heap on one’s floor. Not a pretty sight.

The weekends without children seem to hold some incredible promise. It is much like those rare hours of sudden silence when the girls were just babies. In the afternoon, God willing, the baby would fall asleep and the house was silent. The hour or two (unplannable because you never knew how long you had) would open up like a gift, and I would have to decide what I would do to capitalize on the time. And then I would find myself paralyzed by indecision: should I mop the floor? Make phone calls? Run outside for fresh air and some quick yard work? Take a nap myself? Attempt to write?

The desire to write was always there — it was my fondest goal, the one least accomplished when my girls were small. It is because (drumroll, please) You Cannot Force the Muse. The Muse will not be called. Just as you can’t just go out the door and run, you must warm up before you break the four-minute mile, the writer must prime the pump before the novel will flow. I think that takes dedication and practice, and a routine of writing at a certain time of day for as many days as possible. But baby days are not really good writing days; at least, they weren’t for me. I would lay the baby in her crib (and the toddler, too), and want with all my heart to sit at the typewriter or computer or even with a pad of paper and write poetry — but it just wouldn’t come.

Instead, the poems came in the middle of the night, or in the shower, or in the car, or in church, or having sex with my husband — all inopportune times for seizing a pen and beginning to write. And if you wait till the time is proper, the moment is gone, the Muse has fled, and your efforts pallid and limp. And the reality was that I was just too tired to do anything when those rare hours came. I usually just took a nap or read magazines because I was too exhausted to be creative on demand.

That was then; this is now, and now my days are chock full of writing, editing, driving, organizing, and managing all the etceteras of being a working single parent. The visitation schedule is that the kids go visit their dad every two weeks for the weekend, unless of course they don’t want to go, or have a birthday party or sleepover or competition or game. When the kids are home I don’t work on the weekends, meaning I don’t cover politics or events or whatever is happening in town; I’ll just do what I can on the computer or by e-mail around kid and family stuff. I often work most of the weekends when I don’t have kids; I schedule workshops or go to evening performances, etc. because there are no kids to worry about — no complaining that they are bored, no leaving them with babysitters. I try to get most of the odious stuff done on those off weekends when I can do it uninterrupted and save our weekends for fun stuff like movies or visiting with family friends.

So this weekend dawns brimming with promise: I can get the house clean, I can fulfill the demands of my job, I can satisfy the extracurricular activities I have given myself, and yes, I can get going on the novel! I can! I think. I might. I should. I must.

I didn’t. Dust oxen still here. Poor roses still weeping derelict in the garden. Only half a mountain of laundry conquered. Nary a fresh word written on the novel. Or the memoir. Or the other writing projects. But I did organize my office at last. I filed almost everything. I emptied all the boxes and put away all the office supplies. I separated the stuff I need for teaching, for book promotion, for the new lit-zine, and for future projects. I have an in-basket for bills and a place for important papers. And I can see both the floor and the top of the desk.

I did not make it to the symphony. I did not make it to the writer’s group meeting. I did help my eldest daughter with her first-person essay for English 1A, and I did make it to my board meeting Sunday morning. I haven’t written a word, but at least the slate is clean, the palate cleared. Now, with a little organization at my fingertips, I am ready to roll.

Query: will I?

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Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward. Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others. Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.

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