I was going to sit down and start writing right away today, but instead I started shopping online for a new shower curtain. Similarly, ever since I’ve returned home five days ago from my week-long writing retreat, I’ve only managed to scrawl one harried journal entry (truly, just a glorified to-do list), and to read two short essays from a book.
Harried is the word that best describes the mental state I have returned to, or rather, the usual state that I dwell in. I’m not necessarily stressed out or anxious or worried. But definitely I’m in that constant go-go-go mode, monkey mind jumping from one task to another.
Let’s talk first about email. I barely checked it at all the week I was gone. And you know what? I hardly needed to, because I wasn’t sending stuff out. Although I’d created a ‘vacation responder email’ just in case I missed a query from a potential student or agent, I didn’t receive one technically important email that I would’ve felt bad not responding to right away. I’d pretty much taken care of any pressing worldly business before I left, so I could sink fully into my week alone with no outlying concerns. I know most people who work day jobs outside the home wouldn’t be able to do this. I guess I’m lucky in that way.
But does that mean that my life at home with my child is slow and carefree? No, because I’m trying to squeeze in so much into the few hours I have each week to take care of stuff. And because in the eight or so hours I might have to work each week, I’m trying to prioritize between planning and advertise for an upcoming workshop; editing and querying agents for a manuscript; and also actually writing a few things for this blog and submitting my work to journals again. And that’s just the ‘writerly’ stuff. Let’s not get started on family-related tasks and chores.
Anyway, I’m boring myself already with this litany of “how busy I am,” but I suppose I’m just recovering from a bit of reverse culture shock after coming home from my retreat, thrown back into my normal life, most of which is driven by my own desire and need to plan, to feel productive, and to “make the most of my time.” What this means is: contemplative acts like journaling for journaling’s sake, reading, or going on walks immediately fall by the wayside. (Facebook surfing has also, thankfully, taken a less important seat, which is usually the case after I take a hiatus, but I’m quite certain I’ll gradually warm up to it again in the coming weeks.)
I accomplished a lot during the week I was away. As much as I gave myself permission to just be, open and receptive, to sink back into a contemplative and aware space, I also could not (and did not want to) turn off the part of me that is a tad obsessive about making lists of things to do, and, in turn, keeping tabs on my accomplishments. Because, you see, I need to pat myself on the back regularly, take stock of how much I actually do each day, even if to many it may look like I do nothing but cater to my kid and a few loads of laundry. Or especially if. Yes, making lists is my way of feeling better about myself during weeks where I am not able to accomplish a fraction of the lofty writing goals I set on Monday, because I know this lack of accomplishment isn’t due to laziness. It’s just… the way it is for now. And each approaching year brings the promise of a bit more time and space to do these other jobs, namely writing and teaching, that I have missed and craved and gradually started to inhabit more and more over these last four.
So, in the spirit of my obsessive list-making mind and my present-day reality of too-little time to write beautifully edited essays, I will conclude this post with a few lists.
Things I Accomplished During My Week at Hypatia-in-the-Woods:
- Organized files on my computer.
- Edited an old flash nonfiction piece.
- Journaled every day, a lot.
- Wrote a blog post (to be posted when I returned home).
- Wrote and edited a full-blown new essay called, Open Receptivity: On Becoming a Mother-Writer.
- Read through my old manuscript-in-progress, Artifacts of Longing, written pre-motherhood and abandoned since giving birth. You can get a glimpse of the original seed for the project here.
- Made a new outline for said manuscript and for the chapters and sections I’m newly inspired to write. Later in the week, edited that outline, which now includes lots of highlighter and excited scribbles.
- Read seven books (!) and several poems to boot.
- Made a new collage from National Geographic images. Actually glued it down this time.
- Took a short daily walk through the mossy woods.
- Wrote a letter to Cedar in his long-abandoned baby book.
- Read and transcribed a few letters between Els and Frank for the manuscript.
- Wrote a short piece about Cedar skyping with his great-grandmother.
- Talked for an hour on the phone to an old friend.
- Re-read or skimmed most of my blog posts on motherhood from the last few years, and free-wrote a response. (Also, noted which were my favorites so I could make a ‘favorite posts’ page when I returned to Seattle.)
- Slept in every day.
- Read late every night.
- Listened to lots of old nostalgic music.
- Wasn’t drawn to drinking most nights, except my last night whereupon I overdid it and stayed up late dancing to me and Matthew’s old dance party mix that we made for our wedding. (It’s like five hours long. And very good.)
- Met some wonderful people from the board who graciously welcomed me into their home, and fed me pizza and sushi.
- Cried and gave thanks to the universe for my good fortune, and for the way life has circled around again to give me this opportunity to sink back into my old identity as a writer. And just to be: a woman, writing, alone.
Things I’ve Done Since I’ve Returned:
- Sent something like 40 emails.
- Planned two, maybe three, summer vacations.
- Organized a rotating schedule of summer play dates (after realizing we couldn’t afford camps).
- Budgeted money; made various unscientific calculations.
- Bought birthday jammies for Cedar, initiated his first week of not wearing diapers at night!
- Spent some good quality time with Cedar, including taking him to a rock and gem show, going to preschool together, hanging out with my sister and niece, going to Dick’s, going to Heaven Sent (fried chicken; it was on my bucket list; needed to see if it was going to be as good as my memory of Ezells; it wasn’t); watching three movies (Dumbo, which has an incredibly psychedelic sequence of dancing/mutating pigs, no doubt what the creators were taking there!; Blue Jasmine (in which Cate Blanchett was really good); and Adore (for those of you who might enjoy a young man/older woman fetish, which I swear I don’t!). Note: the latter two movies were note viewed with Cedar).
- Posted my blog post on Day Two at Hypatia, in which I also spread the word about their residency openings.
- Made that new “Favorite Posts and Writing” page on my blog.
- Shared a few calls for submissions on my Heart Radical Facebook page.
- Scheduled various other things: dentist appointment, date night, birthday plans, etc.
- Started organizing photos to make photo book for preschool.
- Decorated a poster of photos with Cedar for his upcoming “special week” at school.
- Marveled at how much things had bloomed in one week: the hyacinths, forsythia, quince next door, Indian plum, a couple more daffodils, all opened up while I was away.
- Cooked, cleaned, laundry, dishes, staring at piles of unfinished projects and other dirty or misplaced things. Bought cat food and groceries and tampons. And stamps. (File under: chores).
- Took a rejection from a coveted literary agent in stride; mostly (sniff).
- Submitted an old piece for publication.
- Made multiple new to-do lists for the weeks ahead.
- Scheduled more childcare to preserve sanity.
- Posted this. (Or I plan to anyway, before dashing off to get Cedar soon.)
That’s pretty much it. I’ll spare you the real nitty-gritty, like wiping butts or combing my cat for fleas. No other grand notes to end on. Just my desire to keep writing, in whatever way I can. To actually find (make) the time to keep generating new stuff in the midst of parenting, and all my other teaching and publishing goals. To keep taking things, one day, one list, and one thing crossed off at a time.