A room not really of one's own

Woke up first today. Quiet except for the cat. Came into the dark kitchen and made coffee. Could it be possible? A minute to myself to write? I found my journal - but couldn't find a single working pen. Pencils sharpened to oblivion. Orange pens that barely show up. I grabbed a marker as I heard Alex barreling his way down the hall. "You unplugged my phone!" 

"I just heard your alarm go off!"

"But there's no more battery because you unplugged it." 

Actually I had unplugged the charger with no phone attached when I went to bed. After falling asleep in front of All In With Chris Hayes, Alex had plugged the phone into the disconnected charger. 

Alex says the charger, plugged in without the phone, doesn't drain any energy. Is that true? The thing to do, I suppose, is flip the surge protector off. But I have also heard rumors of radiation from chargers. Anyway, it's not something we will solve this morning.

Meanwhile my fantasy of a few minutes alone with coffee and a journal dissolve. I write furiously with the big marker "No working pens" and describe the frustrating scene, where now both kids are awake.

Fast forward through breakfast, spilled hot chocolate, somewhat rushed and frustrating morning yoga (where Wally is flinging his sticky Diary of a Wimpy Kid cheese touch toy around), racing to the bus, zooming along to Petra's school, answering a plethora of seemingly urgent texts about whether or not there is show & tell today, signing up for Halloween party volunteering, whether we can still go visit Alex's mom today or if the lingering colds we've had for weeks preclude us going because of her surgery. 

Back to the apartment. It takes all my restraint not to do the sink full of dishes or pick up after the tornado morning, which is every morning. I need a few minutes to switch from frantic mom role to focused data cleaner (right now I am for the first time helping with the data for the program evaluation my dad and I are doing for Thurgood Marshall College Fund). 

I find a pen! Grab a cup of coffee (even though I don't need one, it's more the ritual that I'm after), and pick up my journal again. I've always been so impressed and intrigued by art journaling like the pages here and here but I have so little talent to begin with and very little discipline when it comes to focusing on learning a new technique. Today I grab an old Where Women Create magazine from 2010, tear out pages and glue them in. I listen to Soundscapes on Music Choice. It feels therapeutic to cover over the furious scrawling with the blue marker from earlier. Like I am taking control. I think of a way to combine my new Young Adult novel idea with a draft of a YA novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo three years ago. Yes! Instead of venturing off on yet another new project, I will take this new idea and use it to reign in that unruly draft. I have a proposal I want to finish for Chronicle. Why not add two quick pieces to it, two "competitive/comparative" titles to the section on market research. There is the short story I want to re-write, yet again. The one I wrote for Greg Jackson's fiction class last fall. So strange to think of my life then!

In a few minutes I need to get back to cleaning data. To scoring, re-naming, removing duplicates. Back to the giant spreadsheets where my eyes keep glazing over. What am I doing again? Which blanks must stay blank and which need to be zeros? What 8-letter identifier will I remember for this variable when I move this over to SPSS? I have never before used SPSS and it sounds off-putting. Eventually, with more familiarity, I'm hoping this data cleaning will take on a meditative cadence, that I'll sink into it like into filing or sorting receipts. 

I can't turn my phone off. Can't be unreachable. Can't totally separate myself from the discordant pinging of the outer world. But for now, for now, for these few minutes, in between the spilled stain of the hot chocolate, next to the bright-pink model magic creatures, the slow cooker that still needs to be cleaned from last night, I'll accept, no, I will embrace it. This is where women create. 



  1. I need a Rachel Federman master class in how to successfully accomplish 500 things simaltaneously! Gosh, I feel like uphill molasses with a week of scant research, one library night, a bit of social media promoting, and a quiet list of ideas that have yet to evolve into sentences and paragraphs. You inspire and astound me! I really love the dedication to creative journaling--an important reminder that my best generative writing often happens with pen and paper.

  2. I'm also so curious about the YA novels you've written. Are you going to do NaNoWriMo next month? It's suddenly crept up so quickly. I didn't realize they offered a bootcamp prep back in July. Part of me wants to just go for it, though I'm entirely unprepared and uncertain what I'd write about... but there is fiction bumping against the back of my brain trying to push forward. I'd love to know more about your experience. Did you have a outline or an idea for your novel before you began? Did you reach the 50,000 word count? Was it fun? Arduous? Did you sign up and participate on the website and all that jazz? I would love to hear about it. And this was three years ago? Did you written an entire novel with a toddler and newborn??

  3. oh no no no...def not nearly as good as accomplishing anything as my blog post apparently made it sound! more soon...

  4. Sarah - to put the idea to rest that I'm a master at getting things done - I just finished my taxes around bedtime last night (last day, last few hours of the six-month extension) and even now I'm still not sure they're right. Your molasses week sounds pretty darn good to me. Creative journaling is so fun. There's something about it that keeps you inside the process. You have to be (at least if you're as messy and untalented at it as I am). YA - I have one that is about a child with some kind of sensory issues whose family moves from NY to VT after a divorce. The mother is unable to grow up (write what you know) and not taking responsibility for helping the boy. A lot of the burden falls to the older sister, who is having her own trouble fitting in. The other one started out much lighter (and got weirdly darker!). It was supposed to be about a bunch of girls in a boarding school who escape, but it came to focus on one lost teacher. I didn't know about that boot camp prep for NanoWrimo. I didn't have an outline for either of those NanoWrimo projects. I was/am a big fan of "just write!" but it gets me lose so fast. I would say totally fun and freeing, not arduous. But that was tfor teh first drafts. I did participate fully back in 2009, when I only had one toddler and the nights then seemed somehow free.

  5. Greg Jackson's class last fall! I just wrote a flash piece where a woman is late meeting her friend at "The Bar That's Not Carmine's." I miss you.

  6. Oh my God I need to read that piece instantly! Can you send it to me?


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