If I weren’t a writer, I would probably be alarmed if I woke up to the sound of people arguing with restrained ferocity–particularly since the only other beings typically present in my house at 6:30 a.m. are my cats and my dog. But I was thrilled. For a long while, I lay as still as possible so as not to disturb the speakers–a couple of my characters.
I had to lie still so I could capture enough of what they said to hold in my memory until I could get up, navigate the feline and canine yowls and yips for breakfast and morning pats, and get to a notebook to before the key phrases of the dialogue evaporated. It’s not that my characters would have minded my eavesdropping–in fact, it’s what they want–it’s just that my being able to hear them requires quieting all the other relentless demands to listen, to think, to do, to give, to solve, to provide, to consider, to invent, to finish that arise out of my regularly-paying job.
Unlike most university professors, I don’t really get a winter break–not worth explaining why. In fact, November, December, and January are my most punishing months (even when I don’t have the three-week flu, as I had this year) so that makes for a long season of being too overwhelmed with the noise of managing life to hear what I really want to hear–the voices of the people who live in my imagination.
So I’ve spent the day with them–a day I’d worked hard to keep clear for them–pushing back the other noise, when it comes, with the words, “I’ll tend to you tomorrow.”
One of the advantages of having far too much to do is that, having pushed on, head down, like a boar through the thicket, you sometimes suddenly emerge onto a clear, sunlit plain. Mid-August to late-September for me is always tangled with bureaucratic extras that take far more time to get through than anything I have to do for the benefit of my students, but this September included a few unanticipated deadfalls and snares, including one that has quite literally lamed me and slowed my progress still further. I’m still recovering from that injury, but today I looked up to see the glimmer of light through a final stand of trees.
Just this moment, I’m taking time to pause, to lift my head, to blink in wonder at the sun, and to look back at the darkness I’ve come through. What lies ahead are a clear Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and (if I’m lucky) half of a Monday–all for me, which means all for writing.
The first few weeks of every semester are always over-stuffed with data production and meetings (often about data production) and classes, of course. Dozens of little ships have to be launched–and launched, somehow, without crashing into each other.
But Fall semester at least has a blessing Spring semester can’t boast: Labor Day weekend!
I’m working extra long days all this week so I can sequester the holiday weekend for writing, because, after nine days away (and five more to come), I miss my characters.
Writing this feels a little like sending them a post card that says, “Home soon.”
When I was a very little girl, I was frustrated by the confusion of the many things I wanted to be–a ship’s captain, Jane Goodall, an actress, a singer, a veterinarian, a jockey, a horse-trainer, a farmer–and then, one day, sitting on the floor of the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library, surrounded by books I’d pulled from the shelf, agonizing over which I would choose to borrow, since my stacks included far more than my permitted quota, I had a revelation similar to what C.S. Lewis said about being a reader. Suddenly I understood that, if I became a writer, I could be all the things I’d ever dreamed of being–as often or as occasionally as I liked, singly or several mixed together, for the rest of my life.
I have to get back to full-time teaching in a couple of weeks, but already I’ve made up my mind that I’ll be sticking as close as possible to my writing cave, venturing out only when absolutely necessary. Characters are chattering at me when I’m drinking my coffee, walking my dog, shopping for groceries, driving my car, or trying to relax by reading or watching a movie–and yesterday, I had a flash of the closing image, the very last moment in the story. Lately there have been so many light bulbs firing off in my brain I’m surprised my neighbors haven’t complained about the nuisance.
For the last week, when I’ve had to stop writing for the day–simply from exhaustion–I’ve been working on class syllabi, uploading PDFs, and tending to other bits of time-gobbling trivia it takes to get classes going. I’ve also plotted a work-map for the semester. With its days and chunks of days blocked out for writing, it is no doubt idealized and impossible, but it helps to aim high.
Or maybe I should say, aim to stay high. I’m counting on those blocks of time to draw me back, irresistibly, like a lodestone–back to this story, these people, who have taken over my soul.
Now…they’re talking again, so, if you’ll excuse me…