“How is your book doing?” she asked me, and I loved the question for the way she worded it: As if the book itself was doing, as if it had agency, a life of its own.
As if, left to its own devices in my desk drawer, in my laptop files, it might nonetheless continue to evolve toward completion.
And, in truth, it might be gaining life. In fact, I know it is–but not in the way one hopes. It is gaining life in the way of all creative projects when they are neglected: it is growing wild. When I do (today? tomorrow?) return again to the project, it will be scarcely recognizable to me, grown woolly and fierce. I will have to wrestle it to the ground, read and re-read its pages. I will have to remind myself of its identity and my intentions. I will have to, all over again, tame it.
But that is for another post.
This post, this very one here, is all about the reason why I am letting my fourth child grow feral in the unsupervised wilds of my laptop. The reason is my other children, the two-legged ones, the three quasi-adults who inhabit the rooms of this house.
How is your book doing? It is neglected, sorry to say, because my other children are not. What have the last weeks–no, months–been if not tending to these Busy-nesses? These persons who must come and go with their own agendas, not necessarily needing me and then suddenly Needing Me Very Much?
In a way, I suppose, things have always been like this. Children–no matter their ages–don’t need us and then suddenly do. Think, for instance, of the skinned knee, the erupting quarrel, the sudden and bracing trip to the emergency room. But for the most part, when they are younger, the needs are quiet and unsurprising. He needs a nap. She needs a bath. Now they (clearly) need to be read to. Those daily things were predictable and completely under my control. I had things well in hand.
I don’t necessarily feel that this is any longer the case.
We have, as I have alluded to, more coming and going, for starters. I do a lot in the way of ferrying–trotting people to lessons and appointments, picking up Everett from school so that he can drive home again. I’m out more than I’m in, and for a homebody, for a writer, that has its limitations. At the same time, it’s a situation that has been mounting. It has been like this for awhile–and now, perhaps, more so. It’s normal, I know. It is the way of things.
And then there are the Events, the things that simply take More. Our latest and biggest was Will’s graduation from high school, joyous and wonderful and carrying also that quiet nostalgia. It meant, of course, preparations, which also meant stemming the activities of our home-school for a time. It mean out-of-town guests, and a Really Splendid Party, and getting ready for those things, and, since then, the recovery (vital) afterward.
Now, of course, things have slowed down, haven’t they? Will is graduated, Everett has finished his finals. Emma and I (mostly Emma) have a few things to wrap up, and then things will grow quieter, won’t they? Now, a friend encouraged me, this summer, she said, is the time for your book.
Predictability, ease of pace. The (perhaps) imposition of a schedule such that I have predictable time to myself each day, compulsory quiet, and a string of several hours together.
And then there was last Monday and the unanticipated 1.5 hours I spent in the DMV. He needed a parent (who knew?) to apply and receive his “after-nines.” Here was an errand I hadn’t anticipated. I had anticipated catching up on homeschool stuff that morning, sitting quietly with a history text and making notes, deciding what Emma needed yet to do. I had planned on doing laundry. On wrapping languishing packages. On making (and saving) room in my afternoon to work on that book of mine.
Instead, I did some very little planning in the DMV, perched on a chair with a desk attached like they have in high school, and coaching Will (again) in the art of the thank-you note. Yes, it was productive, and yes, it was time with Will. But it wasn’t (at all) what I had anticipated. And I never did get to the book that afternoon.
Which was fine.
Last night we held a sleepover, unexpected and last minute, the way my kids do things these days. They were quiet and respectful. They kept to themselves. When they left the house at 11 p.m. on an errand to buy some Cheerwine, Everett was thoughtful enough to text me. Everyone slept soundly, so far as I could tell, and this morning I made them muffins for breakfast.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by my later encounter with the family room: empty Sprite cans on the end table, empty glasses and chip bags on the floor. And, inexplicably wedged between the wall and sofa, the empty 2-liter bottle that had so recently been full of Cheerwine. The boys, oblivious (is it possible?), had begun to hold a band practice–and I made them stop immediately and take care of it all, which they did with no audible complaint.
Now those two dear sleeping-over boys have left. Like my children’s mother, theirs has necessary plans for the day. But at our house we are enjoying the unexpected visit of our youth group’s summer interns. A game of Settlers of Catan is in full swing on the dining room table, and I am letting Emma (who has a grammar test to take and some history to read) enjoy this fun with them.
I’m thinking there is yet time in the day for homeschool, and also (I think so) for the book. But these three children of mine have a mobility that, for all its wildness, my novel decidedly lacks. Feral or otherwise (and oh, I hope for mostly “otherwise”), they will take on lives of their own.
The book, when necessary (and thank you for asking), can wait.