It all begins with some stinky, stained carpet.
After years of living with an elderly dog and then a puppy, the carpet in my small sunroom is trashed. This is the room where I write, and the smell is distracting. (For the record, nearly anything has the power to distract me from writing, but still…) Something has to be done.
So I go to Home Depot to price carpet, then come home and start dragging furniture out of my daughter’s room. That makes sense, right?
The title of my first book, ‘Hello Loved Ones,’ comes from an “endearment “ used casually by the father of the narrator when he comes home drunk after long unexplained absences. He tosses these words at his children, who are starved for his attention, before leaving them. The novel looks at the importance of love in action and questions whether love is determined by blood or by choice.
My suitcase was open on the bed, half full. My best friend was in the room with me, telling me to stop packing. I wanted her to shut up. I was becoming angry, and it was that particular anger that comes when someone tells you something you already know.
We were both juniors at Indiana University and I was soon to catch a flight for London to do a semester abroad. It was my dream, I’d lined up a program, and I had the student loan to pay for it.
British author David Mitchell says, “Travel far enough, you meet yourself.” These words came to me as I was about to embark on a dream vacation to Paris, the city of light and love, with some of my favorite people in the world: my daughter and two dear family friends.
While I was excited to share the adventure with them, I knew the beauty of the trip would be in the various and unique ways we each find enchantment. Of course I wanted to pose in front of the Eiffel Tower and float along the Seine, but more than that, I wanted to discover: How would my heart be changed?
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
My flight from Los Angeles to Chicago touched down just before rush hour, making the trip home last a solid eight hours (ten including the time change). It marked the end of a busy two days spent sharing one room with three 17-year-olds, navigating LA freeways while listening to hip-hop, taking college tours, visiting friends, and wedged next to a stranger devoted to friendly chit-chat. It was a wonderful trip, but it reminded me that there is one personal item essential to me (even when I don’t have time to unpack it):
On a recent drive to Michigan, I passed the time by listening to author Elizabeth Gilbert being interviewed on the podcast “On Being.” She was talking about the creative process and said the same words that I’ve read on the back cover of her new book, Big Magic:
“The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.”
I admit, I teared up.
Do you ever wonder why asking “How are you?” continues to be such a common greeting? It’s like opening a door to a shadowy room. You never know what will come out. You’ll learn about aches and pains, work stress, annoying family members, or sometimes just get slimed with general ennui.
And being the one asked is just as fraught. You want to be positive, but the urge to trot out your woes is so strong. Attentive ears can be hard to come by, and if you’re being honest….
I’m not proud of the fact that there are unwashed dishes in my sink, a pile of unfolded laundry on my bed, or a family of dust bunnies under my dresser. But I’m writing. And when my writing time increases, my usually high cleaning standards take a dramatic fall.
My dirty little secret is that, in order to write the way I want to, I have to allow myself to be a little slovenly. I have to accept that the blocks of time spent staring out the window, taking meandering walks, even dumping clean clothes on the bed, becoming distracted, and wandering away are part of my creative process.
This morning I was walking my dog when we passed a young mother struggling with her toddler. They were standing on the corner and the little girl was refusing to take her mother’s hand to cross the street. Against the girl’s screeching cries of no, no no, the mother was quickly losing her cool. She was grabbing at the girl and trying to push a plastic scooter at the same time.
Finally she yelled, “Look how hard this is for me!”
Well, I looked. And I saw not only her struggle but my own. How perfectly her words captured my state of mind. Whether I’m flailing against my writing, overwhelmed by parenting, or simply carrying or doing too much, I often want to shout those same words to someone, anyone.