Writing Amidst the “Carnival”

Frequently Asked Question: How do you find time to write, when you are a full-time mama with no childcare, and work a part-time job?
Answer: I don’t wait for the spare moment of solitude, I just jump in and write amidst “The Carnival”.

I’m not referring to the seminal Wyclef Jean album, I’m talking about the fact that I write most of my blog posts, articles, and freelance pieces with my whole family rumbling and tumbling all around me.

There’s often a children’s show on in the background, my husband trying to show me a you tube video or talk to me about what he learned in meditation last night, and I take frequent breaks to get Olive more milk or change a “boo-boo diaper”.

Recently a friend sent me this article about the routines of famous writers, and of course I found myself dipped into a vat of longing when I read about the writers who could devote hours of their day to their craft, taking breaks only to do some physical activity like swimming or running, returning to the page in the evening, perhaps with a stiff drink in hand.

However, I also read about several writers who plunge right in, like Ray Bradbury, who wrote without any quietude, in the middle of the living room with his family all around. That seems so right to me. And it is how I am getting it done.

My frequent writing posture: with a child attached to my body.

Writing in the midst of your family is not ideal — writing without the chatter of Go Diego Go in the background, or without my child trying to get her fingers on the keys would probably turn me into a novelist rather than a blogger/writer of short pieces. However, what does one receive by writing in the midst of family?  I’m sure that their presence informs my work, especially because I write about family life most often.

Because my family needs at least part of my attention, writing is easier than reading. Writing I can leave off and pick up instantly again, but reading takes a sinking into, a leaving of this world for another. So, perhaps I write more, since I have to write with my family around?

I don’t know. I always, always, always crave more time and space to write. I am trying to be grateful for having to write and live all at once.

So, I don’t have swaths and swaths of time to write. However, I have plenty of time to live, and since I’m often writing about my life, I feel the need to do things and really live in order to have things to write about! We have to follow our interests in life, to get the energy flowing, but then also be careful that we are not avoiding writing. Distractions of a happy family are pretty lovely.

When writing needs total incubation, I jot some thoughts down in the morning time and then wait until nap time to polish them and finish up. Sometimes Joel will take Olive to the store and I’ll steal 15 minutes to write.  Other times the pressure builds for days, and I have to make sure I set thoughts to page, even if it means staying up late, my brain positively on fire.

E. B. White also wrote with the “carnival” of his house all around him. “The members of my household never pay the slightest attention to my being a writing man — they make all the noise and fuss they want to. If I get sick of it, I have places I can go. A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”  That final sentence may be my personal motto.  I also love how he says that he’s grateful his wife is not “protective” of him. I would like to live in that kind of gratitude. There is an essentiality to it — that everyone is doing just as they please and no one is minded by the other’s activity, be it pedestrian or artistic.  My writing is not precious, or more important than doing a puzzle with my child.  We must get on with what is set before us, without much fuss about it.  For me, that is to write, and take my child to the park, and redirect her when she pushes her friend, and feed her insane amounts of bread and cheese products, and then to write again.

However, I love that Jack Kerouac is so superstitious and religious about his writing. Sometimes it’s true. You have to pray to Jesus, or Athena, or Saraswati, to preserve your sanity and energy so you can be present for your family. In fact, I think that’s a wonderful prayer.

Maya Angelou also prefers to write in the morning, “Then I go out and shop — I’m a serious cook — and pretend to be normal. I play sane — Good morning! Fine, thank you. And you? And I go home.”  I adore that she writes this out – I am often pretending to be normal as I’m internally clanging away inside with the desire to get back to art-making.  Gratefully, I’ve found a pack of nannies and a mom or two who I don’t need to pretend with, so when we are at the playground, and Olive kicks herself in the groin, I can say something like “Look!  My inability to potty-train my daughter saved her hymen!  Diaper Saves Virginity is an excellent Huff Po Parents article, right?” and they just laugh and don’t call CPS.

Listen, writing this all out is making me feel like it’s a freaking miracle that I ever publish anything.  It’s actually making me a little bit depressed, thinking about how little time I have to write.  I started this post a few days ago, and have worked on it several mornings in a row, and am only getting to finish it now because Olive is having her weekly time with her godfather, thank Jeebus for that.

However, I think having very little time to write gives me an urgency to do so.  I think about what I want to write about ALL the time, and when I have screwed up enough courage and language to actually get it out there, I dive in.  I leave all my doubts for after it is has been published, when I am usually consumed with about 15 seconds of total fear and vulnerability, after which I have to get on with my life.

Children leave you so little time for self-consciousness.  A pity, really.

Recently I was bemoaning our financial woes to my best friend and I pointed up to our apartment building and yelled, “This whole thing is held together by string and luck!”   Perhaps my writing career is as well.  String, luck, and a shit-ton of love and desire.  In fact, that’s what you are all getting for the holidays from me this year.  It will come wrapped in toddler drawings, tied with a ribbon of precious time.

16 thoughts on “Writing Amidst the “Carnival”

  1. Oh this ‘Other times the pressure builds for days, and I have to make sure I set thoughts to page, even if it means staying up late, my brain positively on fire.’ YES! I think it’s amazing that this allows you to let go of the fear and gives you the courage to just write.

  2. I don’t have children, but between the demanding job and household responsibilities and spending time with family, I understand the squeezing in of writing. I write on lunch break, steal moments immediately after work before my husband comes home, or sometimes in the wee hours of the morning. I used to wait for hours of time to create, and when those hours never happened, I never wrote and I got depressed. Spiritually and mentally constipated, for lack of a better word. Squeezing in the writing makes me a better person. I need to do it, just as you do. Keep up the fight, Rhea.

    • Yes, all writers, not just parent-artists, struggle with finding the time for their art. Glad to know you are stealing those moments! I love reading what they give you.

  3. I think the better question would be, “How do you write with THAT particular child around?” Cuz I’d be busy trying to bite her face all damned day and would get nothing else done.
    I like do say that I make time to write in the evenings, after everything else is done. But, honestly? I write in the quiet spaces in between everything, like when I’m in the bathroom or driving, and then try to memorize what I just wrote…in my head…so I can get it to paper before it leaves my mind.
    And that is why you will never see anything impressive from me – it takes too long to get from the bathroom to the keyboard.
    Ergo, I think you are doing it just right. Write.

    • For a second I had a picture of you pooping with the laptop propped on your knees… maybe that would cut down on the lag time? Thanks for the encouragement, my friend. And yes, the cuteness factor of my daughter does impede writing, but perhaps it helps my brevity! I write fast so I can get back to the face-biting you speak of.

      • You are such a wise woman! Writing quickly in order to bite cute faces. Making my own writing efforts more efficient.
        But I’m not bringing electronics in the bathroom. I’ve already learned that lesson the hard way. You’d think I’d have gone Olde Skoole by now and put a pad of paper with a pen next to the toilet but for some reason, I haven’t. Hmm. It’s because I do not have wisdomosity.

  4. never a dull or boring sentence from you my friend. I am reminded of my gratitude for my own time at the moment- and also so glad that i will have lessons to glean from you when i have my own small children.

  5. wait. can you talk more about how olive kicks herself in the groin?! you should definitely use that title for a Huffington post article even if the title has little to do with the piece, people will want to read it 🙂

    • Yesterday, Olive was playing in the park and I was sitting on the bench chatting w/ my Nanny Gang, and a mom brought Olive over, as she was crying. The mom said, “Olive just tripped and her boot hit her, hard, in her vagina.” This is San Francisco, where we are all trying to use anatomically correct language, so I just thanked the mom and held O-lo, asking her if she felt okay. She said, “Yeah! I want to go play!” and scooted off with nary more than a hug. I realized it was her big ol’ diaper that had saved her from injury!

  6. Pretend to be normal! =D I wonder how many people who seem to be “normal” do that. When inspiration strikes it doesn’t really care where you are, either. I have to sneak off/wake up/pull over to write down or otherwise record what just ran through my mind before it flies away. Sometimes when I have my helpers in the car, “quick, write this down for me”.

    • I receive fabulous inspiration while washing dishes. Artists need time for their minds to wander and wonder, while our hands are busy with mundane work. I’m not surprised driving does that for you! It can be meditative.

  7. I loved this post, really did, completely with you on this one. I have Evernote on my phone and a bunch of half done ideas and posts and I end up writing if I wake in the night or over my son’s shoulder during Jake and the Neverland Pirates or his current favorite – yep – go Diego go!

  8. Oh rhea, I’ll take you any way I can wrapped or in an amazing dress. I’m so grateful you are making writing a priority and stealing whatever moments that you can. Your words are powerful, meaningful, and funny! Keep going girl!

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