"Time to Write"

I thought I had good avoidance techniques but realized, when I saw my friend Paula's crooked, probably broken finger taped to a popsicle stick the morning of our first scheduled writing marathon, that I was in with the big league. Sure, she probably didn't fall and break her finger on purpose: faking the flu would have worked as well and been much less time consuming, in the long run - but breaking bones on her hand, even though it wasn't the writing one, was so much more symbolic.

Not that she was happy about it.

"We planned to write. I'm sure we can do it, if I can just put this hand someplace comfortable. I don't need it to write, and it doesn't really hurt that much."

I could see the pain threatening to leak out the corners of her eyes, but she insisted, kept insisting right through the quick visit to the doctor's office and the not so quick trip to the hospital for X-rays, and the phone call to the orthopedic surgeon who couldn't see her for another three hours. And I humored her, right through the batch of frozen pizza bagels I slaved over (used the toaster oven instead of the microwave) for our lunch away from the kids.

Not that I was happy about it either, though the broken finger bothered me a lot less than the fact that she kept apologizing for something out of her control. And she was so damn needy. Sure, I'd wanted a nice day in the park, but after it was clear that wasn't going to happen, I wanted to help her without having to listen to her whine about how she'd ruined my day.

Sometimes it simply makes more sense to put off writing, no matter how much you know that you've put it off too long already and really ought to -- deserve to — have some time to write.

Procrastination is rarely that artful, so the whole incident was more like a mark of genius, finally, than of a clutz. We didn't write that day. We also did not start a regimen of healthy eating or regular exercise or sort the piles of photographs clustered on the closet floor. We didn't cook dinners that included steamed green vegetables, mend the ripped size 4 dress for the now size 6 daughter, or take advantage of summer sales to shop early for Christmas. Not writing didn't become time to do all the other things we thought we should do, even though our usual excuse for not writing was so we could attend to the details that drive our days.

Until then, we believed that putting writing aside for later was the only way to fulfill obligations to families. That taking care of all those jobs was a valid reason to wait. We planned to write in that Never Never Land when everything else was finished. As if the dishes and laundry and bill-paying and child and spouse care would ever be done. As if we'd ever stumble upon an open door through which we would stop being everything else but writers.


The writers group we belong to was formed by Sylvia, a woman with whom Paula and I had shared a few workshops. We make plans to meet every month, but actually meet every month and a half to every two months.

At first we brought work and read it aloud, then listened to comments. We never made rules forbidding writer response to reader comments and thus spend a lot of time chatting. Too much, I often think, as I am pretty eager to get to the discussion about our writing. Actually, the only writing I'm *eager* to discuss is my own, but I'll get through everyone else's to get to it.

At first all Paula did was complain about it: she didn't have enough time, couldn't share what she was writing and really wanted help with, couldn't manage to get copies made, hated reading her work aloud ... complaints to replace the one about not belonging to a writing group. I wanted to shout and yell, "Then quit!" but instead tried to say encouraging things as much as possible. After that I probably did suggest she quit. I couldn't stand the whining, even if she is my best friend, given that I was managing to have something for each meeting, loved reading my work (or anyone else's) aloud, and she was the stay home mom and I was the one with the outside job plus the at home kids.

I have no idea what she thinks I should be able to do but don't. Typical. We can't see the weeds in each other's garden.

Sylvia's is our favorite place to meet, only partly because it means we don't have to clean our own homes. A former anthropology professor, she lives with her dog in a house literally nested in a forest. Everything she owns is white and clean. She tells us it's not always like that, but to me her place is *The Spa*. Because of Sylvia, we all bring out the cloth napkins and china for writer's group.

Her writing about angry mothers and daughters leaps off the page. We've seen little of that, though, and many versions about a time she hit a rabid raccoon with her hand to save her pooch. Her last essay was about the care birds show for their young in the nest; we suggested she find parallels in her own life to connect with that.

She told us there weren't any.


Paula and I thought we would find that door by arranging for baby-sitters and driving to a state park lined with dirt roads and towering pines circling a cold, stony brook, by which we could travel to the empty side of an hourglass. Inspiration isn't somewhere away from whining, Barney, or softball practice. Wife, mother, teacher, daycare provider, friend. We can't write without those selves or their obligations. Time to write is in our wrinkled foreheads, hidden in our gray hairs, under the callused feet we plan to moisturize.

Darn, darn, darn. We don't use stronger language because the kids manage to hear everything except "Pick up your toys."

But we thought better selves were waiting just down the hill. As writers we'd share dreams and wisdom that was deeper than how to get rid of ants without poisoning the children or soil. We'd find more to say to each other than which store had fresh apples and a sale on the biggest size of Huggies. We would have an uninterrupted conversation about the latest Pulitzer Prize-winning novel instead of the Berenstain Bears book we borrowed at the library for the tenth time in one month. We wouldn't be as visibly middle-aged or have hips that could obviously bear two children. Writers would be the women we knew we could be, if only we were twenty pounds lighter, had time to dry our hair, could get eight hours sleep more than once a week, and afford to buy clothing that was fashionable instead of permanent press.

Those women don't have our children. Nor do they share life with the men we found or have us for friends. Waiting for them to materialize was like waiting for water to boil. A waste of time. Time we could spend writing.

And that was what we wanted all along. That now healed, slightly crooked forever finger pointed us back home, where our writers lived.

We still put off weight loss, exercise, and planting the vegetable garden. But we write, and found that the women we were all along are poets and storytellers, too. All the magic we dreamed would lift us was in our hands, the same hands that clean toilet bowls and soothe the child who wakes screaming because the snow monster that scared Rudolph is looking in his window, the hands that shop for lunch desserts that look slightly healthy and pour dry cereal for dinner when it�s already after six and bedtime is sooner than later. The hands that guide crayon-filled fists away from the wall and slip through larger ones, as we walk down moonlit, uneven sidewalks, hold all the wizardry, and time, we want.

Write "Ellavon" at ellavon@ellavon.com.
Editor: Robert Basil. Special thanks to June Denbigh, Ray Szeto, and the Raylock Design Group.
Copyright retained by all contributors.

Released: June 12, 1998