Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Like Reading a Book

West Virginia was lovely. It is a state populated by friendly people and gorgeous mountains. My sessions at the book festival were filled with teachers who want to become writers. How can we do it, they wanted to know?

I gave my usual advice: Write every day, find someone you trust to give you feedback, revise, revise, revise. I made the suggestion I myself find impossible to take: Read the best children's books you can find and analyze them chapter by chapter. How does the author begin chapters? End chapters? How does the action rise and fall? Track the story arc through the course of the book.

The problem is, and I admitted this to my audience, if a book's really good, you get sucked into the story and forget to analyze. You can't stand back from the story and examine the parts. At least I can't.

Lately I've been on a kick to see where my time goes so I can figure out how to use it better. But I'm finding it's as hard to analyze my life as it is to break a book into its parts. Time flies away from me, and I wonder why I can't get more done. Is it the lure of the Internet? Is it the siren call of books? Is it just my own massive laziness?

One thing I've realized: When trying to analyze why I don't get anything done, I neglect to count all the stuff I do get done. Getting breakfast and a proper dinner on the table is quite a time-suck, for instance. From 5 to 7 every evening, I'm in the kitchen, chopping, sauteeing, stirring, grating, preheating, baking, basting, plating. During this time I'm also putting together lunches, washing dishes, and overseeing the boys' chores. From 8-9, I'm supervising bedtime and showers and laying out clothes for the morning and setting alarms and turning back the covers on various beds.

And let's not forget the driving. There's driving to school in the morning and picking up in the afternoon. There's taking Jack to taekwondo twice a week. There are dentist appointments and hair appointments and play dates. Oh, the play date driving! There's the time on the road and the time preparing to get on the road--time spent corralling the dog and turning off the lights and the radio and setting the alarm. I start getting ready to leave the house ten minutes before I leave the house, and since I leave the house three or four times a day a lot of days, well, there's a good chunk of time right there.

Add the time it takes to make appointments, break appointments and talk on the phone with my mom or my co-coordinator for the Interfaith Hospitality Network, call the Man at work to remind him to pick up Jack from taekwondo. Time spent quizzing Jack for his French quizzes and History tests, for helping Will with his Superstar Math.

Gathering the clothes in laundry baskets and putting them in the wash, in the dryer, taking them back upstairs, folding, folding, folding.

Walk the dog. Knit the sweater. Practice the fiddle every day from 2-2:30. Write in the Blog. Return the library books. Spend entirely too much time in the library looking at books there's no time to read, but check them out anyway, just in case there's a sudden two-week gap in my schedule where I have absolutely nothing to do.

Hang out with the Man, who likes to be talked to now and again.

There is no way to break my day into its parts and sum it up and make it seem organized. There is no narrative arc here, no exciting beginning or dramatic end. But if I step back far enough, I can see that each one of my days is like a paragraph. A paragraph doesn't seem like much on its own, but string enough of them together and you've got yourself a story.

It's a story where not many letters get written and the floors are rarely mopped, where the main character would like to knit more sweaters and take a class or two, but it's got its juicy parts, nonetheless, its fair share of conflicts and resolutions. Lots of chocolate is eaten. It's a story with chocolate and dogs and a fire in the fire place on cold winter days--not to everyone's tastes, but I'd read it.


Sara Padrusch said...

Gorgeous writing. Serious hard core loveliness. Thank you for writing something so true and beautiful. Elegy of a housewife.

Gretchen Joanna said...

I think I'll send a link to this post to about a hundred moms I know--especially the young ones--who think they don't get "anything done." You have so vividly described a busy and productive woman's life.

debbie bailey said...

That's how Laura Ingalls Wilder got her start! Elegy of a housewife. I like it Sara. Sounds like my days too.

You asked what I'm working on...I just finished a writing course by mail from LongRidgeWriters. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot. Now I just need to quit procrastinating and mail out submissions. Right now I like to write personal essays. I don't know if I have it in me to write a novel or not, but I'd like to. Time will tell...

Danielle said...

Wow. I love the paragraph metaphor. That's it. What I have been trying to name and haven't. It takes your gift to make it clear. Thanks.

Rose said...

I love this post. As the mother of a baby, my paragraphs are even simpler, but nonetheless, I hope they string together into something worthwhile.

Being a writer is something I've been thinking about lately. I guess I'm hoping it's a little like trying to conceive a baby. You try for years and then give up, relax and make other plans, and then two weeks before you start nursing school you find out you're pregnant (yes, this is from personal experience, how'd you know?). Well, I've spent years wanting to be a Writer with a capital "W". Well, when I decided to give up on being a writer, and instead content myself simply with writing, I suddenly felt more like a Writer than I ever had.

I'm hoping to spontaneously conceive a best-selling novel next.

Gumbo Lily said...

What a fine story. I enjoyed every bit of it. As my children have left home, I have less and less of all those everyday chores to do. Oh yes, some can't be avoided, but wait and see. You'll be amazed when just one leaves home how much LESS laundry there is to do.

I agree with Gretchen Joanna....many young moms need to read this.


Gumbo Lily said...

A book just popped in my head, one that all women with families should read: The Invisible Woman by Nicole Johnson. It's a short book and so, so good for the soul.


Pom Pom said...

Hi Frances!
YOU are so good and true.

Tracy said...

You're so right. We don't get much of the "I want to..." stuff done. We get most of the "I have to...." stuff done though. After all, food and clean clothes always remain on the 'urgent' list, don't they!

I always feel like I don't get anything done. But I do. I cook, I make lunches, I supervise the getting ready for school, I oversee and help with homework, I send children for showers, to brush their teeth and to go to bed. I do my own homework for College, I work, I read (100 pages a day til Friday at the moment!!!), I facilitate parenting courses and prepare to run book club for a stand-in effort....I find time to watch telly and spend time with friends.

I find time to sleep.

There ya go. I do heaps. I just don't get to the stuff I'd *like* to do!

Susan said...

I think my life is more like a long run-on sentence than a paragraph. For the most part, however, I get my subjects and verbs to agree.

Left-Handed Housewife said...

Hi, everyone--Thanks so much for all your comments. I'm glad this hit a chord with you--makes me feel like I'm not alone in all my running around and not getting anything done while getting everything in the world done (except finishing my Christmas knitting!).


Jeannette said...

Frances you make me want to pull out my old diaries and post little snippets of things I wrote while waiting outside the piano teacher's the parking lot of you name it ...and in between .......
well you've got it all...