Stuff I Write, Stuff I Like

Stuff I Think About Stuff I Write: Harry Crews, Cotton Candy, Guilt, Joan Didion, Kids, Words and A Plague of Basement Locusts

In Uncategorized on June 2, 2013 at 5:13 am

Harry Crews used to say this about writing:  “You wait until you got time to write a novel, or time to write a story, or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read – if you wait for the time, you will never do it. ‘Cause there ain’t no time; world don’t want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.”

Trying to be a writer or any kind of artistic type while balancing groceries and bills and dishes and trash day and raising kids and showering every once in a while – plus making time for cotton candy, which is, of course, delicious– can feel impossible.

Especially the raising kids part. There’s so much guilt there.

“Shh, mommy’s working,” I’ve heard myself say for too many years now.

I worry what this does to my kids, how they take that in and in.

My son, in an end-of-year report, wrote this about my work life:  “Sometimes it seems like my mom never gets time off. She’s always working.”

By which he means I stare into my computer. By which he means he hears me say “not now.” He hears me say, “seriously, I’m trying to think here,” and, simply, “no.”

No to whatever it is he’s asking, to whatever it is he needs at the moment, to whatever it is I think can wait.

It hurts my lungs to write that.

Most true things hurt to write about.

How can I be sure about what can and cannot wait? How can I know what really matters?

Joan Didion, in her wonderful book Blue Nights, talks about this, too. After the loss of her daughter Quintana, Didion runs back through time, worrying over the moments when she paid attention to her work, the page, and shut her daughter, her heart-work, out.

“Shh, mommy’s working,” she said.

Having a child is like letting your heart walk around outside your body. The writer Elizabeth Stone said that and it’s true.

I love my children.

I need to write because writing is what I do, another kind of out-of-body heart.

There’s no way to balance this.

One of my writer friends who doesn’t have kids sent me an e-mail the other day. “For when you get away from your writer’s desk,” it said.

I read the e-mail on my phone when I took a break from mopping up a puddle of apple juice I’d just spilled on our not-so-mop-able old kitchen floor.

My writer’s desk is covered with bill baskets and Highlights magazines. I write when I can, where I can, which is rarely at that desk these days. There is no photogenic, iconic writers’ nook in our house. My husband, a writer too, and I – we write where we can, in the bathroom if necessary.


“How do you balance your life/writing/work/kids/etc.?” someone asked me in an interview recently.

It seems like such an easy question. My husband and I understand each other. We do our best to give each other time. We read for each other, too, which saves an incredible amount of bumbling-around. We’re very honest with each other and will tell each other whether something is working or not. It helps a lot.

As parents, we know how important it is to love and still corral our kids. But sometimes it’s easier than others.

One day when it was my turn to write, my husband said, simply, “go.” I went down and locked myself in my office. I swooped everything off that writing desk and settled in, determined to knock out 10 pages, just like that.

A short while later, I heard footsteps. My son and daughter snuck down and stood outside my office door. They kept knocking. They kept shoving notes under the door.

“We’re hungry,” my daughter said.

“No, starving,” my son, who’s older and more sophisticated when it comes to manipulation, said. I knew they’d just had lunch.

“We’re scared,” my daughter said.

“Terrified,” my son said, even though I knew my husband was right upstairs doing dishes and had probably glanced away from them for just a minute.

Finally, when I still didn’t open the door, my daughter said, “You know, there are bugs out here,” and my son said, “Locusts.”


There are no locusts in our basement.

I love my children.

I love my children.

But sometimes it’s important to not open the door.

Tell me how  to live with that.

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