This morning, Adam’s car wouldn’t start. This is no surprise. For the past six months, it’s needed a jump every week or so. A few weeks ago, we took it to the shop after trying for an aggravating half hour to get it to start (and finally succeeding), then left it there for five days over the New Year’s holiday. We thought it was a problem with the electrical in the car because the radio and dashboard lights have completely stopped working. A little research, and we figured out it’s a defect in particular model.
But, after our mechanic gave it a once over a few weeks ago, it turned out the battery we just installed (again, thinking that could be the problem) might have been old and not fully charged. The mechanic gave it a full charge and the car started right up. He gave us the keys and shrugged his shoulders. “Might be the starter,” he said, “but I just don’t know.”
We thanked him and left, and didn’t have a problem with the car starting until this morning. I pulled back the curtains in the front room as the early dark began to lift and saw that Adam had pulled my car next to his to give it a jump. I rolled my eyes. So far nothing had gone right this morning. We all were suffering through our bad attitudes, and I knew I had to get my act together in order to help because Adam was on his way inside.
He stood at the back door, bundled in his winter gear, with that look on his face, the one that said he was not happy. “I’m so frustrated with this,” he said, sighing long and loud.
“I know,” I replied, passing him on my way to the counter where the kids’ lunchboxes waited to be filled. “We’ll figure it out. We just need to get you to class today.” I gave him a half-hearted smile and he asked me to come outside to help.
I sat in the driver’s seat of my car and revved the engine. On the first try, his car started.
We walked back into the house, so I could finish making lunches, and I handed Adam my keys. He put them in his pocket and five minutes later, he left. With the keys still in his pocket.
Of course, I didn’t know it yet. I finished the kids’ lunches, then ran upstairs to put on my gym clothes. My plan for the morning was to work for an hour, then head to the gym for spinning. I got the kids on the bus, sat at the computer for an hour, then went downstairs to warm up my car and – well, you know – no keys. They weren’t hanging on the hook. They weren’t on the counter. I checked the car and retraced my steps, but I knew Adam had them. I texted him, and he confirmed it. I’d be stuck at home today.
Which makes the whole starting his car thing this morning seem silly. He should have just taken my car, the one with the working radio.
“I am so sorry,” he texted. “I need a do-over for today.”
He was right, and not just for himself – we both could use a do-over. And, honestly, I could use a quiet day at home with no running around, even if my plan after working out was to grab some wine for tonight to go with our homemade pizza. A day alone at home, but no wine – I could handle that tradeoff.
I ended up working a bit more, watching this week’s episode of This is Us, taking a nap, and watching a video online. Then I came downstairs and decided to make chocolate chip cookies. I put on some music and started pulling ingredients out of the cupboards, but my mind wandered. The video I’d watched was a writer answering questions about the writing life – how to build a platform, what it’s like to get a book contract, how being a writer is a long-term commitment. It reminded me of Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing, how the writing life is a long game.
Until recently, this never occurred to me, the long game of writing. Even when I was in graduate school for creative writing, we never talked about having a writing career or how writing would look in our everyday lives. I never saw myself as an older woman still sitting down to write after years and years of practice. I’m not really sure what I pictured.
I mix ingredients and hum along to the music playing, but in the back of my mind I am working out what a writing life might look like for me. Especially on a day like today where I had nothing pressing to do and nowhere (apparently) to go. And what do I want to write anyway? Can I see myself writing a book – a memoir, perhaps, or a novel? I don’t know.
The cookies don’t come out like I planned, which I blame on the butter. We don’t have a microwave and whenever I have to soften butter, I cut it into small pieces and place it in a pan on the stove. It ends up a half-melted mess with the other half still too cold, so the dough doesn’t stick together like it should. It’s all crumbly. This has happened before.
But I’m determined to make this crumbly dough work. I place the baking sheets on the counter and scoop one tablespoon at a time of dough into my hand before squishing it into little balls. My hands are warm enough that the dough sticks together, though doing it this way is taking twice as long.
What I should know by now is everything takes twice as long as expected – making cookies, writing, packing the kids’ lunches, starting the car. I used to set a timer for everything, but I gave that up for New Year’s. No more timers, just time.
Like Annie Dillard says: “The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet.”
I pop the baking sheets in the oven and sit down at the table. The kids will be home in an hour, I see, so I get out a notebook and flip open the laptop. Each day, I’ve been trying to write at least five hundred words. Since the beginning of the year, it’s happened all of three times.
Last year was a series of false starts. Sometimes I could write, but more often I worried about writing. I worried about what I might say and also that I had nothing to say. I worried that no one would care and also that someone would care. I wrote thousands of words but never found my groove.
If my writing life was like a car, last year it was stalled out in the driveway waiting for a jump.
This year, I’m trying to keep it rolling long enough to re-charge the battery.
I glance over at my notebook and reread a note I’d written yesterday: “What about feeling totally satisfied at the end of the day? Satisfied and not stressed? Feeling the nourishment of a good day’s work?”
More days than I can count, I’ve ended the day stressed, trying to do too much, jamming as much as I could into one time slot after another. I’d follow the Pomodoro technique, setting the timer for twenty-five-minute increments. How much can I do in twenty-five minutes? A lot, actually. How do I feel afterward? Like there is never enough time.
If writing is a long game, it has to go slowly. It’s sitting down day after day, crafting one word at a time, one step at a time. You have to go at your own pace. There’s no one to race; there’s only the work that needs to be done. Sometimes it comes quickly; sometimes slowly. It can come however it comes.
It’s no different than a car that won’t start or a dough that won’t stick. It’s no different than a plan that doesn’t work out – it might just surprise you. These are the things I keep thinking about as I prepare another batch of cookies for the oven, as the kids get off the bus and head back out to play in the snow, as I wash the dishes and prepare the pizza dough for dinner tonight (and it does stick together), as my husband comes in the door and I’m already standing there waiting to kiss him hello because he finally made it back home.