I’ve got to go, I tell him.
He looks at me with compassion. He’s on the bed, leaning against the wall with his computer balanced on his lap, just as he was an hour ago.
Go where, Mommy? Our son asks from behind me.
Just an hour, I say. Should I come back with pizza?
An hour alone, truly alone, where my thoughts belong to me in one winding, unbroken, uninterrupted strand, is a luxury these days. Earlier, I’d hoped for 30 minutes, ½ hour of uninterrupted time, accepting it still required company. I turned on the tv for my son; I turned my own show on my computer, with my head phones on. We’ve done this before, my son and I, when I needed to not be cleaning or playing or grading or planning, when I needed to just be. Thirty minutes is too short to watch most shows that I’m willing to watch in those just be moments, but it’s what I seem to need to recharge. So we sit next to each other – my son’s requirement, fulfilling the need of constant, affectionate companionship–and watch our separate shows—my requirement, fulfilling my need for something I don’t have to share.
I got 17 minutes. Then began the barrage: Why is that man blue? What’s an alien? What’s an alien? What’s an alien? Where did the blue man go?
I cursed myself for opting for a sci-fi show.
17 minutes is 12 longer than the last chunk of time that was all my own. But it’s still not enough to recall The Very Important Thing I’d needed to do 7 hours of interruptions ago. (In fact, while setting up the document to write this, I discovered an email I wrote at 6am this morning but had not yet sent. I’m fairly sure it isn’t The Very Important Thing.) 12 minutes isn’t even enough to entertain the idea of writing. While I’ve written on breaks before, those 10 minutes of pen on paper were preceded by time in which at least part of my mind could drift along thinking about the characters.
I find it fascinating how life can shift so dramatically, and what a person took for granted in themselves is suddenly superseded by a sort of creative practicality. This will look different in different people. For me, it was consistency of mind. A good memory, a creative spirit. For me, it takes the form of a small child. Trying to explain the morality of superheroes to a 3-year-old who is still learning that “bad behavior” and “bad person” are not synonymous leaves me mentally limp when an uninterrupted break suddenly comes. I find myself drinking more coffee because the 5 minutes it takes to make tea is the 5 minutes I have to myself. It will be another 15 minutes before I remember I poured tea, and then it’s cold, so what’s the point? It took me nearly 10 minutes, after declaring I was running away from home for an hour, to realize I could write.
We are so busy. We fill our lives with too much work, and struggle to meet not just the needs of our family but also the societal expectations of us as family; we strive to be interesting, knowledgeable, insightful as writers. It strikes me sometimes, though, that the people we respect for their knowledge or their insight or their skill at words and productivity in writing, have something we also struggle for: time. The stories I know about heralded writers share one aspect – they were left alone for great periods of time. For the rest of us, we try to find the time or try to make time for our writing. In my life, this doesn’t work. Finding time would be great, but the time I find gets spent on practical life stuff: prepping for my class, grading papers, making dinner. Time to write…sometimes I just have to steal it.
May you all have a stolen hour.