Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Finding Head Space

Whenever I have ideas for short stories or fictional scenes (which, by the way, rarely make it to paper), my character is usually driving a car. I think this is because the only time I get enough peace and quiet to let my mind wander into the realm of fiction is when I'm driving all by myself, although I've had a lot less alone time in the car over the last year because E and Z's preschool is near my office (another reason I'm looking forward to them attending public school--so I don't have to listen and respond to questions like "what does eight-seven-zero make?" repeatedly before eight in the morning).

Sunday morning I woke early and, even though I'd been up late the night before, I decided to get up and go bird-watching. I hadn't been out yet this spring, and the leaves and bugs are coming out fast and furious, making finding birds, and standing still to see them, more and more difficult. My general method of bird watching is to listen for an unfamiliar bird song and follow it until I can train my binocs on the bird and identify it, thus learning a new bird and a new bird song. I must be out of practice, though, because all the birds seemed to be across ponds and rivers (and because I nearly forgot my binoculars!). It didn't matter, though, because I enjoyed stumble-crashing through the woods, standing under fir trees to wait out rain showers, opening my eyes and ears and letting ideas percolate through my brain.

By the time I got home I had three ideas ready to boil over, but Sunday is my morning to cook breakfast, so I took some black bananas that have been festering in the fruit bowl and started banana bread, then I figured I should probably make some regular bread too, since I didn't made any all last month, and when I opened the refrigerator to get out eggs and yeast, I remembered that I'd bought an extra jar of milk to make into yogurt, but hadn't gotten around to that yet, so I poured it into a pan to heat up. I got the banana bread in the oven (after accidentally adding the two teaspoons of salt destined for the bread batter), E and Z left with Grampy for breakfast at the High Hat and, with the bread rising and yogurt cooling, I flipped on the laptop and settled on the couch for a few minutes of writing.

M came downstairs at about this time and settled himself next to me, reading over my shoulder, which let's just say is not conducive to the flow of words. Then C came down and I made eggs and toast, with the last of our bakery bread, because I'd had to add extra ingredients to the banana bread to try to soak up some of the excess salt and now it was taking forever to bake. After breakfast I tried again with the writing, and again M sat next me. I asked him to please not read over my shoulder so instead he chattered and played Michael Jackson's "Beat It" on the record player over and over and over (that kid is all about mastery).

At last I gave up and we went up to the boys' room to start on a mega clean-up. I don't have before and after pictures for you (if I did you'd say, "Ah, that explains it, she lives in squalor"); after we were done, M said, "We had a forest floor, an understory, a canopy and an emergent of stuff we had to walk on." Exactly. I began sorting through E and Z's dresser for too-small clothes and rearranging furniture (by shoving all the toys, books and clothes accumulated on the floor into the middle of the room). After an hour or so of this, the sun came out and C and M took off on their bikes to the General Store.

At last I had some time alone, but my idea had grown limp after the repeated interruptions earlier and the late night and early morning were catching up to me, so instead I took some banana bread and a book out on the deck, and alternated dozing and reading, until all the boys returned. I played with them a bit then had C help me install the straps that hold up my hammock and retired there for the afternoon. Unbelievably, no one searched me out and the wind blew just enough to keep the black flies at bay so that I was able to finish reading my book before returning to the bedroom. The boys and I spent the rest of the afternoon restoring order from chaos--and getting rid of two laundry baskets of too-small clothes, a big bag of recycling, a crate of books and a few handfuls of trash.

After dinner I cleaned the bathroom while the boys took their Sunday night bath and showers (meaning I cleaned the tub before E and Z got in it so it immediately got dirty again and the shower never got cleaned at all--so much for multi-tasking). After I put them to bed I thought about going through the three bins of hand-me-down clothes in the basement so I could finally--finally--get out the spring and summer clothes (we've had 80 degrees all week), and I thought about working on the column I really need to write for The Motherhood Muse. But instead I decided to just go to sleep, windows wide open, so that the bird song would come in in the early morning.

How and where do you find time to think?


  1. My only option is to get up before my girls. I was getting up at 6:30, and now I'm starting to push it back as early as 5:30. Once they're up, there's zero head space, and once they're in bed, I'm too tired to think. So waking at a ridiculous hour is my new strategy. Now I just need to start going to bed earlier.

  2. On short, occasional walks and in the shower.

  3. Without a doubt in the car (sans kiddos, of course). This is perhaps the most inconvienent place (second maybe to the shower??) as I've often tried to scribble key words onto a notepad while driving (ha--take that you menacing text drivers). But I'm ususally so thankful for the idea/nudge/inspiration that I'll try to honor it by pulling over. Once, while running errands, I drove all the way to the town library just to use the quiet reading room and got 8 pages written (that NEVER EVER happens to me. It's always a paragraph here a paragraph there, if I'm lucky).
    Also, I make a big deal of writing with my kids right there. I'll take my note pad, plonk down where ever they're playing and scrawl away. They get bored as soon as they realize they can't read my writing. Though when I'm working on something age appropriate I'll read it to them just for giggles. When they ask what comes next I tell them I haven't written it yet and they leave me alone.
    Sorry for the rambling. Guess there's a future post in there for me! ;-)


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