by Addie Zierman.
Madeliene L’Engle had a Tower.
Maybe not an actual tower, but a special writing room that she called “The Tower” in her home at Crosswicks. I imagine it full of leather-spined first editions and a heavy, oak desk. I imagine a view – the kind that inspires deep thoughts – and one of those old typewriters with keys that click with beautiful finality.
I always thought that the writing life would look like that. The room. The books. The windows. A quiet place for lovely words to emerge, calm and orb-like, rooted in some other magnificent reality.
Here is my actual writing spot:
I write at our old, scratched up kitchen table in the very early morning. I stumble downstairs at 4am when the rest of the world is still sleeping.
I move slowly and carefully into these mornings, because it’s like there are all of these invisible trip wires. One wrong step, and I will set off my kids’ Mommy Radar. All it takes is one creaking floorboard, and they’re Awake, hollering, impatient for me to come get them, ready for juice and PANCAKES! and my undivided attention.
The darkness presses in through the patio door, and the kitchen buzzes with pre-dawn quiet, and I write.
I am living in the intense, exhausting pre-school years. One of my boys is nearly four years old, the other almost two. We are battling it out over snack choices and toy-throwing and putting on shoes, and it is too much already, all by itself.
But once I heard Anne Lamott speak, and she said that if you can’t find the time to write now, you never will. And I am a writer. These words, they are my work too – every bit as much as raising the boys. And in my actual life, there is no Tower to retreat to in the middle of my day. There is the uneasy tension of both.
Here is what it looks like for me: a half-written blog post, a blinking cursor, a half-baked metaphor at 5:45 when a kid starts howling. It’s that rush of frustration and whispered prayers for patience. It’s a sippy cup of juice and a PBS schedule I know by heart, and the complexity of finishing my work in the midst of the morning chaos.
I write a sentence. Retrieve a blanky. Write a paragraph. Break up a morning fight. I am reworking a sentence in my head while administering a time out. I am almost done, almost done, for half an hour, and my two-year-old, Liam, keeps bumbling into the kitchen, climbing into my lap, pushing the computer keys, adding f’s and v’s where they do not belong.
It is slow chaotic work. I never have my blog posts up at the “ideal” time; my guest posts are almost always late. Everything is all mixed up together – the writing, the kids, the unhung pictures, the unclipped coupons – and all of it matters.
And the truth is that beautiful, important things coexist, side-by-side. They are bound to real time, to passing minutes and hours, to schedules and to-do lists. They overlap, rub against each other, and it’s messy and frustrating and unavoidable. But that doesn’t make it less worthwhile.
At six in the morning, Liam is tugging my sleeve, and the table is one big chaotic mess. The words come piecemeal, and the trick is learning to do it all anyway. I redirect him – again – to his blocks. In a little while, I’ll close my computer and scoop him up, and the three of us will snuggle together on the couch.
I love them immensely – my kids – love them desperately, but the writing – that matters too. And there is no guilt, no shame, no should in that. Only the complexity of my real, actual life. Only the daily work of living the tension.
I kiss Liam on the head, say “Mama’s coming, baby.” And then I turn back to my wildly messy kitchen table and keep writing until the day’s work is done.