- by Elaine Isaak
I would I could stand on a busy corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw me all their wasted hours. — Bernard Berenson
In addition to being a novelist, I’m also a mom. School started this week for my daughter, who seemed almost as happy to get on the bus as I was happy to wave good-bye. Alas, my son won’t be going to school for another four or five years. So I return to the house, pushing the stroller, greedily watching him for signs of fatigue: a small fist rubbed into an eye, a habit of flopping onto pillows, the slightest hint of a yawn. The moment the tell-tales are spotted, I shall swoop him up (gently and lovingly) and sing the fastest lullabye I know, and start my day again.
Other people’s days last for about 24 hours, or so I am informed. In fact, I recently had the chance to hear novelist and blogger Cory Doctorow describe his day, and I feel quite certain that he gets at least double the amount of time everyone else receives. Perhaps he has figured out how to make Bernard Berenson’s dream into reality. I am not so lucky. My new allotment of time is approximately two hours.
If all goes well, my son will sleep blissfully while I attempt to carpe this rather limited diem. I have friends who watch television, even when they don’t like what’s on. I have a sister-in-law who buys extra weeks of vacation. . .then spends them quietly at home. I keep holding out my hat, but so far, I have only the moments I manage to scrape together myself. One of my writing buddies keeps his computer on all day, tapping out a sentence whenever he can. But he does not have a child just tall enough to reach the keyboard.
I’d like to say that I use my time to the fullest, and there was a time when my daughter was small that this was true, and I wrote my best book yet in less than 60 days of feverish engagement. But now that I am published, the business of being a writer is creeping in to the momentsI once hoarded, and the second child, delightful as he is, adds his weight to all the other chores that must, sometime, be done.
Sometimes I wish that a gong would sound to warn me when I am wasting time, a signal that these moments slipping by will prove fruitless. I will not find the missing journal entry. This email I am typing will merely bounce, or go unanswered. I will hang upon the gaps in the hold music in the vain anticipation of someone to take my call, in the order it was recieved (apparently number nine-hundred-million-seventeen-thousand-fifty-two) “WRITE now,” the gong would say, “for time is passing, and all these other little things can wait another day. Write NOW!”
Alas, the signal that shakes me generally takes the form of baby babble, reaching into the fantasy realm I’m trying to inhabit, five words after I’ve begun. I comfort myself with the fact that many women writers had their breakthroughs after the kids were all at school, and they might control the all the time from 8 am until the school bus arrives. I fantasize about that distant day. I could pack a lunch for myself at the same time I do for the kids, and take it to my office. Assuming I can put nature’s call on hold, I could be here at my computer for six and a half hours straight! Pages, instead of paragraphs, chapters instead of scenes–great, sweeping epic trilogies might spring forth!
In fact, I could begin right now. I could seize this very moment, and–is that a baby crying?