Today I am off on an adventure. With my youngest sister and one of my cousins, I am going to stay at a cabin on Elk Creek, only about a half mile from where I grew up. I need to get moving — breakfast, a shower, packing up the car — but first, I want to spend a few minutes being the contemplative poet that I dream of being. First, I want to reflect on what this weird anxiety is that I’m feeling, this sense that I don’t have time for this.
I’m signed up to teach a class this fall — a single section of English 101. (Long story short: my former boss asked me if I’d pick it up, at the last minute, and I said yes.) “Are you enjoying retirement?” people ask me. “What’s it like, not having to work?” “Do you miss working?”
I can’t really say that I’ve had time to miss working. I miss having students. I miss sharing the insights that come up for me and the books I’m reading. But I’m sort of busy. Time is not weighing heavy on my hands.
Once, way back in the day, when my daughters were much younger, my husband left a message at the Writing Center, where he knew I would arrive in the next hour. My friend Ann picked it up, and though I can’t remember the specific content, it was a list of things and kids I needed to pick up or drop somewhere, and all between leaving work and getting to bed. Ann said, “It makes me tired just to listen to it.”
My life is still a lot like that. Yesterday I had laundry to do and more boxes to move and unpack (this week we moved Annie back to Bellingham and are moving Emma into her downstairs room). The car had to go to the mechanic. I took two boxes of books to Half Price Books ($8.75!). I bought groceries ($103!). I made a lasagna to take on the trip with me. I took Emma to do homework at Barnes & Noble ($7.41 — why am I listing dollar amounts?).
Somewhere in there I managed to submit two sets of poems to journals (Silver Birch and Third Point Press). I also sat (at Half Price Books) and read a novel for 30 minutes. I ate dinner with my family (the ones who were home). There were quiet moments. At 10:00 I sat down again (while waiting for a load of clothes to dry) and read some more.
True, I had no papers to grade. I didn’t have to show up to a class and coax reluctant (or enthusiastic) students to discuss “The Horsedealer’s Daughter.” Even so, 24 hours, that’s all any of us get.
At the creekside cabin, I will not have to do laundry or cook (just warm up the lasagna). I will not have to buy sandwiches for hungry young adults or drive late papers to the high school. I won’t have to worry about my cluttered house, or the appointment with Emma’s principal, which I’m avoiding making, or … anything. I can put my feet up (on the rail on the back deck, I hope). I can talk. Maybe there will be a moment when I can pick up a notebook and a pen.
Mostly, I can just be there.
And maybe, while I’m there, I’ll remember that all I ever have to do is “just be here,” fully engaged, paying attention, embracing my life. There is not going to be a magic time — in the future — when you can write. If you want to write, you have to find time in the interstices in your life today.