The manuscript consisted of letter paper, wrapping paper, programs, envelopes, paper napkins–in short, whatever would take the imprint of a pencil. A great deal of it was written with a child crawling around my neck or being sick in my lap, and I dare say this may account for certain aspects of its style.–Agnes de Mille
A brave and mighty woman I know, who lost her husband to cancer, says that anyone can handle the big stuff. It’s the little things that get you. It’s the little things that will knock you down and trample on you, that will hold your heart in their tiny hands and squeeze until you’ve dripped dry of joy and peace and inspiration.
For the last week, I have been trapped in a house (snowed in for part of the time) with two small boys who’ve been exhibiting a shifting parade of illnesses that make the Greek pantheon look minuscule. The Mad Scientist has had sinusitis since–I am not kidding–last spring. Like his dad, he’s a collector, and apparently he has been collecting bacteria for some time now. Lovely. Last week, he developed a nasty cough. The Frat Boy then came down with pinkeye and, since he is nothing if not extravagantly generous, promptly shared it with his big brother. Then, two nights ago, the Mad Scientist developed hives. If you google “hives,” you will discover that they can be caused by medicine, illness, stress, sunshine, allergens, water, the 18th of February, the color magenta, thinking about leprechauns, and your left shoe, among about fifty gazillion other things. Not to be outdone, the Frat Boy, who has been playing catch up ever since he was born two years and one month too late to be the oldest, began vomiting around midnight. The Frat Boy, it must be said, does everything with gusto, including being sick to his stomach, and is fiercely proud of his independence. He woke us in the middle of the night with, “I threw up, but I didn’t need any help. I did it in the potty.” The word “in” in this sentence must be loosely interpreted, I discovered, much to my groggy dismay. My Sainted Husband dealt with the sick one while I cleaned up, a worthy division of labor since I have also been sick and have completely lost my sense of smell. So today I’ve been home–again–with two sick little boys. And I am very nearly insane.
I read recently that novelist Nora Roberts wrote her first novel while snowed in with two little boys. Having myself been snowed in with two little boys, I can only conclude that A) her children are robots, B) she had a robot-nanny, or C) this story is actually a highly romanticized scene from one of her romantic novels and bears no resemblance, either intentional or unintentional, to any actual event in real life.
My own current work in progress has gotten about fifteen minutes of my attention in the past week. Today, the homework sent by the Mad Scientist’s teacher included an assignment to write a story using a certain list of words. Opportunity! I grabbed my laptop and informed Mad Scientist that we would write together. I also told Frat Boy in no uncertain terms that we were being Writers and that no one ever EVER must disturb a Writer, or Bad Things Will Happen. I think that’s an important life-lesson for him to learn. It’s good to seize those teachable moments. So while Mad Scientist wrote a story about a head cook who lorded it over all the young cooks until they turned on him, and then escaped out the front door, I sneaked in a few tiny moments of writing time.
The “little things” of illness and the drudgery of running up and down the stairs with drinks and medicine five thousand times in an afternoon have been weighing heavy on my spirit today. I wonder how on earth writers write, if they also have the audacity to be parents and not attended by a bevy of domestic servants. I itch to be back in the habit of writing, to pound at my keyboard, to grapple with words and truth and eternity. But this day has also reminded me of the other power of little things–the power of fifteen stolen minutes of writing to buoy my spirits, to remind me that I am a writer, and this is what writers do. Writers write, even if it’s only for a few moments a day. It’s not the amount of time that matters, but the fact of writing. And it’s good to be reminded of this.
I’m afraid my thoughts are disjointed. I’ve already been interrupted once, and my train of thought is less a train and more a train wreck. I haven’t blogged in a while–haven’t kept to the schedule I set for myself–and this certainly isn’t my best work. But if I’m going to be a writer, I need to write. Write through the chaos and the germs and the doses of medicine, through the cleaning up of spilled drinks and the thousand other little things. Because it’s the little things that’ll kill you, but it’s also the little things that matter. And when my kiddo and I sat at the dining room table, stringing words into stories, we joined a community of others stretching back across continents and centuries. In our own small ways, we made magic. And that’s what the little things are all about.
Interrupted three times…..
I think it’s time to wrap this up. There will be time tomorrow, even if it’s only a precious handful of minutes, rare as scattered diamonds.