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Writing in the Uninspired Life

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I have four children. They are 16, 12, 7, and 4.

I live in a country town in the Central Valley of California. Eight miles south of me, there is an adorable, tree-lined town with adorable bike trails and farmer’s markets with live bands and big lavender bouquets, and a co-op grocery store with a community piano out front, but we can’t afford that town.

Really, nobody normal can.

I live one half mile from a Walmart. Sometimes when I’m there, though I try to avoid it entirely, I see discarded syringes in the parking lot. I tell my kids to come over here by me. We drive by a homeless encampment every morning, along the railroad tracks, on the way to school. There is a meth problem in our town, and occasionally we see a person flailing like a fish on the sidewalk, half-dressed, making the strangest noises, psychotic from the come-down.

I tell my kids to come over here by me.

Most mornings, when my eyes pop open, I think, “I can’t do this today.” But this has nothing to do with the town, or the addicts.

It has to do with the morning. The bickering, breakfasts, lunches, missed homework, dishes, laundry, dishes, laundry, permission slips, conferences. The driving. The carpool. The round and round and round in circles. Dentist appointments, exams, summer camps.

I don’t particularly care about these things. They don’t interest me, even though I am a mother, and this seems to go against the natural order of things. Some part of me believes I shouldn’t experience motherhood as a largely mundane, mind-numbing, infuriating, thankless chore, even though I do, and I am a loving, devoted mother. A decent one.

After wondering how I’m going to do it today, I notice how small and peaceful my toddler looks while he sleeps next to me. “Can we snuggle, Mama?” That’s what he asks me when he wakes up.

These are the things I care about. Him. His siblings. Our family. The way my husband plays guitar on the porch and the kids eat blueberries. The way my littlest boy’s curls gather at his neck and his sweat smells the same as when he was a baby and I remember inhaling deeply then, and now. I think all my children had that scent, the same one. Is that possible?

I think it’s the way my exhaustion rests across my cheekbones, or gathers into knots at the base of my skull, pounding all the way to my eyeballs. I think that’s the reason I wonder if I can do it today.

I always do it anyway.

Most of the time, what I’d like to be doing is writing. What I’d like to be doing, instead of driving a carpool or researching preschools, is writing, but my husband is an ironworker, usually working two to three hours away. He leaves at 4am. He is our steady income. He is our health insurance.

I read the famous writers talking about their process. Well, first of all, you must absolutely without a doubt writing every single day. Write every day or fail. Write every day or you have no discipline and you have no chance.

Create a writing routine, a ritual, if you will. A clean, well-lit place. Nothing should be in your writing space except beautiful things. Things that make you want to create. No clutter. No Legos, for example, or apple cores, or magnetic tiles. Everything should be crisp and aesthetically beautiful there. Maybe meditate. Drink tea. Sit down, and write, without distraction.

“When was the last time you were puked on all night, asshole?”

That’s how I respond in my head. 

Toni Morrison said in an interview on NPR that she was writing on a yellow legal pad on a couch when her toddler puked on it, and she wrote around the puke.

She wrote around it.

Some of us are always writing around the vomit. Some of us are writing in the most boring world possible. Inspiration? How does one get inspired by a routine that seems to erase you? Erase thought? Erase the creative?

My writing at first was done twice a week, in blog posts, after my kids went to bed and while I was supposed to be working. In my car. On my lunch breaks. I sat next to a mound of laundry up to my head, wrote until the cries of my baby made my milk come down, wrote in the forty minutes I sat at a coffee shop on a Sunday afternoon.

Wrote twice a week, barely, because I demanded it. I defended it. I carved a tiny corner of the world for my words. It made no sense in the larger context of my life. Economically, logistically. Why would I add “write” to a life of two children and a baby, a 30-hour-a-week job, and graduate school?

Because they can have everything, I would answer, but they can’t have this.

And seven years later, two months after the publication date of my first book, I sit on a plane heading across the country for book events. I won’t drive the kids this week. I won’t hear them bicker. I won’t make them breakfasts or watch them ignore me or leave their plates in the living room, after the fiftieth time I’ve told them not to eat in there.

I won’t miss them, not for a couple of days. Maybe I won’t miss them at all. Maybe I miss them already. Maybe I will sit back in relief, write these words to you, and remember those writers are full of shit. Inspiration doesn’t live in sage-filled rooms or the sunlight kissing well-organized mahogany desks.

It lives in the syringe I tell my babies to step over, the boring world we can’t afford to avoid, the one we drive by and step into together – a mother and her babies – a husband, a family – Would it be better elsewhere? What are we even doing here?

I wonder that when I sit down, and write around the vomit. These are the things that interest me. The stolen moments feel like anarchy, like art.


Join Janelle Hanchett for Renegade Writing, September 12 – 16, 2018. 

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