I dream of a giant shark circling me in a dark sea, until I am bumped awake with a foot to the mid-back by my four-year-old, a.k.a. “Wreckshop.” It’s 5:30am, and I am not a morning person. I sit up in bed, back aching, hunched over my tablet, checking social media and email, while Wreckshop presses noisy buttons on her Disney Princess Tablet. I do some calendar planning, given that I have a couple of big deadlines this fall – a full-length YA fantasy that I plan to finish over the next few weeks, and a contemporary YA slated for 2020. My calendar tells me there is not enough time. No kidding, calendar.
Meanwhile, Big Kid, a.k.a. “Heartbreaker” eats a breakfast of popsicles and protein bars while watching Teen Titans Go on Netflix. I don’t approve of any of these things but am too exhausted to care.
Daddy kisses everyone and leaves for work. I get us all wrangled into swimsuits and drive 30 minutes to a neighbouring community to take the kids to swim lessons because our town’s pool is closed for renos. It’s a common theme around these parts—we have to leave to find the things we need.
As I drive, the kids watch Herbie: Fully Loaded, and I think about screenplay ideas that don’t include anthropomorphized cars, until I start feeling guilty about the several unproduced spec scripts and TV pilots I wrote in grad school. All that work just wasted in a virtual drawer. I realize that I’m hunched over the steering wheel and straighten my back. My neck cracks.
The kids swim. I hot-tub, feeling my back loosen up. We all swim together, and then it’s home for lunch. One wants hot dogs, the other wants tortellini with a side of tacos, and neither is interested in the spinach salad I make. We settle on taco-dogs with a side of fruit. I think briefly about early chapter book ideas, one of which I pitched without success, and decide that when I have a free minute I’ll revisit it.
Playtime affords me about 45 minutes on my laptop. I have an office area, nicely appointed, with a desk and windows, and all the things, but I prefer to sit on the couch with my laptop perched atop an old nursing pillow. It’s murder on my back, but when I have a few minutes like this I spend the entire time writing. I manage about 2k words on the YA fantasy (writing straight-ahead with no editing), before Wreckshop destroys something belonging to Heartbreaker, and then Heartbreaker refuses to play anymore, leaving Wreckshop in tears and me out of luck.
I note several emails from my publisher’s marketing department, a bookstore where I’ll be having a launch, and some community librarians I need to get back to about visits. I’ll have to respond later.
I take the kids outside to play and see that the vacant lot behind me is being cleared by an excavator. I spend a long time watching the arm of the scoop as it smashes shrubbery and wipes away boulders, and I imagine the glee I’d feel in a job such as this as I mentally project myself into the cab of the machine. How wonderful to pull levers and press buttons and see your work as it wipes away the earth in front of you. The older I get, the more I feel that a writer should have a non-writing job, especially one that does not involve any work with words. Excavator, masseuse, dog-walker, cleaner, bus driver, interpretive dancer, whatever. The words come while we dig.
But first, karate. All three of us don our gis, head to the dojo, and work our katas until our arms and legs ache. The sensei corrects my posture several times, pointing out the fact that I can’t punch someone if I’m staring at the ground. In between the kicks and knife-hands and rising blocks, some words form—the bones of a poem—and I repeat the few lines in my head until class is over and I write it in an email to myself on my phone. Poetry feels like a luxury these days, both the writing and the reading of, but it’s the gateway drug that got me into writing in the first place. A full-length poetry collection is the dream project that I console myself with when I’m burned out on the rest. It’s also the genre I have the least confidence in.
Later, dinner happens, somehow, and then Daddy appears, home from the job that allows me the luxury of full-time at-home mom-writer status. I say hello but I’ve got to go run errands and be alone for a time. I drive and listen to music and try to sit up straight, until I feel a bit more like my original pre-mom self.
Home to put the kids to bed, give kisses, give thanks for their beautiful, dirty faces. Then, TV time with hubs. We like the dark and weird stuff, choosing an episode of Sharp Objects followed by Legion.
I do some online shopping. Heartbreaker needs a new medical-alert bracelet before school starts. I send the emails I’ve been sitting on all day, and then I head upstairs to write next to the sleeping form of Wreckshop, who is horizontal in the bed.
I hunch over my laptop, getting the words in, writing past 2am, knowing it’s probably garbage but I can fix it later. I fall asleep sitting up, then snap awake after 3am with my neck cracking. It’s so loud that it rouses the sleeping babe next to me.
I close my laptop, sink down into the bed next to her, and think, this.
Brooke Carter is the author of four novels for young adults, including Another Miserable Love Song, Learning Seventeen, Lucky Break, and the forthcoming Unbroken Hearts Club. Her poetry chapbook, POCO LOCO, was published by Anstruther Press. She lives with her family in BC, where she earned an MFA in Creative Writing (UBC).