I only just sit down. It is 9:55pm, and I am thankful my partner does the dishes tonight, instead of myself. I pull out my computer to type and he sits beside me on the couch while I lay my legs over his lap like a game of Tetris in our small, one-bedroom apartment.
We live on the second story of our building. Down a long brick walkway past a wrought iron gate no one closes, and lastly up a rickety set of wooden stairs which we joke should break any night, now. Our living room windows overlook the stained glass impressions of the church across the street, and at night, when they glitter, I spend more time watching than I do writing. I spend more time doing many things other than writing.
It is autumn of 2017. This is before now. Before I do not get on a plane to return to my life in Montana, before I move to Florida for an internship, before I end the last semester of my unfinished degree. The air snips at my nose and fingers. It snows early this year (but in all honesty, we say this every year in Montana), and I am early to my Thursday undergraduate poetry workshop. We read daughterrarium by Sheila McMullin, and we discuss the concepts of girlhood, womanhood, motherhood, time, and labor. We discuss where we fit in these concepts. Where we don’t fit. My professor makes a comment that sticks with me about writing within the distraction.
Today, I understand more. Distraction. I wake up at 7:20am and hit snooze. My partner rolls over in bed, swings his arm around me but winces and pulls away. I curl into his side for warmth. We don’t turn the heat on in our apartment because it is expensive, but on the cold nights we sleep with a small space heater. We forgot to turn it on last night.
“My shoulder,” he says. I understand.
I hit snooze again. Once more. A bad habit. We all have our own.
When I get out of bed, I spend the next twenty minutes getting ready for work while he makes me breakfast. He pours me hot tea in a reusable to-go cup, and I add honey while I head out the door and complain about being late. 8:32am. I clock in and head to my desk. Unwrap a scarf from my neck, set my purse down, place my tea in the corner of my desk where I won’t risk knocking it over, plug my headphones into my phone. For the next several hours, I spend my time working as a special item tech in a print shop. Since our busy season has ended, I am happy I won’t be clocking out past 6:00pm anymore.
Today, an idea comes to me while working. It flicks me in the back of my eyes and I grab a post-it note to scribble. It is rare that I write a full piece anymore. Mostly, it is ideas. Bits and pieces of larger concepts. Character designs, plot outlines, thoughts of revisions and edits for older pieces I am more or less friends with, possibly even roommates with, at this point. But I have six hours left in my shift, so I shove the post-it on the wall and allow it to exist in a space where I can add to it as I am.
I don’t. Distraction.
5:43pm. I clock out, and begin my walk home. Seven minutes at my regular pace. I grab the mail as I pass our mailbox and make the way up our brick walkway alone.
I open the apartment door, enter, put the mail on the counter and set my bag down on the dining room table we situated in the corner of our living room. There is a newsletter for produce deals at our local grocery so I grab it and sit down to plan next week’s dinner choices based around the cheapest vegetables and meats. Salmon has been on sale the past few weeks, so we will get another fillet this week. Oh, and more asparagus. Maybe a Mediterranean pasta with spinach and tomatoes? Pomegranates have just come in season, so I will buy one for myself as a treat. Distraction.
Not tonight, though. Tonight, I will be cooking a seafood scampi. I look at the clock, and realize I should start dinner so it will be ready when he comes home from work. Distraction. I open the fridge, pull out butter, lemon, tomatoes, shrimp, mussels, chives, white wine. Garlic, black pepper, and parsley from the cabinet. A little past 7:30pm, dinner is finished. We sit down to eat together. Talk about our day. Laugh. He tells me about work and basketball. About how his friend invited us for drinks but we likely won’t go; we are both extreme homebodies. We sit in our comfortable silence long after we’ve eaten, absorbed in our life here. Distraction.
He follows me as I bring our dishes to the kitchen. We clean up from dinner and agree to run the dishwasher after I take a bath, so I don’t run out of hot water halfway. I live with constant, demanding chronic pain from muscular spasms, and today was a bad day. He runs the water for me and I wait while the tub fills. 8:08pm. Distraction.
I read in the tub tonight. It is one of the few times I am alone and not performing labor for those around me, whether it is out of love or to pay my own bills. Perhaps it is labor for myself, but is the most self-loving thing I have in my life at the moment. I lay in the hot water, sink into it, let it rise up to my chin and I realize for the first time today how tense my back is. I want to cry. I don’t. I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. I only go two chapters in, but decide to stop and just exist in the water. My partner knocks on the door, and I open my eyes to see what was wrong. He tells me I’ve been in the tub for over an hour and he wanted to make sure I was okay. I am, and I let him know I will be out soon. When I am ready, I quickly rinse myself off, shut off the water and wrap myself in a towel. I hear him start the dishwasher when I drain the tub. I stare at myself in the mirror. Apply a face mask. Wait fifteen minutes. Rinse with cold water. 9:48pm. Distraction.
I only just sit down. It is 9:55pm, and I am thankful my partner does the dishes tonight, instead of myself. I pull out my computer to type and he sits beside me on the couch while I lay my legs over his lap like a game of Tetris in our small, one-bedroom apartment. I stare out the windows to the stained representations of Jesus on the cross, and think about what it means to be here in this moment. But my partner shifts on the couch, and I hear something fall. We both hold still, and I ask him what moved, mild annoyance carrying my voice. Distraction.
He tells me one day I will have a desk all my own to write on, or even just a chair, but my own space is the jist of his words. That I will one day have a place to write without distraction. Today is not that day, but maybe tomorrow. Or a month from now.
Tonight, I write for two hours. More than I have written in a long while. Not only edits and revisions, or brief development of ideas. A completion. With and without distraction. 11:58pm. No distraction. I pick myself up off the couch and head to bed.
Linda Ryynänen is a Finnish-American poet living, working, and studying in Richmond, VA. She has work forthcoming in We Were So Small.