It’s already 8:25 when I wake up. My husband is getting ready to leave for work, and instinctively I feel guilty about still being under the covers. Then I remember I worked until 2 a.m. and that my body probably would have needed another hour at least to be happy.
I inch out of bed and get dressed for my day. Fortunately, my work clothes double as work-out clothes, so I can alternate yoga poses with reading e-mails until I’ve done the mandatory minimum to maintain my body. I’m too old to skip exercise without feeling the consequences, but my heart is already racing. It’s been a busy week and the number of e-mails to answer is double what I had just a month ago, and since most my clients are in Europe I’m always six hours behind. A freelancer has to accept the ebbs and flows of the business, I know that, but the flow has been more of a flood for the past month. I force myself to close my eyes and breathe for a minute. Rushing around without breathing won’t get me anywhere.
I sit down in the kitchen with my laptop and first coffee of the day some time past 9. My arms still hurt from yesterday—a dull pain from dull work. If I manage to fit in some time of my own writing, it will have to longhand on paper today. My body seems to have a rule that whenever I exceed 3000 translated words in a day due to a tight deadline, my arms will punish me.
It’s almost noon before I look at the time again. I’ve translated almost 900 words—marketing science—far from my favourite. My arms haven’t acted up, but my lower back is not happy. All my own fault for not using my 3rd floor office where the desk and ergonomic chair are a better fit to my body. Instead I’ve been using my kitchen as my main workspace for a while now. I convince myself I prefer the kitchen because I can see the backyard, watch the squirrels invent new tricks every day. Then I tell myself it’s because the baseboard heater there stopped working in November and my handywoman is ignoring me. But I do have a space heater, and the squirrels are as much a distraction as they are an inspiration. The real reason I avoid my office is that that room has been taken over by my novel and the rewrite I’m working on. There are notes and index cards and printed chapters all over the floor, and every time I look around, I feel guilty. So I shun the third floor, and neglect my novel.
I stretch a bit and turn on jazz on the radio while I wait for the kettle to boil. Ginger tea this time. Too many Italian coffees in the morning make my hands shake—bad for both translation work and writing.
While the tea brews, I open my notebook, the black one today. I have a few on the go, and buy new ones every time I find myself separated from the one I’m supposed to be writing in. Retracing the ideas and sentences and paragraphs I’ve spread among all these notebooks is detective work. Sometimes I lose sentences that I knew were the solution to all my problems. When I find them again two months later, it turns out I was wrong. I haven’t found a system that manages to curb my distracted disposition and at this age, hope is slipping I ever will.
This is when my real writing should start. Instead I play with my pen and almost forget about my tea. I had a head full of ideas last night before I fell asleep, where did they all go? I doodle in the margins of the page, my writing time ticking away second by second. A doomed writer, or worse, an impostor? I flip through my notebook, back to the last list of Works in Progress.
In addition to my novel, I have four essays, three short stories, a few poems and a chapbook project, all in different stages of completion. Who am I kidding? I can’t do this! To be a writer I would need to stay on track.
I sip my tea, almost cold at this point, and remind myself to breathe. I may not be able to finish any of my projects today, but I can lean into my practice. Start with something simple. Just a few words. A haiku. I’ve been writing at least one haiku a day for the past few months. The repetition is soothing. The confined space of 17 syllables helps me focus. No matter how busy I am with work, I can fit in a few minutes to bend words to the ancient rules of this Japanese style of poem. I’ve even written haiku about my haiku practice:
Off balance. Off key.
Life improves counting graces
and sharp syllables
Fifteen minutes later, I have two bad completed haiku and one that may have potential to grow into something good if let it breathe for a while. I’ve calmed my impostor syndrome and my attention deficit. My list of works in progress hasn’t shrunk, but I’m no longer freaking out about it. It’s time to go back to my paid work, but as I’m about to close my notebook, a think of a sentence that may fit into one of the essays I’m working on. I find an empty page and scribble it down. Then another sentence follows and a few keywords I want to work into the text later. I circle the sentences and keywords and write the essay title so there’s at least a chance I’ll find them when I look through the notebook.
The rest of the afternoon is a language blur where words and sentences fly faster and faster from one language to the other. My hands and arms struggle to keep up. At some point I eat leftovers for lunch and talk to my oldest daughter on the phone, but I don’t stop translating for real until it’s past 5 p.m.
I close my laptop to keep me from the temptation to continue. My shoulders and arms hurt and I need a break. I need a power nap and exercise and I need fresh air and I need groceries. I also need to write more. The symphony of needs is deafening. Like most days, some will have to wait until I’m out of this tunnel of work.
During my twelve-minute walk back from the grocery store, I think of a scene to add to one of my short stories. I even sound out parts of sentences to try them out. Since I don’t have any social or cultural obligations after dinner, I may be able to squeeze in an hour of writing in bed to the accompaniment of my husband’s snoring. I concentrate on the scene, intent on making sure I don’t forget it until that time.
Somehow, these ideas come to me more easily when I’m not in front of my notebook or computer, and it’s a challenge to harness them. They almost seem to be taunting me, considering how I can spend hours staring blankly at the screen or the white page when I have less paid work. I’ve stopped beating myself up over it, finally accepting this is how I function. I try to go with the flow as much as possible. It may not be the most direct path to finishing my book, but everything I write is progress compared to not writing.
This word-worn twisting
morsels of meaning. Knead. Build.
A humble haiku
Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri is a Norwegian-Canadian translator and writer based in Toronto. She returned to writing in 2011, after a very, very long break. Her writing has since been longlisted for Prism International nonfiction prize and the Peter Hinchcliffe Fiction Award, Shortlisted for Briarpatch's 'Writing in the Margins' contest, and published (or forthcoming) in J Journal, Saint Katherine Review, Monarch Review, Citron Review, Sycamore Review, subTerrain Magazine, Broken Pencil, Agnes and True, Forge Literary Magazine, Fjords Review, Grain Magazine, Typehouse Literary Review, The Nasiona, WOW! -Women on writing, Burning House Press, The New Quarterly and elsewhere.