Monday, February 5, 2018

Maia Elgin : My Writing Day

My writing “day” begins on hurried pieces of paper during moments stolen between classes, at the grocery store, or while out with friends and colleagues. I jot down ideas while I watch movies or tv, when I go to plays or art exhibits, when I drink wine or netflix ‘n chill. Delicious lines come to me at night, and I struggle to wake myself in time to write them down. Sometimes, I make the words form into semi-coherent letters on scraps of paper that exist only in my subconscious, where language is cloudy, and words don’t form. No matter how hard I concentrate, I can’t make those precious scraps manifest in waking life. As far as I know, those ideas are lost forever.

I have journals and notebooks, napkins, posts its, receipts, ticket stubs, the notes app on my phone, and an ongoing text cycle with myself full of disparate thoughts to work from when, I tell myself, I finally will get the time to write.

Teaching full time and all that comes with a tenure-track university gig, exercising (at least a little), keeping up relationships, caring for my two cats and dog, eating healthy (some of the time), and self care leave little time for writing. But to be honest, all that leaves more time than I take advantage of. I’m still scared of the blank screen, even when I have all my scraps and jottings to gird myself with.

Today, with this essay in mind, I decided to devote the whole day to writing. I am writing now. It is 6:57 pm, central time. I just started. Before I could write, I needed to organize my inbox and fill out my calendar for spring semester, which came up after I sat down at my desk (about two hours ago) to practice a lesson or two of French on Rosetta Stone (a Christmas gift to my partner and I from my partner and I in anticipation of a trip-of-a-lifetime we will take this summer). To be honest, it’s a bit of a triumph that I didn’t start working on last semester’s reports or start writing next semester’s syllabi instead of opening google docs and starting this when I did.

Obviously, once it was nearly four, I had to eat dinner before I could really concentrate on work. And in order to eat, we had to cook something. Eating got us talking about the trip to Europe (which prompted the studying, the first I have done yet, though we’ve known about the trip for a few months now). Before dinner, there was a load of laundry to put in the dryer and the litter boxes to clean while Andrew fed the animals and took the dog out.

Of course, I could have started writing this afternoon, but it’s been a long semester and the house was showing it. We try to balance the workload of keeping up the place, carefully mindful of the fact that the majority of this labor is done by women. When it comes down to it, we both work 80 hours a week, a number, I’ve found, that is not unusual for the true workload of academics, and we can’t afford to hire a maid service. So, we tend to let things slide. An option that works.

Until I have a day to write. Yesterday, I dusted the blinds and polished the floorboards. I just felt compelled to have it done. I tidied and hyggeed as a mindful practice. It was lovely, but this afternoon, when I finally was about to sit down to write, I couldn’t find my desk under the pile of papers I had relocated in my efforts to declutter elsewhere.

One wall in my office is made up of thin cross-slices of trees. It was here when we moved in—the man we bought the place from made the wall for his grand-daughter...and, we just found out that someone charged $80 to our account on iTunes, which interrupts this session.

It’s about a week later as I start this next paragraph. The $80 turned out to be $280, which iTunes immediately refunded. I haven’t written a word since I ended that last sentence. We are in La Crosse now, where I did most of my growing up, to celebrate Christmas with my family. Travelling from our small, Mississippi town involves a two hour drive to Memphis. Getting to my parent’s small, Wisconsin town involves a connection in Minneapolis/St. Paul and an hour long drive across the Mississippi River. Since then, we have been eating and drinking and catching up and Christmassing and running after toddlers.

We came to Jules Coffee Shop, scene of much high school angst, this morning to work. I spent $25 at the adjacent used book store on poetry collections I’d never heard of. But now, the old crowd is here, and the old feelings creep back at me like a fog rising up in my sternum. The unmanaged depression of a decade ago hovers around me, close enough to touch. This is why I don’t like to leave my parent’s house when I’m in town.

The old crowd plays a game, like we always used to do, but after friendly hellos, I have safely retreated to a table with Andrew and my laptop. I’m trying to focus on the writing process again, but I realize that this erratic description is probably the best representation of my writing day. I’ve never worked well with a strict schedule, Flannery O'Connor's three hours a day.  I guess I still believe in inspiration, though I’m told it’s a myth. When it hits, I drop everything.            

A few weeks ago, inspiration hit while I was grading research argument papers. Suddenly, I realized that my two manuscripts were actually one--a collection of two related poem-plays. The papers were pushed aside, sleep was pushed aside, eating and socializing, too. I still held class, but I went immediately to my office after to work. This lasted for three manic days, until the project was done.

Now, across the coffee shop, my friends are bundling up their baby in a thick, wool star-suit to brave the -20 degree windchill. The feeling of being trapped, however briefly, in a dark moment rising up from the past is gone. They don’t say goodbye as they pass by on their way to the door. The chill from outside lingers for a few minutes. I get up to order some soup.

Maia Elgin’s hybrid poetry has been seen in journals including Tarpaulin Sky, InDigest, Ghost Town, and Glitter Pony. Her chapbook The Jennifer was published in 2012 by Birds of Lace Press. An assistant professor at Delta State University, she earned her MFA at LSU under Lara Glenum and Laura Mullen. She lives in the Mississippi Delta with her partner, two cats, and a dog.

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