How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and with that one, is what we are doing.
― Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
― Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
My alarm wakes me at 5:30am on a typical morning. I quickly dress, feed myself and my young son, get us packed for school, and am out the door by 6:00. By 6:30, I pull into the black sea of an empty parking lot—save the car of my campus’ lead custodian, Mr. Ipina, who lets me into the dark, cavernous early college where I teach. I make my way to my second-floor classroom alone, to write in silence for the few precious hours I have in a 24-hour cycle that can be only mine; where my thoughts are only my own and my mind is free of the clutter and chaos of other humans’ needs.
I open my laptop and begin filling blank space with black text. Often, this preliminary work is stream-of-consciousness: I let my fingers move and give little thought as to their final product. After all, no one is observing or reading my mistakes. I’m free to fail in the safety of my own isolation. I watch the sun rise over Dallas’ glistening financial district from my school’s hilltop perch in its largely poor, immigrant neighborhood of Oak Cliff. As natural light spills across my desk, the sounds of teenagers arriving to the complex grow louder and more numerous.
At 8:30, the opening bell rings to indicate the doors unlocking and breakfast being served. The smell of microwaved ham and eggs fills the air. The entrance’s metal detector announces itself with jarring, unpredictable honks. My students know I’m usually in my classroom, and, if the door’s open, they are welcome to join me and eat as long as they’re quiet—they understand my need for concentration. In these final minutes, I become almost frantic: banging out idea after idea in bulleted form. Any and all words are jotted down to be revisited later. The first period bell rings at 9:05 and I rise from my desk as students file in and sit down. I leave my laptop open, however, to whatever poem or story is being hammered out.
Part of being a good teacher is learning to maximize efficiency: to milk every possible benefit from what little instructional time I have with my students between wave after inundating wave of standardized tests, mandated suicide prevention assemblies, lock-down drills to prepare for a shooter in the halls. I’ve taken my ability to multitask and economize and applied it to writing: I exist in two worlds, the planet of my lectures and emails and papers to grade; and the sphere humming beneath this, where I untangle ideas and sentences in my head, frequently returning to my desk between breaks in the lesson to replace a less desirable word with a more apt synonym, to exchange a comma for a semicolon, to forge a new line break or unfurl a new stanza. I count meter by counting steps as I circulate the classroom—incidentally, when I was working on a series of sonnets last year, I found myself frequently lecturing in iambic pentameter.
My intent each morning is to write until my last waking breath, but as the day drags on and distractions accumulate, visits to edit become less frequent and new ideas grow more sporadic. By the final bell at 4:16, after having read the work of or engaged in conversations with nearly all of my 125 students, my brain is largely useless. I resolve to write more at home, but upon collecting my son from daycare, wading through traffic, fighting for parking in my crowded apartment complex, and the standard cooking / eating / cleaning / storytime / bathtime / teethbrushing / hairbrushing / bedtime song, I’m too exhausted to open my computer again.
On an average writing day I’m dreaming by 10:00pm, ready to do it again the following morning in the amniotic loneliness of my pre-dawn classroom, while the majority of Dallas sleeps.
When I was in my early 20’s and still nursing fantasies about what a writing life would be like, I imagined largely empty calendars: whole swaths of days free of anything but the imperative to put pen to paper. I assumed my craft would be allowed to develop of its own accord. After all, isn’t that what passions need to thrive: room, time, and lack of pressure? I couldn’t imagine having to wedge my creative endeavors in the minutes between bells, during planning periods, on breaks from power point presentations. As an adult with adult obligations, my writing has never been free to grow at its convenience. Like most authors, I must beg, borrow, and steal every second devoted to this pursuit that keeps me sane and makes my life worth living. But I’ve come to believe that the bright flames of passion require friction to stay ignited. My best work has been produced slowly and stoppingly in the furnace of a ticking clock and piling obligations, in those hard-won and therefore precious increments of time that make my hours, days, and life.
Lauren Brazeal teaches in Dallas and is the author of two chapbooks, Zoo for Well-Groomed Eaters (Dancing Girl Press, 2016), and exuviae (Horse Less Press, 2016). Her first full-length collection, Gutter, is releasing in August of 2018 from Yes Yes Books. In her past, Brazeal has been a homeless gutter-punk, a resident of Ecuador’s Amazon jungle, a maid, a surfer chick, and a custom aquarium designer. A graduate of Bennington’s MFA program in writing and literature, her work has appeared in journals such as DIAGRAM, Smartish Pace, Barrelhouse, Forklift, Ohio, and Verse Daily.