A look through my open tabs (a hundred fellowships, submission opportunities, books to read, courses to take, courses to teach) will show you the hope of my writing days—and the stagnancy of those open tabs (often closed en masse, in a panic, when my computer starts to slow) will show you how often that hope remains misaligned with reality. Because for better or worse, my writing days are most often formed in the margins of…the rest of my days (the toddler, the paid non-literary work, the ADHD, the depression, the migraines). So a writing (“writing”) day can look like this:
o Wake up to toddler screaming his bad dreams in the middle of the night, comfort him in shifts
o Later (too late), blearily get toddler up, march him to preschool
o Home for leftover pizza and social media—with work tabs open in the background
o Continue for several hours in stressed-out ADHD working/not working limbo until mad dash to finish work before husband picks up toddler
o Prop eyes open for a few hours before bed with phone plus iPad (the better to both read the news and watch Netflix with)
o Attempt early wakeup, manage semi-early wakeup. Cold leftover coffee, couch with laptop, document open, type some pap about feelings with half my brain on the up-too-early toddler’s singing and/or moaning
o Get toddler up 10 minutes in; attempt to keep writing while toddler jumps on belly
o Wake up with migraine, drink endless coffee before giving up and taking prescription which tires me out, slug through the day until
o Early evening submit work while sitting on the hard floor outside toddler’s room because he’s suddenly decided he can’t sleep without us in sight
o Late evening eat leftover pizza and talk to husband worriedly about mysterious new leak soaking bathroom wall
o Wake up early, depressed, cold leftover coffee, couch with laptop, write something okay
o Toddler whiny and I exasperated until school
o Spend hours overthinking work, overtired because of waking up too early for writing
o For lunch leftover pizza, funk
o Work until eyestrain gives headache
o Bring toddler home, watch tv until throwing boxed mac and cheese in him
o Toddler finally asleep, late, because I started bedtime late, because tired/depressed
o After bed, depressed “relaxation” on couch with snacks/streaming/ice pack, reminders to myself and husband not to get up that early
o Days and days and days of nothing but parenting, migraine, house emergencies, leftover pizza, self-flagellation, social media, migraine
None of this approximates or even gestures towards what I always plan for, which is (still assuming I will have paid work to do for the bulk of the day, because even in my wishful writing life, I’m reasonable):
o Wake up before first light, coffee pot on a timer, go outside on the porch and write something new. An actual poem with a purpose, or a story, not some nonsense about how I’m feeling
o Immerse myself for an hour in existing pieces
o Eat healthy breakfast as family, kiss toddler goodbye (in this fantasy, someone else feeds and drives him to preschool)
o Work in a focused yet relaxed way
o With plenty of energy left, eat an energizing lunch while reading a serious book or chatting with husband, then half hour new writing
o Continue to work cheerfully and efficiently
o Before toddler arrives home, spend an hour submitting work or reviewing proofs for my many accepted pieces
o In the early evening, toddler happily asleep and house already clean because in this house in this fantasy we clean as we go, read serious book, watch serious movie, do dreamy and creative tarot spread, and/or delve into longer work
o serene bedtime at reasonable hour
Some days, adding up to maybe two or three weeks out of a year, writing somehow hangs on as the pulse of the day. Those days, I get a skeleton, a semblance, a hint of the above. But most days—those many adult days that are moved forward by exigency alone—keeping my writing alive relies on bursts of energy, love, luck, insight. Those days, it’s only got to work well enough to keep me hanging on, planning for those rare bright moments when the schedule, my energy, my mental health all align.
The other night? My writing life looked like this (I won’t bore you with the daytime, which was barren of writing):
o Early “bedtime”, false starts on two stories followed quickly by twitter, news, HBO.
o Within an hour, scuttle back to crying toddler’s room, sit on rocking chair.
o Watch projected stars slide over the walls and listen to hum of noise machine until two stories arrive fully formed, borne out of the galaxy-ridden little ship of this room
o An hour later finally slip out, write stories till too late.
Next day, I had a full-on migraine. Couldn’t do much but eat leftover pizza. But it didn’t matter, and it doesn’t, and won’t: as long as writing visits once in a while, keeps its key, doesn’t need to knock—I can still call it mine.
Leah Claire Kaminski is a poet, writer, and editor living in Chicago. She holds degrees in poetry from Harvard University and UC Irvine’s Programs in Writing. Recent work can be seen in Prairie Schooner, Fence, Rhino Poetry, Vinyl, and ZYZZYVA, among others. The chapbook Root is forthcoming from Milk and Cake Press, and Peninsular Scar is available from Dancing Girl Press. Find out more at www.leahkaminski.com