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>The Bubble, the Cat, and the Dog

June 26, 2011

>Another good thing about camp weeks: drive time alone in the car to think. No, I’m not really alone. But I’m visually alone in the driver’s seat, the girls arrayed in seats behind me. It’s one time I’m glad not to have eyes in the back  of my head.

With our commutes to church (we live a half hour away with no traffic) they’ve gotten good at entertaining themselves. Barring meltdowns, I can drive and think.

Last week, as I drove, I was loving the Dakota sense of time. Camp doesn’t even start officially until 10:00 AM, a loose enough 10:00 that even if we get out the door  later than 9:30 AM, we don’t arrive late.

Then there’s Korea Camp next week, Camp Choson. We’ll be in the van by 7:30 AM to meet the 8:45 AM start time.  The team of parents, Korean Americans, and adult adoptees who plan camp do a wonderful job programming the seven hour camp day. While that’s a long day for the youngest campers (Kindergartners and those emotionally less mature than their grade level), the girls LOVE it. They wish they could stay all day and all night, too –which they can do starting in seventh grade. So I’m not regretting  the upcoming week of nine or ten hour days (including drive time).

Yet, driving to Dakota Camp, I was trying the analyze the kernel of anxiety that I associate with thinking about Korea Camp. I had a mental image of a bubble rising to the surface from the depths of a pool. A single last-gasp of breath that surfaces, pops, and vanishes.

What, I wondered, was down there trying to breathe at the bottom of the pool?

Writing.

A year ago I was sitting here (quite literally) with electronic files full of outlines, extracts and fragments of writing done here and there. The research phase on Mary Butler Renville’s biography was over. With a contract dictating the production schedule, I had no choice.

But I could not write. Oh, sure. I could dutifully fulfill my self-appointed page quota. But I could not write.

Truth was, I wasn’t even sure I could write any more. I was a has been writer –back in the days when I had no children. In that day I had all the ingredients aspiring writers are advised to acquire: space (mental and physical), time, and dedication to protecting those things in the interests of art.

Now, I laugh. Just about anyone could write under those circumstances.

The question was, could I write like Susannah Wesley prayed?  Toss my apron up over my head and compose while home life with young children swirled around me?

I really had no choice but to try. After about nine weeks of slogging, just about the time I resigned myself to the fact that my whole Introduction would be muck-caked in a bog and in need of an editor with an impossibly long stick, it clicked.

I didn’t “find it.” No Siree. It found me. I don’t think theologically I can call it Grace. But it was a grace. To be able to write in a ten minute snatch here and a twenty minute burst there and have 120 pages of first draft come out reading like “a historical tour de force” is not something of my own doing. I actually laughed when I read that review: if that (very kind) reader in academia had any idea that when I sit down to write in my kitchen I have to finish home school first, then blow my kindergartner’s peanut butter cracker crumbs off my keyboard and be careful not to roll my chair wheels over the fingers of my four year old who crawls over because she loves the sound my wheels make when she spins them, he’d probably fall off his chair and knock piles of books and term papers to the floor on his way down.

So: clearly not of my own doing. But treasured. Not the ability to garner praise. The ability to think out loud clearly on command. It is a useful, pleasurable thing and I hope to do more of it someday.

And that, I realized alone in the driver’s seat, was the bubble rising up from the depths of the pool: the idea of losing it.

Whatever “it” is. That thing like a cagey stray cat that would not be wooed into the house by saucers of milk but miraculously, one day decided to come inside and start sleeping next to the saucer, curled up on my feet. Might it just as quietly slip away and leave my feet naked again on the cold floor?

Blogging, I realized, has become the saucer into which I daily pour a little milk for the cat.

It isn’t as rigorous writing because little has to relate to anything else. The cumulative whole does not build toward anything. Yet the daily discipline is helpful: trying to describe whatever the cat drags in.

Next week I won’t be here to pour the milk or scratch its back. And after a  week of neglect, I’m afraid the the cat may take itself to another home.

Good thing I had an hour on the road every day this week. It took me that long just to figure it out.

No. I have arrived at no insights beyond the fact that this cat is truly a stray. It has a mind of its own and there’s no guaranteeing that if I pour, it will purr. So I can’t make it stay no  matter what I do.

*****

So where, you ask, is the dog?

She doesn’t help me write, but she’s going nowhere.

Gratuitous cute Daisy picture courtesy of Faith.
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