This week and last, I’ve been caught up in writing. Deadlines come and go. I started articles, essays, and posts, and I diligently send them off. What generally happens when I zero in on writing assignments is that I write and write and write and revise and revise and rewrite. I focus only on what must get done to finish whatever piece I’m writing. I stop reading. I tell myself that I’m too busy to linger on the essays that I want to read and then I feel guilty when I do take the time to read the current issue of Creative Nonfiction or pick up one of the many essay collections stacked in my office within easy reach.
Yet, I must read to become a better writer, so I’ve tried to give myself a little time each day to read, usually before I rush to pick up children from preschool and afterschool.
Here are the essays that have stuck with me in these last two weeks:
- Shirley Jackson, “Memory and Delusion,” The New Yorker
This essay is from the new collection of Jackson’s short stories and essays, Let Me Tell You, which I purchased as soon as I read this essay. My familiarity with Jackson’s writing was limited to a memory of how terrifying it was to read “The Lottery” in high school. Yet, her story has stuck with me for years and years since I first read it. In “Memory and Delusion,” Jackson wrote about being a writer who is also a mother. She carved out time at the typewriter after household chores were done and her family was fed. Like her, I’m a writer who writes from home. Her essay depicted the struggle to find time and space to write, the way in which home presses upon us with all that must be done.
Writers, she explained to us, are always writing. We don’t just write when we put pen to page (or now type away on keyboards). Writing is something we do all day long, especially when we fold laundry, wash dishes or prepare meals. She provided encouragement too, but here are the lines that I keep scribbling on post-it notes and placing around my office: “All you have to do—and watch this carefully, please—is keep writing. As long as you write it away regularly, nothing can really hurt you.”
2. Judith Kitchen, “Any Given Day,” Creative Nonfiction (in the magazine, not online)
Kitchen’s essay, published posthumously, is about waiting, memory, and the days that pass by. It is a meditation on the meaning of a life when you know your days are limited, the desire to desire, and an accounting of all those ordinary days that make up our lives. Days go by. Time flies. We rely on cliches to describe the passage of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. I often wonder about how my time passes. Where did it go? What did I do? What have I accomplished? What am I waiting for? But, I find my most precious moments, those that I want to sear into my brain, in the regular humdrum. The toddler tests out a knock knock joke that his older sister finds funny enough to repeat over and over in a car ride home. The love that grows and builds between my kids day in and out. The conversations I have with Chris. The unexpected kindness and joy.
That finite amount of time each of us has before we come to our ends is filled with waiting and action, and most days appear unremarkable as we search them for meaning. She wrote:
Where is time taking us, we whose time means everything and nothing? How does the month slink off without warning?