The Art of Making Space

summer in the burbsLast week, summer finally broke all the way through the Minnesota gray, and we all heaved a collective sigh of relief.

The baby pool is out now and probably won’t go back in the shed until September. I’m spending more and more mornings letting out the old water, pouring in the new, and it feels like a kind of ritual. That emptying. That filling.

This weekend, I left all the Super Important Things undone, and instead we took the kids to a sculpture garden and let them weave crazily through grass and art. We ate our lunch at a picnic table on top of a hill and we played on slides and we peered into a lake, looking for fish.

When we got home, we watched the first summer storm, and then we all went outside and splashed in the puddles. The kids rode their bikes through the dip in the road where all the water gathers, and we were summer-soaked and happy, barefoot in the middle of the street.

The kids’ legs are pocked with mosquito bites and scrapes now. There are three containers of bugs that Dane has collected living on our deck – including one maggot. Our driveway is covered in chalk.

The cottonwood trees are shaking loose their seeds, my kids are 4 and 2 years old. It’s summer, and the whole world feels lit with magic.

*

Yesterday, I spoke on a discussion panel for a Young Writers event at the grad school I attended. I sat next to a successful screenwriter and an award-winning novelist and a poet with a beautiful new collection. I felt out of my depth with my blog and my almost-book stuck somewhere in the publishing void.

They asked about writing routine, and I told them about 4am. About the art of making space in your life. I told them about coffee shops and about the cost of babysitting. I talked about the notebook in my purse – about the unexpected grace of waiting rooms and long lines.

They looked at me wide-eyed. So did the screenwriter next to me, who has no kids and a Dream Writing Routine. We all know that there is nothing glamorous about 4am.

choo choo trainAnd that’s not even the whole story. The whole story includes 5:45am, when I’m just making headway on a piece of writing, and suddenly the silence is broken by Mommy! Mom! Mommy! from Liam’s room – or worse, Mom! I PEED! from Dane’s room.

It includes the inevitable pang of guilt when I pull out of the driveway and leave the kids with a sitter – again. It’s saying terrible things like “Mama will snuggle you for five minutes, and then I need to finish my work.”

The moderator asked, What music do you listen to when you’re writing? And I didn’t have the heart to tell those wide-eyed high-schoolers that it’s PBS in the background almost every day.

And if you’re a Parent and a Writer, you can’t just do it in your “spare time,” because you have none. Because these babies are sponges that soak up every second you give them and want still more.

But you can do it.

It is possible to be a parent and an artist. It’s possible to write in the small spaces – in the late nights or the early mornings or the in-betweens. It’s a matter of choosing it again and again, every single day, and it’s a hard choice to keep making. But if you choose it, it is possible to cobble a masterpiece from stolen moments.

The screenwriter talks about his writing routine, and I feel a pang of envy for his long, unbroken hours. For the quiet and the control. I think about my own chaotic life, about how the soundtrack of their childhood will be written into the fabric of everything I produce in these next few years. It feels exhausting.

But also, it feels like summer. The baby pool is out, and we spend our afternoons digging in their earth for worms and beetles. The pages of my notebook are textured with wind and water, smudged with dirt, ringed with coffee, and all of it is hard, tiring work. Parenting. Writing. And every bit of it is worth it.

*

It’s morning. The dawn is already lighting when I get up at 4:30, and the ducks are out, trailing quietly around the pond. I am tired, and the coffee is brewing and it’s not one bit glamorous. But the cotton is falling and the sun is rising, and what it is is beautiful.

27 thoughts on “The Art of Making Space

  1. Addie – all of us feel out of our depth. 🙂 And the thing is, people want the life of a writer to be “romantic.” That’s why they asked you questions like what music do you listen to. You’re living the writer’s life. For me, it’s squeezing in blog posts between hordes of kids slamming into my classroom! Being a writer isn’t romantic – it’s work. Being an artist sounds romantic, but it’s work. Don’t worry, you’re not doing it wrong!

  2. I love every word of this. The writing life with children is such a juggling act and so not glamorous but it is beautiful, too, and I don’t want to miss any part of it- the children, the summer, the struggle to write, to keep some dreams alive, to believe that it is so very worth it. I have felt like I was in a holding pattern for so long, and only recently am beginning to find my rhythm, but now looking back I can see that the wait, the mothering, was itself a part of the creative process.

    1. “the mothering, was itself a part of the creative process.” — I love this Jess. Yes! I never thought about it that way, but absolutely, yes.

  3. You connect SO well with people. Wow, you are so crazy talented. Thank you for carving that time out, I find your work so refreshing and inspirational. xo

  4. Remember in those 4:30am times that we are very grateful that you cobble together your masterpieces, and it must be exhausting, but it is so beautiful, all of it. Somehow, too, when they are all grown, we don’t remember the fatigue, just the sweetness of it all. Summer days are just the absolute best, aren’t they.

  5. Hi Addie, One of the things I lament about teaching is making space for writing. Teaching is all about performance, being in top form, putting on an extroverted façade even though you are an introvert. You have to address kids with patience and kindness while they are impatient and unruly. You feel like a referee most of the time. If I don’t get the rest I need, it shows and the day becomes a nightmare. My supervisors observe me on a weekly basis as there is more and more pressure from the parents towards quality schooling.

    1. That does make it hard. Parenting toddlers feels similar in some ways…which is why I have to write in the morning before I get burned out from the day. I feel your pain!

  6. I love this piece. love it. I just went to 4 ten hour days at work plus have college kids home and a full, full house, plus all the extras – the ‘have to do’s’ the ‘want to do’s’. So today I sit with my home made latte on a couch with a summer breeze coming through and read a beautiful piece about making space. Thanks Addie.

    1. Life always feels so filled to the brim, doesn’t it? No matter what stage of life you’re at, I expect it always feels like too much. Thanks Marilyn.

  7. Oh Addie. so glad I checked your blog. in changing some email addresses I didn’t switch over my subscription like I thought and assumed you were taking a break from blogging. and here you are. like finding a good book I forgot was laying around. oh wait you do have a book coming out and I can’t wait. I find myself resonating so much with what you write , but doing it much later in life. (after my brother died 2005).

    1. Here I am! So glad you stopped by, Carol, and that you’re resonating. That makes me happy. 🙂

  8. A giant huge YES to all of it. As a mom of 4 who deals with work and writing and bedtimes and babysitters, I love the way you put it: we choose, over and over, to make the space to write.

    I’m filing this away so I can return to it when the choosing gets tough.

    1. Thanks so much for this Anne. Just came across your comment here again in my inbox, and it made me happy.

  9. This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear this week. With a 3 month old, an almost 3 year old and a full-time job, I have been questioning if I need to release my writing dream and possibly pick it up again down the road. But I know I don’t want to. Your words provide that “I’ve been there, too. I know it’s hard, but it’s possible!” encouragement that makes the crying feel less lonely. 🙂 Thank you!

  10. Addie, I am new to your blog…Sarah, just fwd me this posts after I wrote something about finding time to write. I have a three month old and just went to a coffee shop for an hour by myself! It was heavenly…but I know if I want to keep writing it will mean finding those small spaces. Thank you for this post!

    Oh, random other question– what design/company so you use for your comments? I love the way they look/work.

    1. Thanks so much for commenting Michelle. It’s so hard to write with kids…but so worth it. And I’m with you. Coffee shop time is PRECIOUS.

      I use Disqus. I love it SO MUCH.

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