This is the first of what I hope will be many guest posts by the several talented writers, teachers and scholars who follow this blog. You all have much to say and I enjoy sharing it on this blog.
This is a piece by Jill Fuller.
When I am stuck in my writing or mired by insecurity, I sift through my collection of Louisa’s journals and letters, finding details of her writing life and taking mental notes in the hope that a spark of productive fire will leap onto me and ignite. “Genius burned so fiercely that for four weeks I wrote all day and planned nearly all night….” she recalls in August 1860. Or April 1855: “I am in the garret with my papers round me…while I write my journal, plan stories, and enjoy the patter of rain on the roof, in peace and quiet.” I swoon with rapture. There’s no rain on this hot June day in Wisconsin, but I can close my eyes and pretend I’m writing in a New England rainstorm as I chop vegetables for dinner and listen to my son and husband play in the next room.
I am a writer, though not a novelist or a published author. I am still in that stage of sitting on a cart wheel, shaking my fist at the sky and declaring that I will make this happen somehow, pretending to feel as determined as I sound. In this, Louisa has been a great mentor lately, though I don’t think she realizes it. I sit quietly in the corner as she pegs away; through my peephole, I am privy only to glimpses of her process, given tantalizing clues to turn over in my hand in the hope they will reveal exactly how she did it, how she made that vow of hers come true. I piece together the rest in my mind, imagining that I can see her dip her pen and furrow her brows, or throw her green silk cap to the floor in frustration. I watch her work until darkness bleeds into the room, admiring her tenacity and dedication, her fearlessness to reach higher, go deeper, and stretch further as a writer and a person. Sometimes I see only her freedom to create, to walk into her room, shut the door, and stay at her half-moon desk for days as she gives in to the poetic fire raging inside of her. And sometimes I am envious.
My days are a beautiful chaos of sandboxes, business meetings, and building blocks; open skies for writing is not on my horizon right now. With an energetic toddler and a full-time job outside the home, I squirrel away my writing time and jealously hoard whatever I can get. Some weeks I write every day. Sometimes I don’t write for weeks. But usually, I am like a hungry dog, stealing scraps of time from under the table. I scratch a sentence or two into my notebook on the counter while I heat up oatmeal for my son’s breakfast, or I scribble a description onto a receipt as I wait in line at Walgreen’s. My husband wrangles our little boy into pajamas so I can scamper over to my desk in the living room to capture a thought that has just popped into my head. An hour of focus after the house goes quiet, another hour on the weekend during naptime. These short bursts are all I have right now so I squeeze every last drop out of them. I make do. But sometimes frustration bubbles over and I am left wondering whether this is enough.
That’s when I go back to my peephole and look in on Louisa again. The vortex is over. Duty calls. She teaches a kindergarten all day and walks home at night. She pushes hair out of her face as she kneads bread and slides it into the stove. She writes a chapter of Moods only after picking hops, doing the wash, and sweeping the house. “Stories simmered in my brain, demanding to be writ; but I let them simmer, knowing that the longer the divine afflatus was bottled up the better it would be,” she reminds me, her ever-eager student, from her journal. She too often “longed for a crust in a garret with freedom and a pen.” But she didn’t stop trying. She watched and listened, pinning words together even when she wasn’t at her desk. She built worlds and created characters even as she stacked wood and went off to teach. She tramped onstage in outrageous costumes, jumped fences with the boys, and nursed her mother and sister with tenderness and love. She worked and she had fun. And she wrote. Here then is her most valuable writing lesson: the push and pull of writing and living is not something to fight against. We don’t have to sacrifice one thing we love for another; we embrace them both with gusto and passion, and let them flavor each other. Sometimes we can’t balance it all, so we fly into a rage and have a good cry, but then we go back to the work of living, gathering everything up like flowers- laughter at the dinner table and a funny expression on a sister’s face, crunching into an apple and kissing squishy baby cheeks and jogging in the cool morning air. All of these moments like an overflowing bouquet we carry with us until we are ready to spread it out onto the page, the petals falling right into place.
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