Friday, July 2, 2010


Come, the text read.  Live with me for three weeks in a house that isn’t ours. Please.

Becky lives with her parents.  For some people, this is a deal-breaker.  I remember when I worked at Starbucks.  My fellow baristas swooned over dark, handsome, buff, triple-grande-four-sugar-nonfat-latte after he left.  They watched him walk through the parking lot and stand at the bus stop, and a collective so-much-for-that wind blew through them.

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah, pretty much,” one of them answered, while the others laughed.

I was new to urban life and Miami, unaware that the rules of attraction are entangled with economic success to the point where personality is an afterthought.

Now when I read a chapter of Sex and the City called "Bicycle Boys," I know exactly where I stand with a certain type of woman, a woman who is everywhere in places like Miami.

Thankfully, Becky is not that woman.  She’s also not the deadbeat who can’t move out, or the child who refuses to grow up.  She’s in a class with a few of my friends, people who flew solo for a time and crashed into relationship wrecks, or career derailments, and found themselves moving back home.
Miami is an expensive place to live.  You either need a place smaller than the living room I’m typing this in (like the Treehouse) or you need a roommate.   And what roommate in her twenties wants a five-year-old tagging along?

I’m typing this in a place bigger than the Treehouse, Becky’s parents’ living room, because Cleo Mater and Cleo Pater are traveling the Mediterranean for three weeks.  This gives Becky, Cleo Junior, and me a taste of what living together would be like.  Apparently, I would bake more and write less.  Much, much less.

“You’ll never live with me after this,” she told me.  “I’ll destroy your writing career.”  Which might be true, if I had a writing career.

“It’s an adjustment,” I told her.

I need my discipline back.  I can’t afford to snooze when Cleo Junior comes curling into my lap before seven (I suppose I could tell him I’m busy, but who the hell wants to be that guy?).  Two hours might be all I get, a world of time in the right circumstances.  I also can’t afford to watch DVDs into the night, unless I want to be a zombie the next day.  These are habits which can be adjusted, ironed out.  If the home is filled with love, everything finds a way.

Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried.

When reading at Books & Books a couple of years back, Jodi Picoult laughed when asked about writer’s block.  She has a gaggle of children (one of whose poor health inspired My Sister's Keeper), and any spare minute to write that she can squeeze into her day isn’t spent wringing her hands over ideas.   Diana Abu-Jaber recently adopted a child, and she’s been grilling writers on how they get anything done.   Waiting for author Chris Cleave to begin speaking about Little Bee, I saw her writing longhand on a legal pad.  I could be them soon.

Thankfully, I haven’t been lazy.   I’ve pushed the cursor hard, and I didn’t put my life on hold to do it.

Looking back, I probably put in all those hours in preparation for this time, when I’d need to make every available minute count.  I’ve always done my best writing pushing against something, be it a job, a deadline, or a self-imposed goal.  When I look back on these three weeks, I’ll realize this was the turning point, when a string of zero-snooze days stopped feeling like a victory and became habit.

More importantly, it will be the time I tasted my future and found it sweeter than anything I’d imagined for myself.


  1. Hullo AJC,

    It's a shame that so many people live their lives based on the package rather than the content. The shallowness cheats them of so much yet part of me would say they get what they deserve. While I always enjoy the glamour of a nice gift wrap - and erm 'unwrapping' can certainly be exciting - it's the gift at the center that's important. As you say; sometimes that gift is a future.

    I think it's interesting that you're caught in the discipline dilemma. Although it may be a long term issue, at the moment perhaps it's simply a misdirection. After all writing is about observation, being in touch with your feelings and perspective on your experience - even if it's seen through the filter of fiction.

    There's a lifetime of observation and a world of perspective in just one day of five year old life. D'you really want to miss the chance of three weeks of that. And there's the chance of three weeks of Becky too.

    Do you need to write to live or do you need to live to write.

    Now THAT's a dilemma.......

    great post.......

  2. Al, thank you for reading, and always responding so thoughtfully.

    The three weeks are up; they were the best three weeks of my life.

    Writing keeps me sane. If I am to be my best self for the family the three of us are making, I need to prioritize a little better. For me the only real secret of being up at 5am is getting to bed on time... but Night Guy really loves to screw Morning Guy, doesn't he?

    Looking back through my diary, it seems I wasn't "in the right head space to write" as early as March. When the marital troubles began, of course. Maybe I'm trying too hard to get back into fiction. Supposedly when a piece stops speaking to you, it's because you've taken a wrong turn. I realize I've no idea how to turn back and I get scared to open the books in progress.

    Thinking about it, I finished the first book ("Scratch the Dead Places" when it was "Scritch Scratch Man") because I didn't care about anything except getting the words out. If a scene wasn't working, I stopped mid-sentence, mid conversation, mid-image, and moved on to a scene which did speak to me. Eventually, the story moved far enough ahead where I realized how to fill the gaps. First draft, second draft - both took a lot of effort.

    I'm expecting everything to be as easy as the second book, "Ming," which felt like it was dictated from the dream factory. That's ridiculous, like expecting every meal or every afternoon of lovemaking to be the same.

    Wow, it's so clear now.

    Thanks again, Al. I might yet meet my goal of book #2 (and by that I mean publishable book #2; I can't count #1 as much more than a writing exercise) by October.