May I cut a window into the fourth wall for a moment? November marks eight years since “Right, Meg?” — in its earliest, nameless form — was born. The question I’m asked most often is a simple one: “How do you keep coming up with something to write about?”
It was easier when I was writing during daylight hours. After changing careers in July, I went from a full-time editor to a freelance columnist — and the hours I once devoted to crafting 1,000-word tales about everything and nothing must now be jammed into the hour after the kids fall asleep but before I do, too, smacking my head on the keyboard. (True story. More than once.)
Twice a week I sit down at 9 p.m. with my third (fourth? Who’s counting) cup of coffee and . . . reflect. Try to string together some thoughts coherent enough to be printed and archived here. It’s some pretty breath-stealing pressure when I think of it like that, so I don’t. I try to treat the column as part journal, part time capsule; I’m aware of an audience (hi!), but try not to dwell on how I’m being received. Pretty sure I’d never write again.
When I sit down to a quiet house to type in the dark, I’m aware of my responsibilities: a commitment I made to keep writing — and not just to my editors. To myself. To my kids, who will someday have a record of their mother’s fears and joys and thoughts from when they were just a few months old.
If I stop writing now, I know I’ll stop . . . for good.
Well: not for good. That’s dramatic even for me. But I know myself well enough to feel that, without the pressure of a deadline, I would add cataloguing this tender stage of my life to the stack of “someday” projects accumulating on my desk and in my tired, tired brain. And this — this wild, exhausting, all-encompassing now — isn’t something that can wait.
Already the details of Hadley’s first weeks have become crinkled and distorted at the edges. Oliver’s are practically sepia-toned. Though I generally hate re-reading my work (typos — always a typo, friends), reading what I pulled together with one eye open in Ollie’s early days makes me laugh and sometimes cry. Definitely shake my head. How else would I have that raw and real assessment of becoming a parent? There is no more monumental “before” and “after.”
Stretching back further are years’ worth of work devoted to being a twentysomething. I can track down the first time I mentioned a new boyfriend and the sappy stories I wrote about Spencer before I realized his coworkers were reading — and possibly giggling.
I have the time capsules of living at home with my parents, sister and our pup, plus the tale of our dual engagements in 2012. Wedding planning (times two), buying our house, panicking about buying our house, getting pregnant, panicking about getting pregnant . . . well, you know. All of life’s big moments.
Writing now takes on a different role than it used to. Carving out time to put words to our funny, frustrating experiences helps me make sense of them. To see them in a larger, deeper context: the one in which I know that this, too, shall pass. And I’ll miss it. Before I was a wife or a mom, I was a writer. My entire identity — my sense of self, really — was wrapped up in that single title. I’ve sacrificed a thousand interests at the altar of sleep deprivation, but not this one. Never. I write.
It isn’t easy. How do I come up with topics? Sometimes by the skin of my teeth, though I hope that doesn’t show. The truth is that I’m an introvert, and coming up with new and entertaining ideas can be tough. Overwhelming, even.
I eventually came to understand that my role here is simply to be myself. Who else can I be?
My third month of freelancing has been challenging. By the time we tuck Ollie in for the night and help Hadley get settled for her appetizer snooze before another bottle break, I’ve been up for 17 hours straight and have little left to give. I could start writing earlier in the evening, yes, but don’t want to hole myself up with a laptop and miss out on that time with my family.
Plus Oliver sees a screen and demands “tractors, Mommy,” so it’s not like I would get much done, anyway.
When I took my new job, I told myself the only way I could continue with “Right, Meg?” and stay sane would be to write two (!) columns over the weekend. Having both finished would prevent me from falling asleep at said laptop on a weeknight and generally freaking out.
That has happened zero times. I’m lucky to get my Wednesday column written before Monday startles me awake; the idea of polishing off Friday’s, too, is crazy. I would love it and be insanely proud of myself, but just don’t see it happening.
As it stands, I slug down some cold coffee and perch in the living room to see what words will flow from the ol’ fingertips before I nod off. I tried making myself really uncomfortable — sitting in a hard kitchen chair; typing with my laptop propped on my knees — but I was just annoyed as well as sleepy.
Now I sit in the corner of the love seat where I’ve fed both my children and spent the majority of two maternity leaves. The living room lights are off; Spencer’s face glows white with the flicker of his own computer. Hadley shifts in her bassinet, and I try to “type quietly.” As if such a thing were possible.
It’s a normal Sunday night, and I’m here. Writing.
No place I’d rather be.