Here’s the thing about writing while quarantining with two young children: there is no waiting for the muse to appear or inspiration to strike. There is no perfect time to write because, in fact, there is no time at all, at least not in the abundant sense of the word, like a stretch of time. There are, however, pockets of time, sometimes at four am, sometimes during my daughters’ nap, sometimes after they’ve gone to bed. But pockets of time work, as long as I am doing the thing, as long as I am writing during those pockets of time. The key to developing a writing habit is, as it turns out, to write and write regularly, even if for small periods of time. And so it is that my most regular writing habit has developed in the most inopportune time. What is it that people say of true love? That it finds you when you least expect it?
Two summers ago, I went to hear Tayari Jones, author of American Marriage, read at Boswell Books, a fantastic independent bookstore back in Wisconsin where I’m from. Six months pregnant with my second daughter and with a draft of a novel gestating — er, languishing — in a proverbial drawer, I wasn’t quite ready to admit that I wanted to go back to school, that I wanted to be a writer. I wrote, I reasoned to myself, but I wasn’t a writer. And also, who in their right mind would pursue an MFA with two babies in tow?
It was something Jones said during the audience Q&A that convinced me to apply to MFA programs and that disabused me of the notion that writers write every single day in some perfect, habitual way. Jones talked about real life, about the fact that writers must participate in real life to have something to write about, that sometimes real life can and must intervene in the writer’s writing life. Slow and steady work – chunks of time here and there – is still progress, she said. It’s still habit. I convince myself now, amidst a global pandemic, that pockets of time are something too. Real life beckons, or rather, there is no escaping reality right now.
Today, for example, after my daughters wake up from nap, I plunge them immediately into the double stroller and take off outside. The clouds are marshmallow puffs, the sky an actual sky blue. “What color is the sky, Lu?” I ask Lucia, my eldest. She and I share a love of pinning down colors, of noting the difference between purple and lilac and lavender; salmon and coral and peach.
“It’s a periwinkle-ish,turquoise-y blue,” she says. Lucia loves ish’s and y’sand uses them liberally and proudly.
“I concur,” I say. “The sky is periwinkle-ish, turquoise-y blue.”.
When we make it to Spring Creek Park, I lift the girls one by one from the stroller, and we spend the next hour running up and down the hill, crawling in and out from under one of the enormous pine trees, repeatedly shoo-ing a squirrel out of the bottom of our stroller where a perma-collection of lost cheerios lives, and playing ring-around-the-rosey in the grass.
“It’s a really grassy green,” Lucia tells me.
As we walk home, I feel lighter, like I can do this. The birds are chirping. The sky is blue, and not just blue: a periwinkle-ish, turquoise-y blue. Still.
Yes, still is the operative word. Despite the fact that it feels like the world is ending, it is, in fact, still turning. It persists. In Colorado, this persistence manifests in beauty. I see it in the grass that is making its turn from snow-covered, to fawn, to verdant green, in the patch of grape hyacinth sprouting in my yard, in the buttery sunlight as it makes its way over the fields and into my windows ever earlier each morning because despite this global pandemic and despite all the ways we use and abuse her, Mother Earth is still giving us spring. And it is this gift of spring that compels me to slow my step, to breathe deeply, to bear it witness. To go, later, to my chair and write. There is time enough for that.
Sarah Olson is a first-year MFA candidate in fiction. When not writing and mothering, Sarah enjoys baking, watching musicals, and anything true crime. | firstname.lastname@example.org | Visit CSU’s Creative Writing MFA program at https://english.colostate.edu/cwmfa/