On writing her memoir, Abigail Thomas says, “instead of not-writing, I am painting.”
If you don’t count a thin Crayola watercolor paint brush from Zade’s art drawer, I haven’t picked up a real brush for many years. Andrea bought me my first adult painting set in October 2008. Kal was in Dubai for a few months and I was open to focus on my own devices. The spirit of Halloween nearby, we sat on an old red tablecloth in my living room and painted side by side. I’m squinting hard to remember what I painted—probably a sunset or some trees, the usual beginner fantasies of painting—but I remember thinking, now that wasn’t so hard.
Thomas begins her account with this simple and equally truthful message: “Nothing is wasted when you are a writer. The stuff that doesn’t work has to be written to make way for the stuff that might; often you need to take the long way around.”
I’ve focused on writing this summer more than I’ve dreamed of for any summer, and when I wasn’t writing, I was “not-writing” while observing something else. Long drives back and forth from kids’ camps became quiet moments where I could uncover a crucial plot element or come up with an idea I’d toss later. Either way, it only mattered that while I was consistently busy this summer, I was also “not-writing” when I was.
I’ve become more and more comfortable with scrapping pages and pages of writing, so hard to pluck out at first but still purposeful in laying out the road. Two things have helped me the most: just writing. just committing.
On a great leap of faith, I enrolled in a UCLA extension course on short fiction writing, one of many I hope to take. To echo a girl I met this summer, I didn’t want all the balloons buoyant in my head to just release, one by one out into air.
On the first day of class, our professor asked both for creative writing and for some writing on what brought us to the class. I admitted the ultimate catalyst for enrolling: Taking this class is a grand leap of faith on myself. In fact, I almost didn’t take this symbolic course.
I put the money aside and was debating if I should do stuff for the house instead, another source of joy, or saving it in what Betty Smith names the moneybox nailed down in the closet. One day on the way to get my hair colored, I got pulled over for speeding. I was polite and knew I was wrong for speeding, so I apologized to the officer and took my ticket with dignity. I knew then that I wouldn’t be able to take the course after all and took it as a sign. I held it together and accepted it like an adult.
Two weeks later, I sat in the same car and called up to pay for the ticket, and clerk said I owed $39.00. Shocked, I confirmed what she said, $39.00. I almost sang out my card numbers to the automated service. I was expecting to pay over 200 dollars at least, but there I sat with my phone and credit card in my hands, waiting in the parking lot for the other shoe to drop. It didn’t.
So I went home, created my account, and signed up for the class.
I had a deadline for class during Andrea’s latest visit here. After Kal and the kids went to bed, both of us sat at my long dining room table with only the glow of the soft light above us. Two cups of coffee sitting next to us in mismatched mugs and our laptops open, we wrote quietly alongside each other for hours. The best part of this experience was not just the energy. It was the catalyst for the moment—although this time I was the one to orchestrate it.
Two weeks ago, I had two rose gold necklaces made for us, each one stamped with the first letter of each of our most important characters. Big Magic inspired me to commit to characters, the way one would while married or the way one would while having an affair, sneaking off no matter what is at stake to be together. Over oysters and pomegranate drinks, we held hands and took a vow to stay true to our stories.
We opened the boxes together and slipped our necklaces on. From that moment, we steadily walked away from life updates and strolled right into our stories. The rest of the visit, when Andrea wasn’t playing Barbies and Jenga, or watching Rio and Wild Kratts with her niece and nephew, in the moments when we had some quiet, we filled ourselves up with the explorative, something consistent between us but noticeably rare, a joy that only comes with someone who stares out the window like you do.
Amidst long summer days, learning about our new home, going to a Georgian safari, myriad trips to Brusters, laughing with visitors, long pool days, running around a track, bike riding, camps from rock climbing to gymnastics, Layla’s first playdate at Six Flags, Zade’s mischief-charm, text-designing with friends, slower mornings, really late nights, reading and listening to books, cooking warm meals, eating tacos at the table, crazy sibling rivalry, sweet sibling synergy, running in the early morning, getting splashed by the sprinkler, visiting with neighbors, Spiderman and Barbie adventures, workshop training, daytime appointments, kids sprawled upside down on the couch, watching cartoon matinees, and melting in high summer Georgia heat, I stayed dedicated to not letting the thick-head talk that comes in the way with allowing yourself to create.
Next week our lives change up again to the rhythms of fall semester. Lots of this summer in which we’ve nestled will change to a pitched energy. I’m aware of it, but it is still 6 days away. We still have a few more memories to make in this narrowing expanse; therefore, I’ll just write it out to carry its hopeful weight: summer is not over just yet.