Layla and I were hanging out on my bed last night. I was scrolling through my phone showing her videos of our friends who have taken two years off to travel and sail the world. “So, where is St. Lucia?” she asked.
Swiping up through images of the Caribbean and chatting sleepily about sailing, she got me sidetracked.
“You haven’t written much on your blog lately.”
I got up on my elbow and said, “How do you know that?”
She said, “Every few days, I google your name to see if you’ve written anything else.”
Incredible, this daughter of mine searching the Internet to see if I’ve written anything new. To her, that I write is something she knows as if it were always there in her life like my long hair or my dark-rimmed glasses. How I have created this identity with her, and how this is vastly different from my own experience with my writing fascinates me. What is natural to her, that mommy is writing this post or that mommy’s office door is closed, isn’t natural to me.
“That is so sweet, honey. I didn’t know you did that. I haven’t been writing there on purpose because I’m trying to write that novel.”
She nods. “The one about Ellie?”
The best creative writing course I took in college was the only creative writing class I took in college. The classroom had two big windows that looked over the main street at Georgia State. A baby-writer-me wrote an essay on Persian tea cups, on the process of tea making as a metaphor for the culture, one that in retrospect was pretty satirical. I was exhilarated at creative non-fiction. Surely, we had an array of assignments, but I just remember that essay and that zing I felt when words came out of form, out of turn. I think the best word for this is delight; I was delighted by my submission and its reception in the class.
I remember the day I decided, no, I think concentrating on literary studies is better since I am good at writing about writing. I don’t regret that decision anymore, but for a long while, I assumed that this choice divided me from the realm of creative writing in the real world. So many of my life steps since then negate this truth, yet impostor syndrome overshadowed the little glimmer of something else. I recognize, now, though that if you stick at something for long enough, you may end up proving to yourself that you’re not half as ill-equipped as your inner asshole (a Pastiloff copyright) told you that you were (dang, do I have to censor that now?). What I’ve learned recently about fiction and life is a line half-borrowed from someone else: fiction makes sense; real life does not. Fictional stories about lives make sense partly because the writer spends a decade considering them and learning to tie pieces together practically; but real life, though true, is too linear to do all that fiction can do. We make sense of real life, but we create fiction.
In 2014, my best friend encouraged my story idea by asking me leading questions and writing swiftly in a notebook I had in the kitchen. I have those notes in my desk drawer still. A few years later, I took a class with UCLA and turned that into a solitary short story that is far beyond that place now. I needed a class to stay committed. In this incarnation, and in a more advanced ULCA course with a phenomenal writing instructor, I am currently writing the first draft of a novel. If anything comes from this experience, it is respect for anyone with the endurance to finish, truly finish this art. While taking this course, I’ve learned that I can’t know the full story until I write it; that all first drafts are shitty; I have to listen to my instincts (and try to stay away from fatal writing flaws so that my first draft is not as shitty); that I am super serious a few days before deadline, refusing to take off my work clothes or wash makeup off my face until my post-work writing is done for that night; and that I feel a little melancholy a couple days after each submission, like maybe I explored so far that I have to find a way back.
I notice that the kids don’t knock on my door as much when I am working. I hear them in the kitchen. “Don’t ask her for that now. She’s going to get mad. She’s writing now!” I have to fight the urge to go see what’s going on because I’m recognizing that somewhere inside, I’m taking this seriously, and maybe, too, I’m setting a precedent. Maybe my real life and my fiction can get along and make sense so that I can see what I’m made of when I go forward in time to when I don’t ignore the hard-won delight.
My word for this new year was control, to take control over things I let slip away. I know control can only lead to loss of, yet I’ll try anyway. Even now I’m trying to control myself from checking email as I work alongside my creative writing students, a promise I made them that every Friday, we’ll freewrite together. That we won’t focus so hard on the outcome, just let the ideas flow. Our keyboards are tapping away while others write or doodle in square notebooks. But the solidarity of it makes us do it. Yes, we write alone, but we don’t work towards something alone.
Layla’s question yesterday became, for me, a memorable act of solidarity, an innocent reflection of a truth she sees, one of which I will continuously strive to fit.