By Juliette Fay
I’d fantasized about it for months: the week when all three of my boys, ages 16, 12 and 10, would be at overnight camp. My 18-year-old daughter would be home, but this barely counts, since she’s gainfully employed, self-sufficient, and has a busy social life. I love my kids, but let’s be honest, a week off duty for the first time in 18 years was not unwelcome.
Both younger boys were also gone the following week. The parenting factor remained extremely low, however, because the 16-year-old avoids parental intercession as if it were extra homework. One day that week his dad and I asked him if he wanted to go to the beach with us.
“Just me?” he asked.
“Yeah, it’ll be nice,” I said.
He gave us his signature half-smile-eye-squint that reads Highly doubtful.
(He stayed home and built a raft out of scavenged logs with 30-gallon Rubbermaid buckets lashed underneath. A couple of days later, he and a friend paddled it out across a nearby lake. I was calling them Tom and Huck. Don’t worry, they wore life jackets. See pictorial proof above.)
During the preceding months, the anticipation of these two low-parenting-factor weeks had been delicious. I nurtured it like a seedling through the spring whenever life got more hectic than the high-alert level that we at the Fay house generally enjoy. It was my favorite self-soother whenever I wasn’t getting much writing done.
I would mentally list the vast amounts of work I would accomplish: finish the last third of my next novel, prep for the fall release of my current novel, update my website, write several blog posts, exercise every day, spend quality time with my husband and clean out the boiler room.
That was the plan. (Laughs hysterically at own naiveté and general ridiculousness.)
Actually I did get a lot of those things done, which is great because just ramping up for a novel release is far more involved that it’s ever been. By comparison, when my first novel, Shelter Me, pubbed in January 2009, I wasn’t on Facebook yet, and Twitter wasn’t really part of normal life. (Seriously, there was a world before Twitter, no lie.) I wasn’t much of a blogger. My “tour” was limited to a few drivable locations.
So I was feeling pretty accomplished during those two weeks, between that and exercising and spending much needed time with my smart, funny, thoughtful and devilishly handsome husband. We’ve had so little alone time recently I’d almost forgotten.
I even cleaned out the boiler room and gave away all the no-longer-relevant sports equipment. (Personal obsession: getting rid of stuff. If I could choose between that and simultaneously reading, eating mint chocolate chip ice cream and getting a pedicure, I would still choose getting rid of stuff. Weird, I know, but that’s my thing.)
What I did not do was complete the last third of that next novel. Okay, no real surprise there, but I barely got even a couple of pages written. This was so strange! I was looking forward to it more than anything else, including getting rid of stuff! (Not including time with my husband, though. That would sound cold.)
I can’t really explain it. Maybe I thought that with such a seemingly vast amount of time, I’d get to it after I’d checked off all the have-to boxes. Maybe I should have noticed sooner that the writing wasn’t happening and made a course correction.
I went for a walk with a friend recently who’s at a very interesting point in her life, ripe with possibility. Kids getting older and moving out. She’s been taking on smaller projects for years, but never quite finding that thing that truly blows her hair back. She’s always fantasized about writing but has never taken the leap.
“Now’s your chance!” I said.
But she’s hesitant. “What if it doesn’t work?” she said finally. “What if it never gets off the ground?”
Of course. We all feel that way. The reality is rarely as good as the fantasy, because fantasies don’t include the false starts and wrong turns and setbacks that real life always involves. And if she tries it, and it doesn’t work, she’ll loose the fantasy, too.
I think there may have been a little of that going on for me when I forgot to write during those two weeks this summer. I’m always wishing for more time to write, but if I get it, what if it’s not nearly as wonderful as I think it will be? What if it starts to feel like drudgery?
What if—and I think this may be the thing—what if that high voltage bolt of happiness I get from writing is partly about the fact that I can’t do it whenever like. Could a person read, eat ice cream and get pedicures all day every day? No, because you’d be in insulin shock and your feet would be screaming “For the love of God, leave me alone!”
My kids came home, which is nice because I really did miss them. I’m not getting nearly as much work done, but the fantasy is in tact. Besides, the kids loved overnight camp and want to go back next year. (Hot diggity!) And all is well.