When you can’t write, you write lists. To-do lists. Reading lists. Life lists. Lists of things to be repaired or fixed. Packing lists. Shopping lists. You write longhand in tight, tiny letters that you need paper towels, eggs, butter, apples, chicken breasts, and spinach.
The Writing Life
For many writers, the most difficult aspect of writing may not be getting the words on the page but rather the delicate organizational and existential contortions necessary to do so. The before, the after; the how, when, and where; and of course, the why.
How can we afford to write or, even more ludicrously, actually earn money from it? Is writing necessary? If we make of it a "job" will we come to loathe its banality? If we don't will we cling to precious notions of creativity? Should we have a life like a separate colony in a petri dish that we may examine and occasionally steal spores from, or is writing itself our life? What does it mean to identify as a writer, or to hide one's writerly identity in a garret, or to seek official validation for writing credentials?
The Writing Life hashes out these and the other hundred uneasy questions swirling around the act of writing. It asks writers to explore the shadows behind their process, work, ambition, and hopes, hewing to the belief that – as the foremost guide to The Writing Life put it in her eponymous work – the way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives.
Recently I noticed that whenever I answer the front door wearing an apron, the person on the doorstep looks me up and down. A flicker of surprise crosses their face. Whether it’s the postman, the plumber, or a friend, there is the same moment of surprise. This flicker got me thinking: What is normal for me, putting on an apron to mix dough, vacuum the stairs, or tip stock into a colander, is less so for others. Wearing an apron to the front door is as mildly provocative as opening it in my dressing gown. At the very least it isn’t what the person on the doorstep expects me to be wearing.
Each time my Mexican-American family returns for a stretch to Oaxaca, I start a blog. During our first week here on my Fulbright grant, I spend all day on the street, eating tacos, taking photos of topiary depicting Jesus on the cross, following the whine and bang of firecrackers to the nearest roving banda.
“The comments are a shit show.” This from a friend on Facebook, a warning perhaps or an expression of vicarious disappointment. “I read the first one and threw my phone across the room.”
I am nearing the end of my first writerly—read, sedentary—summer ever.
I have come home again, to Arkansas, to sink down my roots into the only home I have ever known. My mom has dug rocks out of the hard Arkansas soil, planted sweet peas, basil, hollyhocks, marigolds, and distributed loads of manure over the garden—slowly she expands her territory.
In the first few months after the baby is born, I experience a singing clarity: Milk! Diapers! Milk! Diapers! Lusty oxytocin! Sleep! Cheez-it binge! Sleep! I have cleared out a space–no, cleared out my whole brain–for this time, and I have no expectation of writing.
Two years ago, when I was living in Mexico City in a rented room that faced a noisy gas station and made me an insomniac for the first time in my life, I got the news that my book, More or Less Dead: Feminicide, Haunting, and the Ethics of Representation in Mexico, would be published.
Last week in Mumbai, trying to recover from some respiratory bug that is clinging like scale to my throat and lungs, I stared at the brick walls of my room, and listened to the barks and yells and mumbles from the street against a background of near-constant honking horns.