“Just write about a moment,” Neal simply said in response to my writer’s-block whining. “Just a moment, not an idea or concept. Don’t get abstract.”
“Like what moment?” I said, still frustrated after several days of writing starts and restarts.
“Like driving to your home visits. What’s that like? What music do you listen to? Or a recent conversation with Addison. Or write about our old phone.”
Ah yes, an ode to our old, nearly dead phone; that seemed important. After all, moving on from a phone that’s been a workhorse for you — it even got run over by a car in 2011 and kept right on going! — for the last 8 years is no small thing. But as I labored away on Tuesday night, trying to write about our old phone, my writing slowly veered toward our new smartphone and this profound identity shift I’m experiencing as a result. I am a person without a smartphone. That’s who I am. And now for the sake of frugality, I own a smartphone. Two of my deeply held values, not having a smartphone and being frugal, clash in an ultimate battle for my soul.
“Just focus on a moment,” Neal reiterated when I was again stumped and annoyed on Wednesday night. “If writing about the phone isn’t working, try the drive to your home visits.”
That sounded like an important window into my life right now. I could talk about the beautiful scenery I’ve discovered, things my homebody self would never have seen if not for this job. I could talk about why I always seem to pop in the Jeff Buckley CD when I head west deeper into the mountains and Tori Amos when I head east toward the freeway. It would be simple, a description of driving winding mountain roads and trying to make it up washed-out dirt trails in my little Honda Fit.
But really, writing about driving? To what end? The driving only matters because of the destination. The people I’m going to see, the food I’m going to bring to kids who sometimes greet me like they forgot what food looked like, the little ones I’m trying to help through so many life forces beyond their control.
“No, just focus on the moment of driving,” Neal prompts me again. “What do you see on the roads? What does it feel like to navigate those curves? What do you hear?”
“I can’t write about that! I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what it feels like!”
Even though I growled at Neal, hoping to blame him for being ridiculous, I was starting to see the problem. There were moments — there are always moments — but I haven’t been feeling them. I’m too tired from 50-hour work weeks; too busy juggling multiple church responsibilities, the foster parenting application, and needed home improvements; too burned out from helplessly watching children suffer. I could barely think of a recent interesting conversation with Addison. Nothing was vivid.
I thought about throwing in the towel, turning my attention back to 90 assignments still-to-grade and instructor assessments due by Saturday, but if I don’t stop now to try and capture a moment, when will I? Moments started to race through my mind:
- The 11-year-old who lifted up his shirt and said, “Look! See how skinny I’ve gotten since we don’t have enough food!”
- The 8-year-old who told me, “I know my mom loves me because I’ve only been taken away one time,” after which he was taken away again when his abusive stepfather came back home.
- The time I was on a conference call and all of a sudden there was a squealing pig running around outside our office window.
- The time I was in a home conducting an assessment on the financial stability of a family and a young goat wandered up and started eating my paperwork.
- The morning last week when they dropped me off for work and Addison said, “Mom, can you do me a favor today? At lunch, can you ask your boss if it’s okay if Dad comes and does your job for awhile so you can stay home with me?”
I thought I had finally decided on a moment and was about to really get somewhere when I heard little feet in the hall. Soon Addison cuddled up in bed next to me, demanding “MORE pillow” and begging for a “toy video.” Oh, these toy videos! I applaud a successful female entrepreneur, but how can opening boxes of Disney princess toys and mixing and matching accessories be so mesmerizing to children?
I really wanted to shoo her away, or at the least send her off with a device, but since the moments haven’t been vivid enough lately, I decided for once to just snuggle up and watch with her. The 15-minute video was probably going to feel like 17 hours, but I was gonna watch it, dang it, and be in the moment!
I got to about 1 minute, 34 seconds before I couldn’t help myself: “You know, I don’t really enjoy these toy videos. I don’t find dressing toys or people very fun.”
“I know, Mom, but I do!”
“What do you think I do for fun?”
“Work,” she replied without a pause.
“Is that all you think I do for fun?”
“Well, sometimes you watch videos that aren’t toy videos . . . but shhh, I’m trying to watch her put this green dress on Belle.”
Me again, at 3 minutes, 47 seconds: “Don’t you think that’s too many purses?! Do you think people should have that many purses?”
“No, that is too many purses,” she conceded. “But it’s still fun!”
I’m looking at her now, instead of the video. Who IS this little person? Once she was my appendage, but now . . . she craves toy videos, dresses, rings, and make-up. She tells me, “It’s hard having a mom who loves brown,” and proposes a new plan wherein we paint pink stripes all around the house. “We can alternate: pink, brown, pink, brown. Wouldn’t that be a good idea?!” I know her and yet she’s completely foreign.
We’re still only at 8 minutes, 20 seconds and “Disney Collector” is gushing about the new dress she’s making out of Play-Doh for Princess Aurora. Will I survive 15 minutes of this? I wonder. “Disney Collector” says the pink purse will look perfect with that dress, and Addison matter-of-factly says, “There is no perfect.”
“There is no perfect,” she repeats.
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, the lady said it was perfect, but there is no perfect because we’re always gonna make mistakes cause that’s how we learn.”
Well, maybe this little person isn’t completely foreign. And maybe there is a little perfect, every once in awhile. For a moment.