Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Losing the Mental Note

Anne Landsman ( ) is the author of The Rowing Lesson, forthcoming next month from Soho Press.

The family dog's on prednisone because she has allergies that make her gnaw at her paws. I know how this drug has to be administered – a half a tablet twice a day for five days, then half a table once a day, then half a table eve
ry other day. It's not good to take a dog off steroids suddenly. My son (who is almost ten) has a loose tooth and the dentist mentioned that he should wiggle it, help it to fall out. If it doesn't fall out soon, it should be pulled. I make a mental note that reads, "See if Adam's wiggling his tooth. If not, make a dentist appointment." Then I lose the mental note. Tooth stays in, at least for the time being. My daughter, Tess, who is twelve, wears a night brace to bed. It makes her mouth hurt, so the orthodontist recommends Motrin which she has been taking for the last three nights. Tonight Tess says she thinks she doesn't need it because she might be getting used to the night brace. If it bothers her, she will call for me. Another mental note: Teach Tess to take the Motrin by herself. A mother in another part of the city has e-mailed about inviting Adam to a Halloween party at her loft. An entertainer is coming and it's going to be fabulous. Adam says yes, and then he says no. He wants to trick-or-treat in our neighborhood with his old friend, Simon. I call up to politely demur and she is reading Harry Potter to her son and they're two chapters away from the end of the seventh book. We haven't even begun. Harry Potter isn't really Adam's thing. Should it be?

In order to write, I have to fight my way out of a dense thicket woven out of my own anxieties. I have to stop worrying about whether my children get enough iron and calcium in their diet, what they're learning (or not learning), whether my older one is spending too much time on the internet, whether my younger one, who is dyslexic, will ever be able to IM his friends. I have to guard my "flexible" schedule because if I give my time to the bake sale, to the Book Fair, I won't write.

I think jealously of Proust, who sat in bed and took care of no one. I hiss at Eugene O'Neill whose wife had a room designed for him that gave him an inspiring view of the sea. I rail against all the male writers who didn't wait for loose teeth to fall out, or notice the dog chewing its paws, or hear the cry of a child with an aching mouth in the middle of the night. I curse them for their obliviousness and their focus. I envy their singlemindedness, their myopic immersion in the life on the page, and only the page.

Luckily Emily Dickinson shows up in these moments, flashing her poems on the back of recipes. I summon up Jane Austen too, sitting in a drawing room full of people. Nobody notices what's she doing, as she fills her mind with sentences, as she remembers everything.


zombieswan said...

I think Toni Morrison spoke of writing with her children on her lap, too. The Bluest Eye. Which is amazing, because mine wiggle way too much to write with.

But perhaps one can find inspiration in these moments. It's unusual, rare, hard. And it is annoying that male writers have never/rarely/seldom had to deal with this. But perhaps more of them are nowadays with parenting being more shared. I tend to doubt it, though.

kitcurious said...

Didn't Doris Lessing also write with a baby? When my own kids were young my production was way down for a number of years; I'm finding adolescence easier. (Theirs, not mine!) But I still have to fight the feeling that I'm letting either my kids or my work down, and I have to watch for bursts of good intentions during which I make promises to teachers that fall by the wayside as my work becomes more demanding.