On the mornings when Bumblebee the beast sleeps at my house, I start my morning serving the biological needs of the pets. The dog’s bladder trumps the cat’s stomach—although by the dirty look I get as I slide on a coat over my pyjamas and put a leash on the Bumblebee, it’s clear that the cat disagrees.
I tell the cat—Disobedient Sinful Disaster, or SinSin for short—I’ll feed her as soon as I come back. She does not believe me, even though this drama plays out pretty much every morning. When I come back ten minutes later, she is lying on the floor, dying of hunger. How could I?
I feed her before I make my coffee.
That’s the natural order of things: the dog’s bladder, the cat’s stomach, my addiction. I pour water into the kettle, grind the beans, and enjoy every moment of the ritual. Then I take the tray with my Frida Kahlo cup, off-brand Bodum, cardamom and cinnamon to the sofa, sit down, open my notebook, uncap the pen and take my first sip as I write the first lines of my morning pages.
(Julia Cameron would disapprove. She’d say walking the dog, feeding the cat and making coffee have all woken me up too much and my sleepy subconscious won’t be present on the page; the censoring consciousness will obtrude. I don’t buy it. I’ve written first thing the morning before walking the dog or feeding the cat—occasionally before coffee—and it is more or less the same. Sometimes painful, sometimes easy—always grounding.)
Today, I am not sure how much time I’ll have to rest on the page. There’s a lanky child sleeping on my sofabed, so the coffee and morning pages are with me in the bedroom. A child’s needs trump everything else. I need to work—he needs to sleep—if he does not wake up before my first scheduled meeting, I’ll take my work laptop in the bedroom. If he wakes up before I finish my pages, I’ll stop writing.
When I was at home with him every morning, I’d make him—all of them—wait.
”Mommy’s writing. I’ll be with you as soon as I’m finished.” When he was little, he’d crawl into my lap or sit beside me as I wrote. As he got older, he’d abandon my lap, occasionally and then more frequently, for electronics.
Now, at 12, he’s old enough to get his own breakfast. I know that.
He never gets his own breakfast at Mom’s house—the sleepovers are still too few and too precious.
Both his dad and I would prefer if he spent more nights at my place. But children’s needs trump parents’ wants and needs—we had broken that rule with our separation—and what he needs most of the time in his bed, in his room, in the only house he’s ever lived in.
(You do see why he doesn’t make his own breakfast when he’s at my place?)
I find myself pouring a second cup of coffee before I finish my first page, and I frown. I’m not that caffeine deprived—slow, down! Relish and sip, don’t gulp. One of my partners shares my addiction, the other has mocked it for seven years and refuses to feed it. I recognize it for what it is, both a physical and an emotional habit. I’ve let go of it in the past, for months.
But I’ve always come back, because no Japanese mushroom or grain concoction tastes this good, or loves me back this much.
(My coffee whispers sweet nothings into my ear. Doesn’t yours?)
My son wakes up and stumbles into the threshold of my bedroom.
“Foods?” he says, as if he’s four and not a preteen. He’s often four at Mom’s house, in Mom’s presence, these days. I think that’s the way it needs to be, for a while—Flora, my daughter, 17 and too clever by half, thinks we both need therapy.
I expect we’re both right.
I take a sip of coffee and a breath. I tell him I just need to finish my writing, and I’ll make him breakfast right away then. He tells me he’s going to torment—er, cuddle—the cat while he waits.
I write faster. Then take another breath. Slow down. Take a sip of coffee. Rest on the page.
I’ve just finished teaching a four week course for writers that’s not so much about writing as it is about organizing your life so that you have time for writing—and, also, about thinking in terms of writing practice, not just focusing on, chasing the finished product.
In the course, I talk about the art of radical prioritization, the lie of multi-tasking, the freedom of discipline—and how you only ever have as much time as you are willing to give to yourself.
People generally leave the classes feeling empowered and energized, as do I.
This time around, teaching the class highlights for me, again, what a lifeline my morning pages are, and how often they lead to a morning writing sprint, a draft essay, an outline of a blog post, an idea for a scene or a new story or even book. They are foundational to my writing practice.
But they are not enough. Practice is important. But so is performance.
Ender: Mom? Are you still writing? I’m starving.
I’m still writing. Then I’m going to make my son breakfast, and also feed myself. For a few hours, I’ll juggle being present for him with working from home—my least favourite thing, because there is no such thing as multitasking. Then I’ll take him to his dad’s house so that Sean does the juggling, and I’ll return to work more focused.
(Maybe I’ll even run over to the office, because we can do that now.)
And in the evening, I’ll write again. In-between, I’ll walk the dog. Feed the cat again. Finish my taxes. Maybe meet you for a drink.
It will be a good day.
P.S. Drafted April 21, which turned out to be not that good a day, but not bad either—thoroughly average, let’s say, with bad news and challenging moments interspersed with small victories and deliveries of support and love. But it started and ended on the page, and in-between, other needs were met. For me, that’s almost always what makes a good day.
What’s your anchor, bookend, consistent key to a good day?
Yeah? You gonna do that today? And tomorrow?