Friends, I’m so honored to have Heather Caliri joining me today to talk about how, even with small children, she found her space and time to write. It’s a beautiful testament, especially in these hard days when writing will, we pray, save us.
If parenthood were an economy, the currency would be sleep. You’d pay mortgage with REM cycles and buy groceries with naps. You’d fund college with any child that slept through the night.
And, if you were like me, an insomniac with very wakeful daughters, you’d hoard sleep like Scrooge, clutching each second like newly minted doubloons.
Naps were precious, especially: the blessed break mid-afternoon fueled my body till dinner. Naps were golden, naps were restful, naps were—
Just the slightest bit anxiety-producing.
An hour to spare, and way too many ways to spend it. Should I focus on laundry or catch up on reading? Should I take a nap, tidy the house, start dinner, exercise–?
In the time it took to decide, the minutes ticked by, dollar bills thrown carelessly into the wind.
In the first year of each of my daughter’s lives, I heeded the age-old advice: sleep when your baby sleeps. Those precious minutes saved me.
But after a year, with my babies sleeping better, I didn’t need a nap. And what I hungered for instead wasn’t a cleaner house or toned thighs but writing.
I decided it would be the first thing I did once she fell asleep.
I did not realize how big of a decision that actually was.
I did not write very well, but I wrote anyway. I felt anxious about trying to start writing again. Often all I could manage was fifteen minutes of typing somewhat aimlessly before the fear took over and I had to stop.
But when the next naptime rolled around, I’d find a writing prompt, open a new document, and start typing.
I felt so lame that these documents were all I could manage; I’d completed a master’s degree in writing, finished a thesis, even published a few stories in journals, but that was pre-kids, with unlimited time and brain cells. That was before a bout of depression stole my moxie and sleep deprivation muddled every thought.
This post-parenthood me wasn’t sure if real creativity could fit in a free time measured in the length of a Caillou episode. Could not imagine having enough time to publish something, when I could not find time to wash my hair. Opening up that document seemed an act of ridiculous self-aggrandizement.
I kept opening up the documents anyway. Wrote fifteen minutes, and then an hour, wrote for a folder on my hard drive, and then for a blog, managed one page and then fifteen, and eight years later, an entire memoir manuscript.
If parenthood is an economy, it is a small one. I thought that limits were death before children, thought that having very little time to work with meant always feeling poor.
But the truth was, I was not impoverished. I had the privilege of those fifteen minutes, with which, I discovered I could make something worth reading if I just sat down and did the work.
What I learned from the the limits of parenthood was this: you have to choose. You have to choose a topic to tackle, an opening sentence, a metaphor and a closing phrase. You have to choose to make your words a priority, to do it first and always. You have to choose to believe your voice is worth hearing despite all the evidence to the contrary. You have to choose, over and over, to begin a new piece, to submit the old, and to keep going when rejection cuts your heart.
But the deepest, hardest, most essential choice is this: you have to choose to do the work with whatever time and skill you have. You have to sit down and begin.
Instead of doing laundry, instead of reading a book or surfing the web or washing your hair. Instead of shopping for groceries or making rice or sweeping the floor.
It might feel foolhardy, or even self-indulgent. But in the moments where you say yes to doing the work, you learn the very skill that will help you make every other choice that confronts you on the page: the skill of showing up and doing what you’re called to do, one moment and one word at a time.
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego who uses tiny, joyful yeses to free herself from anxiety. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, “Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety,” for free here.