Sometimes, being a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life. There is never a time when you think: Woohoo! I do not have to write today. That Sunday night should-have-gotten-this-all-going-days-ago feeling does not vanish on some improbable June day when, on the way out the classroom door, you dump your backpack, Peanuts lunch box and all, into the overflowing trash can.
Milking ended fours hours after it began whether you hurried through, risking your father’s ire for your impatience, or lolled about singing songs and dedicating them to the behemoths before you. The wrap-up was simple: last cow out, parlor hosed down, cycles run to sanitize the machines. Vacuum pump off, the night buzzed with crickets you forgot would be out there, or you noticed the wind howling around the silos for the first time. The newest calf bawled for its mother, and she responded, a long, low bellow you’d hear all night long in your dreams. The next day, of course, the pattern resumed. But there it was — beginning and end. The moment when you were allowed to say: done. At least for today.
Shift’s end at Paddy’s Wigwam, Misquamicut Beach, meant it was time to refill the prep area. A bucketful of creamers in the fridge, a cupful of stirrers on the counter beside an opened case of napkins. You sorted your checks and cashed in your coins. If you were lucky, the bartender was bored and mixed you a Pearl Harbor you sipped while you waited for traffic to creep along Atlantic Avenue towards wherever the tourists called home. You smelled like fritters and ketchup. Sometimes, the place was empty enough for you to sweep the sand out from under the tables, to swipe the fly carcasses off the windowsills.
The school day ends with a bell, hallways clogged with noise and a hormone-y stench. Cars carroom out of the parking lot at the speed of light. Until the roads look fairly safe again, you sit at your desk clipping together a pile of essays you will take home and ignore. If you remember, you put up the rest of the chairs.
But the writing day never begins or ends for me in any of the predictable ways my other lives do/did. I should always be writing, notebook in my (non-existent) shirt pocket, pen behind my ear. I should pose in cafes looking ultra-pensive in a peacoat and black jeans. I should forgo watching Project Runway on demand and rubbing lemon oil onto my kitchen cabinets. I should rise in the dark, the moon still out and listening, as I do, for the first note of birdsong.
Should. I hate that word.
Dennis read somewhere (a Greek philosopher, I think): If you want to write, write. He likes to quote that to me the same way he likes to quote lines from Raymond Carver short stories and pretend they’re his own. At least I think the Carver lines are funny. At least they surprise me when I see them again in their original form. Dennis is the reason why I started writing regularly in the first place. He’s very disciplined, a marathon runner who isn’t afraid to string the miles out along a route rife with obstacles and very personal reminders of your own mortality. I wish I could say it was purely his example that motivated me, but I must confess: I worried that, with all that writing, he’d be better at it than I was. Yes, I’m that small-minded.
Dennis also says, Don’t say: I only have 15 minutes to write. Say: Wow. I can’t believe I get 15 minutes to write! (He also read this somewhere). Sometimes, he tries to hug me when he says this. I pin my arms against my side and mumble into his chest: How do you find so much time to read anyway?