Commonplace

seeking the story in the ordinary

Today, it’s raining. The lone desk lamp throws warm light on the yellow wall. A half-eaten bowl of Rice Chex sits to my right. I can hear the faint sound of clothes turning in the dryer downstairs, the commuter train in the distance, the slick rush of cars on the damp main road just beyond the front window.

I collapse into the black folding chair across from my laptop. I exhale.

It’s like I’ve stolen these hours. These sweet, empty hours. A quiet slice of carved out space and time. Rare, fleeting, mine. The older boys are at school, the baby may be there, too—for the few hours a week he goes—or maybe he’s napping. Husband is at work. I’m alone. Or at least it feels that way.

Suddenly my shoulders tense. My mind involuntarily ticks off the other things I could be doing. Something for my husband or children. Or someone else.

I feel…guilty.

There are always more dishes to wash, a load of laundry piled high enough to demand attention, stray toys littering the house. Errands—the bank, school forms, dry cleaning…Texts and tweets and e-mails that linger in my inbox until I just want to ‘mark as read’ so the bold font will stop staring at me accusatorily. On any given day, we need something from the store. Bananas. We always need bananas.

~

I stand in line at the market, growing increasingly agitated at the small talk between the customer ahead of me and the clerk. The clerk upon whom my schedule, my freedom now hinges. A desperate helplessness sets in—that feeling of losing control over your time. Inevitably my irritation turns inward, and I silently chastise myself for not being more patient.

This is a familiar scene.

~

Early one morning, I tap at the keys when a familiar name flashes at the bottom right hand corner of my screen. A dear friend from our old town was sending me a message. It read, just wanted to say it’s always nice to see your name online early, comforting, I might add. you can keep writing, just wanted to send love to you and your boys.

Tears welled, blurring the tiny black letters until they appeared to be dancing on the screen. You can keep writing…I don’t often hear that. What it sounded like was, You can keep doing this thing that’s all yours, this thing that’s just for you.

~

Oh I am lucky. My days are filled with sons and sweatpants, milk mustaches and mac ‘n cheese. Battles are now waged out of the courtroom over broccoli and deadlines refer to Angry Birds limits, not motion filings.

But the hours that I can spend as I wish, where my mind can complete a thought from beginning to end, are too, too few. They are punctuated by naptimes, lunch preparation, preschool pickups…they are intruded upon, interrupted, cut short.

And here’s what I fear:  that one day, I will look back only to see, in the uncharitable light of retrospect, a mother distracted. Because this writing thing is a double-edged sword. Simultaneously helping me live within the moment, my senses piqued, noticing more—but also removing me from it, stealing me away, transforming me into an outsider looking in. Greedy with my time, unrelenting, always leaving me wanting more.

So I wake before first light, stealing these hours from the night. When I can sit with the quiet loneliness in the empty space of unscheduled time.

Sometimes I need to get out to clear the cobwebs of our chaotic little life from my cluttered mind.

Sometimes the road will call me to it, and I will spend some time there as the sun sets and dinner is served. Remembering that I am a whole person separate from the pieces that seem so inextricably a part of me now.

I will allow myself to travel, if only in my mind…away from my present, away from my people. Knowing full well my feet will always carry me back, my arms open wide, my ears filled with the songs of the road.

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24 thoughts on “Stolen Hours

  1. This is just so breathtakingly beautiful, Dina. Double edged sword indeed, no question about it. xoxox

    1. Thank you so much, Lindsey. I’m glad you can relate…it’s comforting, no? At least knowing others feel this way…xoxo

  2. Beautiful. I love this. Love.

    Finding that time just to have the guilt, the interruptions, the cluttered mind that won’t let you fully be in that collection of moments you’ve stolen. The double-edged sword of writing. Oh, the frustration of being forced to give your precious time to a total stranger. The store clerk doesn’t know this and might not understand, but the feeling is still so real and so there with you and then turning it inward. The whole piece is amazing.

    1. Thank you so much, Sarah. It means a lot that you can relate. It helps, really. And yes, the poor store clerk–store clerks everywhere, who suffer my silent wrath! Of course, it probably hurts me more than them…and yet, so inevitable sometimes. Thank you again for knowing exactly how I feel! xoxo

  3. rudrip says:

    Gorgeous prose, Dina. Thank you for sharing some of your stolen moments with us.

    1. And thank you for spending some of your moments here–reading, sharing, and sending your kind words my way! xo

  4. kploetz says:

    Such truth here, the road that calls, the impatience that rises, all because we want to get to that other place of writing while still staying present with what’s right before us. You capture it so well.

    1. Thank you, Kristen. I didn’t even expect this to resonate with others as deeply as it does–I am so grateful to be surrounded by those who can relate and help lift me up. xo

  5. omnimom says:

    ‘And here’s what I fear: that one day, I will look back only to see, in the uncharitable light of retrospect, a mother distracted. Because this writing thing is a double-edged sword. Simultaneously helping me live within the moment, my senses piqued, noticing more—but also removing me from it, stealing me away, transforming me into an outsider looking in. Greedy with my time, unrelenting, always leaving me wanting more.’ This paragraph is just perfect. My oldest son, who is perhaps the most highly attuned to me, can tell when I am somewhere else in my mind, lost in composing words, even if I am still talking to him. He knows intuitively when he doesn’t have my full attention, when I’ve disappeared to ‘that place’ writers go, and he calls me out on it now. And the funny thing is he’s always right.

    1. This is so interesting, Lauren. I love that your oldest is aware of when your writer mind engages–as if he can appreciate that part of you that isn’t just his mother, but a whole person, with passions and pursuits. Writing this post and reading these comments helps me realize that is *exactly* what I’d want my sons to see–all of me. (And my oldest is also the most highly attuned, though a bit too young to call me out on this very thing. I’m sure the time will come…)

  6. Lara says:

    Oh, yes, Dina. You’ve captured so beautifully what’s been in my heart and on my mind lately. The guilt, the double edged sword, will they ever ease? I love that you received that message from your friend in the wee hours. What a gift. And bananas! The great disappearing fruit, yes? 😉

    1. This has a “cave-craving” element to it, no? Thank you again, and always, for walking this path with me…

  7. Excruciatingly lovely and familiar. I cannot imagine a life that wouldn’t involve a little guilt, it’s a part of this beautiful mix.

    …would you see their day dreaming or their climbing as distraction, would childhood make sense without the tantrums or the musings of maybe running away. It is in the choreography of our many sides that we live, and that we teach our littles of the power of pursuing a dream, even if it’s done in the darkest hours and tiniest corners of the day.

    1. I love this comment so, so much. You put it perfectly–and opened my eyes to something I believe so deeply to be true–that we must live life within the uncertainty, the contradictions that make us who we are–but hadn’t totally connected with feeling so torn lately between my writing, mothering…all my different selves. A paragraph in Dani Shapiro’s Devotion resonated deeply & spoke to just this: “living inside the contradictions”– as not a form of spiritual laziness, but something aspirational, requiring greater effort and clarity.

      Thank you for this–it is one of the many reasons I love writing, blogging–because sometimes others can read your words and see you clearer than you can see yourself.

  8. Nina Badzin says:

    In this one paragraph you’re reading my mind (though much more poetically in your words): “And here’s what I fear: that one day, I will look back only to see, in the uncharitable light of retrospect, a mother distracted. Because this writing thing is a double-edged sword. Simultaneously helping me live within the moment, my senses piqued, noticing more—but also removing me from it, stealing me away, transforming me into an outsider looking in. Greedy with my time, unrelenting, always leaving me wanting more.”

    I am so much happier when I’m writing along with all the mothering, wife, and house pieces of my life. But it does add an extra (thick) layer of distraction and busyness (is that spelled correctly?). Yet without those distraction and self-induced busyness with things other than the school forms, etc, I don’t think I could do the mothering, wife, and house stuff without feeling something worse than distraction . . . maybe a little anger.

    1. YES. Exactly. At times, I think if I just stopped writing, I would have oh-so-much more time–and how relaxing that would be. But I immediately dismiss the idea, because I know all that time would just feel…empty. The alternative to feeling conflicted and distracted by this writing life is certainly far worse. And so…it’s worth fighting for.

  9. acb23 says:

    We are always out of bananas too. 🙂 Relate so much to this… but as someone who has let all the life and mothering take precedence lately and has not made any time for writing, it’s not any easier or “better” this way. I feel a bit adrift, sometimes angry, as someone mentioned above. We are all complicated creatures, and becoming a mother doesn’t erase our true selves. Sometimes I feel like it should (damn guilt talking), but then, I also want my kids to see me as a full person with interests and talents. When I am writing and making time for myself, I feel more connected and like “me”. When I don’t, I feel grumpy and angry. So I suspect a distracted mother, lost in a world of words, is better than a resentful, angry mom, right? My son knows I write “stories” and he wants to write books too. I LOVE that. You are doing the right thing, keep on keeping on.

  10. acb23 says:

    And oh gosh, I just read your comment above about if you just stopped writing you would feel empty. YES. Because the kids grow up and want less of us, and I am frankly terrified of nothingness and boredom, of giving everything up and then being left with nothing of my own. I am so grateful I have found a passion for SOMETHING, even if it’s something as maddening and elusive and hard as a writing life.

    1. Yes, yes, 100 times yes. Reading your comments felt like listening to my own deepest thoughts. Remaining a full person, terrified of nothingness, happy to have found this, and holding on tight for the ride…It’s that exactly. xoxo

  11. I love knowing that I’m not alone in feeling this way. What you describe is what I go through every day. I tell my husband I’m antsy, I’m unsettled. But it’s this. Pulled and interrupted and guilty and relieved and observing and present but not.

  12. Yes, exactly. I can’t even tell you how comforting it’s been for me to read the chorus of voices who so profoundly relate to this piece. We’re in this together, for sure.

  13. I’m on my fourth read of this piece and featuring it on my “Friday Faves.” This piece has chastised, inspired, and comforted me this week. Thank you for your words.

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