Ninety Minutes for Me

I really needed a break.

a silhouette of birds flying away from a large tree in the distance
Image created via Midjourney

This week has been absolutely nutty. Make that last week and this week — or perhaps every day since Friday the 13th when it was also an impending full moon. That’s it. Work has been a combination of Friday the 13th, the Full Moon, and toss in Groundhog Day, for nearly two weeks now. Everyone has lost their minds and is howling.

Daily, I think of something I want to write. I want to be at my Surface, at my little writing desk, putting my thoughts to paper. But something about the change of seasons has caused me to sleep later (likely the later arrival of the sunrise) and that has stolen the early morning hours of spring and summer when I would capture some time for myself. By evenings, I am exhausted, and for the past two weeks I have been unable to catch a break.

Then last night, I happened to see a post from a local bookstore — Anderson’s Bookshop — that they were hosting a luncheon with Richard Powers, author of The Overstory. The Overstory has been on my to-read list, and I even have the audiobook in my queue. I saw in the post that The Overstory has been selected as the 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner, and it is always a goal of mine to read the Pulitzer Prize winner each year.

I looked at my calendar. I could sneak out to the luncheon. I had nothing else scheduled, and it was at a hotel that was only a 10-minute drive from my house. I guessed that the event would be 1.5–2 hours. I hesitated. I really could use that 1.5–2 hours in my workday and losing it would mean catch-up later.

But then I thought of how rough the past two weeks have been. How I have been slammed with one thing after the other.

I really needed a break.

Last Friday was my oldest son’s 10th birthday. A HUGE milestone. And in marriage therapy, my husband had requested that he and I spend more time together. More dates. More time with the two of us. And while I appreciated the sentiment, in my brain I was thinking “When? When are we going to do this?” We take walks together almost every day, in the middle of the day, usually at least a mile. And then in the evenings, we always talk before we go to bed. And he’s wanting MORE time together?

So — in order to show my effort — I suggested that we go into Chicago on the Friday of my son’s 10th birthday, just the two of us. We both work from home with flexible schedules, and he has never been to the Art Institute of Chicago (even though I have been a member since 2016, but that’s another story). I sent a flurry of emails in the morning to try to wrap up as much as I could, but there were still time when we walked among exhibits that I said “I’m sorry, I have to respond to this email.” But still, we spent half of a day at the Art Institute and I have been there so many times that I was an excellent tour guide.

That evening, I said to my husband: “I’m glad that you want to spend more time together, and I’m willing to do that. But we already walk together, and talk in the evenings. You want more ‘dates’ and I get that. But I still need to have some time in there for myself, and I am worried that I will lose that.”

I should add: me focusing on myself — too much — after our babies died is one the reasons that we landed in marriage therapy in the first place.  Three years of me, my pregnancy, my babies took its toll.

In the past few weeks, I have also had increasing stomach issues.  This is not unusual for me, as I have always labeled myself as "sensitive stomach" and self-diagnosed that my stomach lining is irritated, causing nausea and sometimes vomiting.  Usually a few days of a bland diet is all I need.  The timing was such that I wondered if stress could have been an irritant, but in reality who knows.

Now drawing this story back to yesterday when I saw the event with Anderson's Bookshop, my hesitation was only brief.  I considered the time lost in my workday, and quickly overrode it with "Nope.  I need this.  FOR ME."  I bought my ticket to the event.

The event was quite intimate, with fewer than 40 people in attendance: an audience limited only to those who could be available in the middle of the day on a Thursday.  As I walked back to the hotel's ballroom where round tables were set up for lunch, I passed a beautiful wall hanging of birds flying away from a tree.  Trees and birds are always my thing, and — to be more precise — there were seven birds.  As there are seven family members in my story.  As I was headed to an event to listen to an author speak about a book about trees.

I chose a table and sat, and tried to make conversation with the three other women seated with me.  We chatted a bit about books, and one woman made me aware of a book group that is part of the Open Discussion Project, which is part of the National Coalition Against Censorship.  I thanked her for the recommendation.

And then I listened to Richard Powers.  I always carry a small notebook, so I filled several pages with his words.  That (paraphrased) trees have created the world that we have come into.  That this world has existed long before us and will exist long after us.  That writing is a living process and just keeps going.

There was an open Q&A, and I put my hand in the air.  I wanted to know if he could describe any one writing habit or ritual.  The habits/rituals of creatives are so personal, and they fascinate me.  He replied that 1,000 words per day used to be his goal: whether it took two hours or eight hours, he wanted to produce 1,000 words that he could later edit.  But since moving to the Smokey Mountains, his perspective has changed.  Now he has a goal of walking 4 miles per day instead.  Walking "takes a little bit of attention, but not so much that you can't run experiments in your head.  Let's see what nature is saying.... and sometimes a solution presents itself."  Even if it only produces 200 words.

After the Q&A was over, the woman seated across from me asked if I was a writer.  I was a bit taken aback by her question, because all of our "pre-presentation" discussion had only been around books we had read.  Something in my question to Richard Powers must have given her an inclination, I figured.  I told her that I would love to write a book, someday.  That I have blogged for a long time as an outlet, but finding the time to form a longer, cohesive piece of work is always a challenge.  It still struck me that she even asked the question.

The end of the day.  I went back to work and raced through the afternoon.  The entire time I spent at the Richard Powers event was about 90 minutes.  I went back to work.  I picked up my daughter from daycare.  I came home to a 7-year-old that was pouting.  I am finishing this as my husband announced that dinner was ready.  Always the challenge to find time for myself amidst the million other things that demand my attention.

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