Sometimes I feel like life is getting in the way of my writing time. Days will pass, and I won’t hear the steady tap of my fingers on the netbook keyboard. I won’t feel the satisfaction of generating a page full of type. That bugs me because I’m kind of big on being productive. Getting stuff done is happy-making.
Last week was like that for me. Life accelerated and swerved, but did not take me to the desk to write. It took me instead to visit an elderly woman in a physical rehab facility who had alarms on her bed that sounded whenever she tried to stand up. She wanted to escape badly. She was lonely and bored. But very weak. I cajoled the nurse into letting me take her for a walk, and we set off down the hall with her walker. At the end of the hall, she lingered, staring at the key pad on the door to the stairwell.
“I know the code to get out,” she mused.
“I don’t think you’re ready to tackle stairs just yet, honey,” I said. ”And I don’t want to break your fall and wind up a patient here myself.”
After a long beat, she nodded, and we turned back and went to the other end of the hall. It was a long walk with a few seated stops for breath. I did all I could to make her laugh, and at one point, at my jest, she began strutting as if beginning a dance routine. It did her heart good. By the time we made it back to her room and the alarm was reset, she was exhausted but happy.
We later “got in trouble” for taking that walk, but it was worth it.
A day later, a beautiful young mother needed me to take her to the police station to file domestic abuse charges and obtain a restraining order. The place was sterile and emotionally cold, with hard chairs and bad lighting. She was scared of what she was doing, and scared of what would happen if she didn’t do it. This step had been years coming.
I did little except help initially with some Spanish translation, and then just stayed by her as moral support. We were there for over two hours, and that was just the beginning of her labors to find peace and safety. It was boring at best and degrading at worst, but it was worth it.
Another day, a friend called in crisis. Her world was falling apart and she was losing perspective. She needed a sounding board, and so I listened and folded laundry, and listened and washed dishes, and listened and picked the grime out of my microwave, and listened. I did my best to validate her worth and give her courage to stand back up. I handed her the words with which she could dust herself off and start all over again. I got almost nothing on my “to do list” done that day, but it was worth it.
What does any of that have to do with writing chapter seven of my next novel?
Nothing and everything.
When life gets in the way, and we take time to think about what it means, we become deeper, richer human beings. That will pour into our writing. If we give ourselves to others in service with compassion, that will show up in the pages of our blogs, books, poetry or journals.
We cannot improve the world around us without improving ourselves, and we cannot improve ourselves without improving our message.
And that gives us something to write about when we finally do have time to sit down and tap away for a few minutes.