You don't need time to write. You need space.
As a mother of two, one a baby seven months old, it has suddenly occurred to me that despite my frequent protests to the contrary, I don’t really need “time" to write. Somehow the writing gets done while you are doing something else—walking to the grocery store (or taking, as Ange describes here, a long short-cut), or riding the tram, or washing dishes, rocking a baby during the night feedings, watching children at the park, hanging out the clothes, cooking supper. When you get a spare moment, you jot it down. I am somewhat mystified by correspondences with poets, perhaps fresh out of an MFA program, who have no job or children, and claim they need to come to Greece for a year, preferably on an island, to have “time to write.” Don’t they have the same twenty-four hour days where they live?
A Greek island in winter is bleak, cold, wind-blasted and isolated. Everything is closed. No one visits. The postcards you pop in the mailbox won’t be delivered until the postman returns, like a swallow, in the spring. You are going to have way, way too much time on your hands, with the sea glaring back at you like a blank page. Maybe it is OK if you are writing a novel. Say, The Magus.
Let’s face it, we all waste a lot of time we could spend writing. We waste it watching television or Googling or playing Farmville or Twittering, all that endless networking.
But some time is not wasted—walking, driving, doing chores. The mind is still free to wander, daydream, wool-gather. The difficulty with children, of course, is that the constant demand on one’s attention can pull the mind back to earth continually with a yank, like a helium balloon. Yes, one needs babysitters.
But increasingly I feel what a writer needs is space. A Room of Her Own, if you will. Space in the day for the mind to roam. A corner to sit in unbothered. Breathing room. A fallow acre. I no longer have any office to speak of, this having now been surrendered to the nursery in an effort to control the spread of toys and reclaim some of the house for adults. But I can write at the local café, blithely ignoring throbbing Greek pop music, cigarette smoke, clacking backgammon. I can tune out pretty much anything besides a baby crying, or my own kindergartner demanding, “Mommy!”
Maybe what I am saying sounds paradoxical. (Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.) I do have to “buy” the hour to sit at that café, and I need to "rent" the table by ordering a three-fifty euro cappuccino fredo. But I can get a lot done in that time, because the real work has been going on while I moved through my days and nights.
You don’t need more hours in the day. You need more room.
A. E. (Alicia) Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia and has lived since 1999 in Athens, Greece. She has published three books of poetry, Archaic Smile (1999), which won the Richard Wilbur Award; Hapax (2000); and Olives (2012). Her new verse translation of Lucretius (in rhyming fourteeners!), The Nature of Things,...