A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Burning Desire Meets Real Life

Is that a raven in L.A? Probably not. But as the only Alaskan
at the conference, I liked to think so.

Have you ever gone to a fabulous conference -- and then returned to harsh reality?

Recently I attended the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) annual conference in L.A. Even though it was 4 a.m. by the time I reached home (after the flight and the two-hour drive), I woke up the next day feeling flush with energy and a burning desire to write. (Spoiler notice: foreshadowing has just occurred.)

I did notice that the house needed vacuuming and dusting; the bathrooms, a good scrubbing. A stack of mail waited on the dining room table, which was crumby. What the heck, it could all wait until later.

Laundry couldn't, however. My suitcase lay open in the middle of the living room. I began pulling out dirty clothes but decided I needed coffee. In the kitchen I discovered that my dear spouse, who left hours ago for work, had drunk the last of it.

I made a fresh batch in the French press. Oddly, the press wasn't working quite right but filled with determination I forced the plunger to work, pushing down hard and steady, harder and steadier, until nearly-scalding coffee exploded all over the counter, the cabinets, the floor…and my tender inner arm.

I ran cold tap water on my arm, then cleaned up the mess.

Fortunately some coffee hadn't spilled. I drank it with my arm back under the faucet.

The burn hurt a lot. The skin was very red. I began to imagine that perhaps I had second or even third degree burns. (Or is it first degree burns that are worst? Something to look up.) I told myself to calm down; it wasn't that bad.

But it sure hurt.

I called my sister, the nurse, at work. She was surprised to hear from me, since I live three thousand miles away and don’t normally call her at the hospital. I explained the problem; she switched smoothly into nursing mode. “Watch for blisters,” she said. “Don’t pop them. Keep running cold water for up to 30 minutes. Go to the doctor if it still hurts in 24 hours.”

Twenty-four hours? Definitely.

I drank more coffee and ran more cold water.

When I started doing laundry I noticed that the dryer had moved an inch or so from its usual position. I ignored it.

I was starving, so decided to make breakfast. My refrigerator had gone Wild West on me: full of suspicious characters. I put on my tin badge and threw the moldy bums out of town. Now only wide open spaces remained. Thank goodness I'd stocked up on eggs before leaving.

I checked my email while I ate.

Guess what? A cousin I hadn't seen since my mother’s funeral 16 years ago was in the area and would like to stop by with his family, whom I may or may not have met. Of course I wanted to see him! After all, he’d never been to my house before because, like my sister and every other relative I have, he lives at least three thousand miles away.

Did I mention the house was a mess?

I called his cell, left a message and started unpacking. Shifted a load of clean laundry into the dryer and started another. Went back to unpacking.

Made phone calls. Moved the suitcase upstairs to finish putting clothes away. Progress!

Remembered there was another suitcase, still in the car.

Then I noticed a moist, laundromat smell. That smell meant only one thing: the vent from the dryer was disconnected. I turned off the dryer and looked. Sure enough.

I called my dear spouse. He had no idea what had happened or how. He hadn't noticed that the dryer had moved. He swore both innocence (dubious) and total ignorance (possible). He promised to look at it that night when he got home.

I looked at my mound of laundry and hoped that my cousin would be coming tomorrow, not today.

I wrestled with my misty moisty dryer until the vent tube thingies almost lined up. It was difficult to reach behind the dryer to fiddle with them because my scalded arm rubbed against the dryer in the narrow space. I resumed drying, opened the window for ventilation, and closed the laundry room door.

Sliding into flip-flops, I walked outside in my jammies to retrieve the second suitcase.

Since the moment I'd gotten out of bed, my desire to write had run head on into reality -- as it always does. Would I survive? Of course. I'd just met dozens -- no hundreds -- of writers, struggling like me. Sure, at least some of them must have nice tidy lives: spouses with good jobs and insurance; no distracting children, pets, or gardens; a housecleaner (sounds great!); or at least ready-made coffee in the morning.

But I also knew that most were returning to just as many hassles as I had. Quite possibly – though I hated to admit it -- even more. Because that's life: messy and unexpected, often annoying, sometimes even tragic.

The knowledge of shared struggle brings comfort; comfort brings strength; strength brings energy and that burning desire to write -- preferably with coffee in my cup, not on my arm.

I sat down to start this blog. Let's see where it goes! How do you deal with the on-going challenge to carve out time and energy for writing?

P.S. My cousin and his two beautiful daughters visited the next day. And I'm so glad they did!

 The incomparable Ashley Bryan, performing poetry that revives the soul.
SCBWI Conference, 8.2.2010


  1. Ann, this made me laugh on a very gloomy day though I'm sorry to hear about your burn.

  2. I just have to remember to channel the burning desire to write into writing, not making coffee!

  3. I sympathise about the coffee burn - I've done that too. It hurt for weeks!