Selfish Pursuits

It is supposed to rain all day today, which is a novel thing for New Mexico. There are dire warnings of flooding, especially in areas with burn scars, so it isn’t all coziness and fun. My kid and I got caught driving in a rainstorm earlier this week and it was honestly pretty scary — all the flooded streets and of course my windshield wipers weren’t in good shape. So today we plan to hunker down at home. My kid will probably spend most of the day in his room, doing whatever it is he does in there these days. Reading and podcasts, I think. My husband will find a way to workout at home. His usual swimming or bike ride won’t work today, but we’ve got a stationary bike in the sunroom. After that, I assume he’ll be getting ready for his weekly Zoom book club. (I keep arguing that a weekly book club isn’t really a book club. More of a self-run seminar. Not that it matters.)

I plan to spend the day making a dress. Right now my dress is three or so yard of mulberry linen that has been pre-washed but not pressed. So I’ll need to press the linen, cut out my pattern pieces, possibly also press the pattern pieces, pin the pattern pieces to the linen, cut out my linen, and assemble and sew the whole thing step-by-step. I don’t expect to finish today. Maybe tomorrow if I’m lucky. I’m looking forward to it very much.

I haven’t sewn anything in a few weeks. I find myself wanting large chunks of time in which to work on sewing, and I haven’t had those for a few weeks. I’ve been daydreaming about sewing though. Reading about it. Watching videos about it. The anticipation has been immense. This rainy weekend seems like the perfect opportunity to finally transform all that anticipation into action.

One of the things that in interesting about my new sewing hobby is that so far, it is entirely for me. I’ve made clothing for me. I haven’t hemmed other people’s pants, made a shirt for my son or husband, any of that. I’ve transformed the guest room into a guest room/sewing room with two sewing machines and an ironing board. I’ve acquired a whole stash of fabric and countless little sewing notions. I’ve spent hours working on my projects, and it has all been for me. So that I can wear things that I like, that I’ve made. There is a (small) part of me that wants to feel guilty for this. But most of me is simply reveling in it. Maybe eventually I will sew things for other people, but for now, this new endeavor is all for me, and I feel pretty good about that.

This week I got some fun mail. Little tags with my full name on them, intended to be sewn into the clothing that I make. Probably they will be sewn into parts of my garments that only I will see, so they are another little thing just for me. I can’t wait.

Marking the Occasion

My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary recently. In keeping with my recent tendencies, I marked the occasion with a special cross stitch, and by sewing a new top to wear out to dinner.

The cross stitch isn’t done yet, probably won’t be for a couple more months. It is a little, or a lot, beyond my current abilities, so I make a lot of mistakes and progress is slow. Once it is done, our names and wedding date will be in the center. I plan to have it framed and then to hang it on our family picture wall. Some of the mistakes I make get picked out and corrected. Others I allow to stay, telling myself they add interest. That is probably some kind of a metaphor for 20 years of marriage but I choose to let it lie for now, rather than exploring it at length.

The top I finished the day of our anniversary, a little after noon. My husband had planned to take the whole day off of work so we could hang out together. However, when he saw I was immersed in finishing up my sewing project, he decided to work until I was done. (He works from home, so the pivot was easily made.) I knew it was a little silly to choose my sewing project over time with him, but in my defense our kid was away at sleep-away camp, and we had already spent more time just the two of us that week than we had in around 10 years. The time together was sweet, don’t get me wrong, but losing a morning to sewing seemed like an okay trade.

When I completed the top, I immediately put it on and had my husband take a photo of me out in our yard. I felt that familiar feeling of pride in my accomplishment, that one I rarely feel about my writing. Then we spent a sweet afternoon together, followed by a sweet evening where we went out to dinner at a restaurant that allowed us to rent their private deck in the middle of a farm field. We dined on salmon and farm-fresh vegetables surrounded by sunflowers, bees, chickens, and wandering farm cats. It was magical, and I felt great wearing something I had made myself, with my own two hands. I don’t know if a metaphor for 20 years of marriage lies in there somewhere too.

The week after our anniversary, I discovered a major mistake in the cross stitch, one I couldn’t just let lie. I spent the week picking out stitches rather than putting them in. Picking out stitches is a delicate affair, because you don’t want to cut a hole in your ground cloth. So I carefully undid my own work, day after day. Picking out stitches isn’t as satisfying and meditative as putting them in, but it is possible to get into a rhythm with it. And I guess there is a satisfaction in putting something to rights.

When I write, revision has often been my favorite part. It is so much more fun to fix something than it is to create something out of nothing, when it comes to words. When it comes to floss stitched through ground cloth, it seems I feel differently. I’d much rather create than revise my careful work, when it is made with a needle.

I have been writing this month. Nothing that counts as creative work, but I’m on a committee for my UU church that is organizing the annual pledge drive, and my job is to do the writing for that. So I’ve been writing what I guess counts as fundraising copy. It isn’t easy, and I’ve never done anything like it before. I do still put my heart into it, which is made easier by the fact that this is fundraising copy for something I do truly care about. I think it has been stretching me in interesting and productive ways. I’m learning something new; this isn’t the same old memoir and poetry. I don’t know if I get as much of thrill out of it as I have at learning to stitch, and then sew, but I do get satisfaction from learning a new form. It’s keeping me busy. It is nice, I think, to have people waiting for my words. Normally when I write, there is nobody waiting for me to finish, eager to read.

On Pride

Over the long weekend I made the Torrens Box Top from Muna & Broad. I’ve quickly become very fond of this small, independent pattern company. For one thing, they make patterns in my size, which I’ve found most pattern makers don’t, not even the ones who make plus-size patterns. For another, I love their style, sort of minimalist and oversized. I got tired of all the plus-size clothes that emphasize cleavage and try to make you look as small as possible a long time ago. I don’t necessarily need my clothes to make me look small. I’m not small, and no dress will show otherwise. And I’d rather keep my cleavage to myself, thanks. So I was happy to find their patterns, and look forward to working my way through their collection.

I was intimidated to start. Sewing a whole garment on my own seemed overly ambitious maybe? One sewist I started following suggests starting by thrifting clothes and then refashioning them to your liking. This isn’t a terrible idea, but at my size, most thrift shop clothes won’t fit me. And my current life is such that I don’t have a lot of chances to rummage around thrift shops anyway. So I decided I was going to disregard that advice and make something from scratch. I found some fairly inexpensive fabric online, and decided this first project would be what sewists call a wearable toile, something meant for practice and to perfect fit. I also promised myself that I would do my best to enjoy the whole process, to take it all slow and step-by-step. Cross stitch and embroidery have been such a joy because they bring me to a meditative state, and I hoped to achieve something similar with my first sewing project.

I started Saturday morning. Just cutting out the pattern (which I’d had printed by a print shop on large pieces of paper, another thing I’d had to figure out in advance), laying out the fabric, and then laying out the pattern pieces on the fabric took more than an hour. I reminded myself that was okay, and enjoyed stroking all the wrinkles and bumps out of the fabric, which I’d draped across the dining room table. By the time I was ready to cut, my family was ready to head out and have some fun together, so I left the fabric on the table and went with them. When I returned, I cut into the fabric, which in many ways was the scariest part. It seemed possible I would make some really dumb, irreversible mistakes. And I kind of did. I told myself not to be scared, just to cut, and then promptly cut a tiny hole in the wrong place. I stopped myself before I got too far, and told myself it was okay, I could darn that tiny hole shut later. By the time all the pattern peices were cut out, it was time to make dinner, so I stopped for the day.

Sunday afternoon I came back to the project, and fused interfacing onto the facings for the collar. Then I did some actual sewing. I have learned that much of garment making does not take place at the sewing machine. In fact, I rearranged the guest room Saturday morning so that the ironing board is easier to use. Cutting, pressing, pinning, all these things to me seem to take longer than the actual sewing. I made sure to stay in the moment with all of these, to enjoy the process. But the sewing bit is fun, especially on my vintage 1941 machine. When I stopped Sunday evening, the facings had been sewn to the collar portion of the top, and the shoulder seams on the top were done. Me, I was getting tired, and I could feel myself wanting to rush through the next step and get sloppy, so instead I packed up for the day.

Monday morning I came back to it all. I wasn’t sure if I’d finish that day, but I ended up working from 9-2:30, and by the end, I was done. I stayed in the moment, reminding myself to slow down and enjoy the pressing, the pinning, and, yes, the sewing. And I did. That morning was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Something about doing something that is entirely new to me is thrilling. I’ve been out of my MFA program for more than 10 years. It had been awhile since I’d learned something entirely new when I first started embroidery. I find I like the dopamine rush of mastering a new skill, so I keep doing embroidery and cross stitch, and now sewing. Sewing seems to be a font of new skills to be mastered. I think it will keep me busy for a long time.

When I tried on my new top, before hemming it, I was shocked to find that it fit, and that I liked how it looked. Through it all, I was expecting I’d mess something up and end up with an unwearable garment. And I’d told myself that would be okay. But instead, I put it on and it looked like something I’d like to wear. I was excited as I took it off and went about pressing in and then stitching the hem. I put it back on, and hemmed I liked it even better. I was filled with… pride. Feeling proud of myself is something I don’t feel all that often. It felt fantastic.

So that’s where I’m at. I have a new top hanging in my closet that fills me with pride every time I look at it, and I’m planning my next project. (Black linen wide-legged Glebe trousers, or maybe a black linen tunic-length Torrens Box top. I got a LOT of linen for a very reasonable price online, and so my next 2-3 projects are going to be black linen). And I’m wondering why I don’t feel that flush of pride more often with my writing. With writing, I am always aware of how it could be better. Of how I could be better. I’m wondering, what can I do to enjoy the process more, and to look at the final, imperfect result, and feel that flush of pride?

Rabbit Holes

I have never thought of myself as a crafty person. Creative, yes, but not crafty. All the things I made were things involving words. Essays, poems, blog entries, letters, all of these were the things I created. I cooked and baked, but my interest in that waned a long time ago, and I mostly did what was necessary to feed the family and didn’t really consider it a creative or particularly enjoyable pursuit. So that is why it is pretty funny that I now find myself a person who embroiders, cross stitches, and sews.

The embroidery came first. I decided I needed a hobby that did NOT involve words and I read an article on Slate about how latch hooking was the perfect pandemic hobby. I went on Etsy and looked around for appealing latch hook kits. I found a couple, but while I looked, I also found some appealing embroidery patterns designed by Krista West at Avlea Folk Embroidery. I bought one of those two. When they all arrived, I discovered very quickly that I loathed latch hooking. I didn’t find it relaxing at all, just tedious, and I thought the resulting rug was ugly. But I also quickly learned that I loved embroidery. I wasn’t very good at it, and I found parts of it mystifying, but I found it incredibly soothing and satisfying. Gradually, embroidery led to cross stitch, also from Avlea. I liked how her cross stitch designs are meant to be finished into things you will use — table runners and mats, pillows, and more. I finished a small mat, and was as proud of my mitered corners and hemming as I was of the design. Then I finished a larger design, and finished it up into a pillow. The pillow came out great, but it took me 2-3 hours to hand sew the thing. It occurred to me while I was doing that, that a sewing machine would have gotten that portion of the job done in 5 minutes.

And that was the beginning of an enormous rabbit hole. I won’t detail it all, but I now find myself with a gorgeous vintage Singer sewing machine, a Featherweight. I love that it was made in 1941 and yet still works marvelously. I love that it is all mechanical and I can teach myself to do its upkeep. I’ve made a couple bags, and have plans to start work on a Muna & Broad Torrens top this weekend.

I also have, already!, a second sewing machine coming next month. My late mother-in-law sewed clothes for my husband and his sister when they were young. The two of them are now working to get her house ready for sale, and it occurred to me that her sewing machine might still be there and in need of a home. My husband asked his sister, and she said yes, the machine and all the accompanying sewing stuff, were still around and I was welcome to them. He’s going out there next week, and then when he returns, it will be with my inherited machine and notions. I have no idea what kind of machine it is. I’m guessing it was made in the 60’s and that it can do some things my straight-stitch Singer can’t (zig-zag stitching, mainly). I’m looking forward to getting it tuned up and learning how to use it. It will be special, using the machine that my mother-in-law used.

I’m loving my new hobbies. I am working on a large and complicated cross stitch right now, and I’m constantly researching sewing, because the things I don’t know are legion. I think the thing I like about both is how they force me to inhabit a beginner’s mind. I embrace the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m open to all this new knowledge. It is such a joy, learning new things in my late 40’s. I had been in a bit of a rut, and embracing these new hobbies have given a spark to my daily life.

Fixing It

This sign has been in our front yard since we moved in. The dog hunched over in pooping stance and the word “No!” painted across its side. I’ve contemplated removing it many times. It sends a message I don’t really want to send. I don’t feel precious about the patch of lawn on our front yard anyway. In fact, once we have the energy and funds, we plan to xeriscape the area. But I’d think to myself, do I really feel pooping-dogs-yes! ? And so I left the sign up.

At a block party this weekend, my husband said everyone he talked to about our house asked, “Is it the one with the no-pooping-dog sign?” And he’d have to say yes. We agreed we would finally take the stupid thing down, but we didn’t get around to it right away.

Yesterday, I heard the news of the massacre at Robb Elementary while I was in the pick-up line at my child’s school, waiting to pick up my own 4th grader. I felt nauseous at the news. I teared up and took deep breaths to try to stay in control of myself. When my kid got in the car, we chatted, and I kept it light. I already knew I’d have to tell him, but not yet, not yet. We drove home and he talked about how his friend has been to Meow Wolf in Las Vegas.

And when we got home and I pulled into the car port, I immediately, without thinking, got out of the car and marched out to the front yard, took this picture, and then pulled the silly little sign out of the dirt. My child hollered after me, “What are you doing? I want to go in the back way, not the front!” I grunted back, “I just want to take care of this.” It was lodged firmly in the dirt. It took both hands and all my strength to pull it out. In the end, I think a part the stake broke off and is still buried under the desert willow tree.

I carried it with me to our backyard, and stuck it in a flower bed there where it still is, ridiculously saying “No!” to nobody but us when we walk by it. The front yard is open season. Come poop on it, dogs of the neighborhood. Please get your person to pick up after, but poop all you like. We are a poop-yes household. We have no control, it feels, over the things that matter. No matter how hard we donate and vote, no meaningful gun-control laws ever seem to get passed. We drop our beloved child off at school every day and if we think about it too hard, our hearts are in our throats. There is so much wrong in the world. But dogs may poop on our useless lawn.

Bird Friends

One thing I’m learning is that the side yard in my new home is beloved by birds. I’ve been sitting out here on the patio and writing most mornings this week. The house is hot because temperatures have been high and our swamp coolers aren’t turned on yet. But the west patio is in shade all morning and it is deliciously chilly. After a night of being too warm, it feels wonderful to sit out and feel cool air nipping at my bare toes in sandals. I don’t know a lot about birds, so I can’t identify them very well, but so far I’ve seen doves, robins, roadrunners, finches, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers. Yesterday morning I even managed to get a picture of a woodpecker as it hopped along the trunk of one of our trees. I love being visited by all these bird friends. The cats love it too. They sit by the screen door of the patio and chirp and chatter.

It is probably my happiest time of the day, the mornings spent outside with my computer and my words. I don’t feel like I’ve been writing anything especially brilliant, but I’ve been doing the writing work out here and that feels satisfying. I’ve been sitting on one of my new Mother’s Day chairs, the ones modeled after the Terrace chairs on the Memorial Union at the UW-Madison, and that has added to the happiness of the mornings. It brings back memories of some of my best times in Madison when I was a young adult. I loved the Terrace, and time spent there chatting with friends, studying, and writing. Having a little piece of that memory here in my new home is a joy.

At the Terrace, bird-friends mostly came in the form of mallard ducks. It was fun to watch them swim, and waddle around begging for popcorn. Here there are no ducks, not unless I venture out to UNM’s duck pond. But there are the hummingbirds that buzz past me like little jet planes. There are the woodpeckers who hop along the trunk of the tree and occasionally make that rap tap tap that rings out across the block. There are the robins who hop along on the ground looking for critters. Maybe best of all, there are roadrunners who easily hop over the fence and then look at me long and hard, as if sizing up my worth. I’m glad this new neighborhood had roadrunners. I’ve always considered them a lucky sign when I spot one. And who doesn’t like a little luck, as they go about their day?

On Writing Profiles

I just finished writing my third volunteer profile for my church’s monthly newsletter. I belong to First Unitarian here in Albuquerque, the first church I’ve ever been a member of, which is a subject for a whole blog post on its own, and I was recently recruited to join its Radical Generosity committee and do much of the writing for that committee. I was a little nervous about joining. I’m a writer, yes, but the kind of writing I’d need to do for the committee is not the kind of writing I have experience with. But I decided this would be a chance to stretch myself and learn something new, and also be of service to my church community, so I said yes. My first writing assignment for the committee has been to write a series of profiles highlighting the volunteer efforts of church members. One will be published in each month’s newsletter, under the title, Caught in the Act of Generosity. The first was published last week, the next will appear in three weeks or so.

I’ve found the whole process to be a challenge. I am a memoir writer. I write about my life, and the people close to me. It is mostly pretty looking inward kind of stuff. Profiles, by their definition, are very different from that. These profiles have involved interviewing people I don’t know, first over email and then over the phone. I am… not great at talking to people I don’t know well. It takes a lot of emotional energy on my part. A lot of anxiety in advance. A lot of anxiety during the actual conversation. A lot of exhaustion afterwards. And then once the interview is done, I need to craft that into something coherent with 400 words or less. My natural writing length is very long. I once turned in a 40-some page draft of a memoir essay to my workshop during my MFA program. (Sorry, classmates!)

But, like I said, I just finished my third profile this morning, and I feel like it is a good one. I’ve gotten into a rhythm with the work. First, I send the person 5 questions for them to answer over email. When they send that interview back, I print it out and sit down with it, reading and contemplating, and underlining the bits that catch my attention. I then schedule a phone interview with the person and spend a fair amount of energy in advance trying NOT to be anxious about it. When the time for the phone interview comes, I call them right at the appointed time, and then we talk. I go through their email interview and ask follow ups about the parts that most caught my interest, and I listen. Sometimes it helps to share a short thought of my own, being vulnerable inspires vulnerability. Once the phone conversation is over, this is important, I immediately begin to write. I draft a full profile right then. They tend to be about 600 words long. Once I have my drafted profile, I take a deep breath, and let myself go work on my cross stitch because I’ve just done a big difficult job and I deserve a reward.

The best part comes the next day, when I sit down with my 600-word draft and try to sculpt it down to 400 words or less. Sometimes I think of this as playing word-Jenga. I try to remove as much as possible without having the whole structure collapse into chaos. This part of writing is fun, always has been for me. Having a form to work within and revise towards, in the case that 400-word limit, turns writing into a kind of a game and I get in the zone while I play it. Its highly satisfying. And so far at the end of it, each time I’ve ended up with a profile I feel proud of.

The first profile was published in the newsletter last week. I was surprised by how anxious this made me. I couldn’t figure it out at first. I’ve published work before, much more self-revealing work. Why was this publication causing me to feel so self-conscious? Then I realized it is because usually I publish into the void. The lit mags that have published me mostly have readers I’ve never met, never will meet, and never will so much as hear from. That can be kind of frustrating, actually. But these profiles are being published and read by my church community, by people I know and see on Sunday. It is a much more vulnerable feeling.

I hope these profiles are helpful for my community, that they help to connect us to each other. A thing that is needed after the past two years of isolation. I’ve realized that writing them is good for me as a writer. It has introduced me to a new form and process, a more outward-looking one, and that can only make my writing life more well-rounded.

Settling In

We moved into this new house on the last day of November, so our first few months of getting settled in have been winter months. The trees had no leaves and all the plants were dormant. We didn’t spend much time outdoors, or even in the sunroom because of the cold. But as things have warmed up, we’ve started to venture outside more and more. First, I discovered in early March that the sunroom warmed up enough by the afternoons to be a good place to sit and stitch. And now by the end of April, the sunroom is comfortable all day long and we’ve started to make use of the west patio, which faces out into a small lawn bordered by rose bushes.

At first we had no furniture for this patio, but we fixed that just last week. Now there are two comfortable outdoor chairs with ottomans and a little table between them to hold coffee cups. That patio is in shade in the mornings, and is a perfect place to sit with a cup of coffee. My husband and I have gotten in a routine of sitting out there most mornings for 10-15 minutes and chatting before we each start our days. Me, with my writing, and him with his programming and meetings. These are some of my favorite moments in the day. My love language is time, and this gift of time from him every morning fills my heart. He started working from home because of the pandemic, and we moved in part so that he could have a dedicated office. It looks like he’s going to get to keep working from home, and I love having him here during the days, hearing the clacking of his keyboard as he works.

Yesterday, I noticed a couple of the rose bushes have started to bloom, and I clipped three roses to bring inside. Once inside, I discovered we somehow don’t have any small bud vases, so I ended up putting them in a Thor glass. They are sitting near my right elbow now as I type at the dining room table, facing the open west patio door. Their scent is gentle but ever present, much more so than any store-bought roses we’ve ever had. They improve my day, just by being there.

Once we started using the west patio in the mornings, I realized that it would be a perfect place to sit in the mornings and write, if only there was a table out there too. The patio area is large enough to hold a small bistro table and two chairs, along with the two comfy chairs that are already out there, so I started daydreaming. I asked myself, what would be my dream writing set up out on the patio? And I immediately had my answer. I’d like to sit at one of the chairs that they have at the Memorial Union at the UW-Madison, where I went to college 25 or so years ago. I spent many happy hours there on the terrace, and the iconic chairs are both very cool looking and also would bring back good memories. I googled, and sure enough those chairs are for sale, though they aren’t cheap. I showed them to Eric, told him they were my dream chairs for our patio, and also mentioned that Mother’s Day is coming up… He said to go ahead and order them and we’ll call it my Mother’s Day present. I am so thrilled! I ordered the chairs, which will be cherry red, and then also a glass and black metal bistro table from Wayfair to go with them. (The website also sells terrace tables, but at nearly 900 dollars, I thought I’d go another route…) I’m already imagining mornings spent at the little table, on one of the new red chairs, happily writing in the shade of our new house. I feel so lucky to be here, even more so now that it is spring and surprise flowers are blooming (so far daffodils, tulips, irises, and lilacs along with the roses) and the three large trees on our lot all have leaves. It is a pleasure, settling into this new home and learning its secrets as the year and seasons progress.

On Balance

This week I picked up my embroidery again. I had stopped working on it around the same time I stopped working on my old cross stitch project. But a couple weeks ago I revived my cross stitch practice simply by switching to a different project, and this week I found the need for an embroidery project to balance it out. I like working on more than one thing. The two together, my cross stitch and my embroidery allow me to stitch in different moods and circumstances. When I feel done with one, I’m often ready for the other. They are related, of course. They both give me the pleasure of working with my hands, the hiss of thread through fabric, the calm that descends upon me. But there are slight differences. Cross stitch is all a geometry of squares, which I prefer to work on using my Lowery stand. Cross stitch is structure. Embroidery I work by holding the hoop in my hand, and each stitch lands in a slightly different place with few truly straight lines in the design. Embroidery is freeform. My current cross stitch fabric is an even weave imported from Greece which smells pleasantly of hay. The cloth of my embroidery is a tighter weave and so the thread pulling through it resists a bit more, hisses a bit louder. These small differences matter to me. They allow me to keep working. I guess I like the variety.

I do something similar with writing. I write both essays and poems, and historically it has worked well for me to switch from one to the other. If I was stuck on an essay, I’d work on a poem, and vice versa. I even took my book of poetry, removed all the line breaks, fleshed out a few spots, and turned it into a series of three essays, one of which was published in The Hunger as The Pure Blue Burn. Similarly, there have been essays that turned into poetry. Lately though, for some years, I’ve been more focused on my nonfiction. I have a manuscript I’ve been working on about being a parent with bipolar disorder and I’ve really wanted to have it done, so much so that I’ve let poetry fall more by the wayside. So I find it funny, or perhaps just telling, that I’ve taken myself out of my latest writing break by participating in the poem-a-day challenge for April. I haven’t managed a poem every single day. I did the first two weeks without missing one, but then have missed some days in the third week. But I’m not beating myself up about it. I’m simply opening up a new file on a new day and writing yet another poem. Most are simply play, and I doubt I’ll come back to them. But a couple I intend to revise, try to shape them into something, and then I’ll likely share them with my writing group. I’m glad to be writing poetry again. Going forward, I’m going to try to remember that for me, writing nonfiction and poetry balance each other. Each has its different pull.

Coffee Shops, the Pandemic, and Evasion Strategies

When the pandemic began, I had a lot things I needed in order to write. I needed to write away from the house, preferably in a coffee shop. Even more preferably with a friend across the table, doing their own writing. I had two writing friends in town who enjoyed the same activity, and I met each of them weekly — one on Tuesdays and one on Thursdays. Many weeks this was the only writing I did, though on good weeks I’d manage to get to a coffee shop on my own and do some solitary writing surrounded by strangers as well.

Then the pandemic hit, and all the coffee shops closed down, then re-opened for take-out only. I wouldn’t have gone to one in those early days even if they had been open. And I wasn’t writing in those early pandemic days either. I was spending time with my child, who was eight at the time. I was structuring their days, making sure that they felt as okay as they could, with school suddenly closed and the whole world feeling hostile and strange. We drew together along with Mo Willems on my computer screen. We took long walks around the neighborhood, admiring the blooming daffodils and crossing the street when we encountered other pedestrians. We read books together each afternoon during what I dubbed Mommy Storytime. I gave myself permission not to write.

Time passed. Summer passed. School re-opened in its new strange virtual form. I found myself spending days sitting in the living room, listening to my child’s third grade class conduct its business in the den over Google Meet. The teacher’s voice traveled all over the house and she started to feel like a close friend, though she hardly knew my face or my voice. It occurred to me at some point during my second time through third grade that I really needed to learn to write in adverse conditions. So what if I wasn’t at a coffee shop? So what if there was no friend across the table? A professor from my MFA program had called these evasion strategies, and I admitted to myself that he was right.

And I found my way back to a writing practice in starts and stops and eventually with the help of an old friend who became my writing coach. I learned to write even though I was at home, even though 3rd grade was going on in the background, or, once summer returned, when my child was playing Prodigy Math. During the summer between 3rd and 4th grade I had a daily writing practice at my desk in the living room while my child had a daily Prodigy Math practice in the den. It worked, and it kept working until I took a break for us to move houses.

Now I’ve got a feast of places to write within my own home. There is my home office, which occupies one wall of the bedroom. There is a desk in the guest room. There is the dining room table, which is my preferred spot with its view of the side yard and its large and beautiful tree. There is a table out on the patio. And I am writing again, happily so. One small thing the pandemic accomplished was it forced me to confront my own evasion strategies.

And today, for the first time in over two years, I find myself writing at a coffee shop across the table from a friend who is also writing. We are sitting outside on the patio. I’m wearing a mask. Neither of us has a perfect breakfast burrito on the table beside us. (In the before days, there was often a perfect breakfast burrito.) It feels good, coming back to this new form of my old way of writing. It also feels a little strange. I can see why this was my preferred way of getting writing done in the past. It is a luxury, having company while sitting deeply inside my own head. But I also know that tomorrow, I’ll park myself at the dining room table at some point, and I’ll write a poem. My child has the day off from school, so there may be the dulcet tones of video games in the background. I’ll likely only write for 30 minutes or so, but I will write. And it will be good too.