Sometimes I feel like a poser. I stand in front of class and tell them to write. I tell them to read, read, read, read, read, and write, write, write, write. I tell them to move in the world like a writer. Observe people and places like a writer! Don’t just go into a post office! Smell that post office! Notice the tall metal cans of Stater Bros. ads and Subway coupons overflowing onto the floor! Feel the layer of grit on your mail between your fingers!
I give them prompts that say, Write the last line of story! Make it good! Make it poetry! Then I say, Now, write that story. And they do.
I go home and I read emails for an hour or more every day. I eat a bowl of soggy Cocoa Krispies. I grade papers until I can’t hold my eyes open anymore. Occasionally, I help my kids with their homework; sometimes they do not ask because they know I am swamped. Occasionally, I open up the folder on my computer desktop labeled NOVEL. Most often, I open then close it. Sometimes, like last weekend, I get drunk, open the file and read about eighty-some pages into it. I cry. I like it. It is beautiful and messy, but mostly beautiful.
But I am not a writer. At least not most of the time. I am teacher, a mother, a friend, a sister, a daughter, an activist, one hell of a roller-skater, but I am not a writer.
I am a poser. I write maybe three months a year if I’m lucky. But even during the summer when I’m supposed to be on a rigorous writing schedule, I am often paying back my kids in love and attention by dragging them to and from archery class and Egyptian summer camp and the beach and long-lost family friends.
I am a poser. I dream about writing all the time. I dream about my characters. I hear their voices in my head.
I woke up the other morning convinced I had spent the night in the bed between my main characters, Kate and Toph. Kate spooned my back, her dark hair clinging to her face while she cried in her sleep. While the rounded humps of what was left of Toph’s legs kicked me while he slept soundly, occasionally a snore sputtered from his mouth. I didn’t want to wake them, so I just lay there watching them breathe.
I think about them when I’m at my son’s baseball games and when I’m dragging my daughter to her piano and dance lessons. I’m thinking about them while I do dishes, or while I am grading stacks and stacks of research essays, or on my long, long commute to and from home through the rising and falling mountains of the Cajon Pass, or yes, in the post office.
But I am not writing. And it hurts.
I want to give my characters lives—the lives I have seen in my head for so many years. I want the time and energy—the head space—to finish this project. Sometimes I wonder if I have it in me. Sometimes I wonder if I will be one of those people who say, I had a novel once. Like one might say about an ant farm s/he had when s/he was seven, or a weird disease s/he once contracted and almost died from. . .
I had a novel once.
Have. I HAVE a novel. Now.