Will this be an essay? A lesson? A prompt?
I don’t know. I’m just putting in my time.
As the pandemic rolled into its second year, I, like many others who work in education, found myself anxious, overworked, and under-socialized. Even though I was teaching from my guest bedroom/dog den, I was barely “making it home” before 9 p.m. on most days. I’d trot downstairs to join my family for dinner, only to excuse myself early so that I could rejoin my laptop. No matter how many hours I put in, I could never get ahead of the tide of panicky student emails or technology meltdowns. Creativity dropped to the bottom of a very long list of my priorities, below “buy more masks” and “wear pants today.”
You may think I’m going to tell you how I ultimately vanquished those emails or conquered technology. I am not, because I have not, and I will not. Instead, I will tell you how surrendering to the notion that I will never win against work allowed me to be creative again, to write.
If putting in 12-hour days wasn’t going to make a difference, then what difference would it make if I cut my day just a bit shorter? I started small: 20 minutes. I vowed to write for 20 minutes every day, no matter what. To write despite.
At first (and still more often than I’d like to admit), my writing was all about how tired I was, how I had nothing new or interesting to say, how I just wanted to drink a beer and watch TV and turn into a human manatee on the couch for a few hours–anything but write. But I did write. Yes, sometimes I glanced at the clock every 2 minutes. Many entries read more like angsty diary confessions than anything remotely resembling an essay or poem or story.
January hardened into February. I kept writing. Every day. Often just before my son climbed the stairs to get into his pajamas and brush his teeth. I wrote about my dog circling my legs under the desk and my student who stopped coming to class and the YouTube videos of decadent Korean street food that I used to anesthetize myself after a bad day.
Twenty minutes sometimes turned to thirty, to an hour. Ideas began to surface, like tender green shoots. After a year of living in a creativity desert, I saw signs of life.
By that fall, I’d written and published new essays and poems and applied for and been accepted into a writer-in-residence program.
And it only took me 20 minutes.
This only took me 20 minutes.