I just got home from a short visit with my father who has advanced dementia. I’ve known he was in decline for a while, and I’m the person who’s been responsible for him from all the way across the country. It was a really great visit, and he still recognized me, which may not last for long. I’m full of warm and fuzzy feelings for him and my brother, who I traveled with. We took my dad to his favorite oyster bar in Apalachicola and to his favorite beach, and I know the memories we made will be treasures to me.
In July, when I first realized how severe his memory loss and confusion was getting, I tried to intervene in a dozen ways by calling agencies and nonprofits that support seniors, making plans with home health care providers. Nothing worked out because he resisted, and I didn’t have the legal grounds to force it on him. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: there is a lot of gray area in caring for a senior and whether someone can legally vs. should live alone.
No surprise--this situation caused me some anxiety for the last eight months. It also took a bite out of my time and energy for writing, which is not good. Writing grounds me and gives me joy so I can care for my family and the people in my pastoral care. I was writing Not Another Rock Star, but not with the same momentum I’d written all my other books. And for the first time since I started writing Blood Vine with naive gusto, I stopped feeling like a writer. It was that imposter syndrome I’d heard other authors and other priests discuss, but until then (and I can admit it) I’d been waaaay too arrogant to feel like a fraud! It was, like so many of the things we tells ourselves when we’re hurting, also completely irrational--I was drafting a new book and revising another, I was still writing!
When my father finally got his diagnosis in February and I was able to get him into a nursing home, I felt major grief, but the uncertainty had cleared up and suddenly I found energy for writing again. I binge bought books on the craft, because I craved a reboot--a new infusion of ideas to match my liberated energy. And as I started reading them, I realized I craved a space of my own.
For most of my writing life, my desk has been my lap or whichever table I opened up my computer on. I live in the Bay Area and the square footage of a desk is worth, like, my annual church salary. But we do have a guest room at our house, as well as a pretty constant stream of grandparents staying in it. So I told my husband I was claiming the desk as a writing space when the room is unoccupied. I bought myself a lamp and a bunch of frames, and I hung a wall collage of writing inspiration plus my covers, and randomly, a bright little squid I made in ceramics class with my kids--I think she’s my creativity totem. Can you see her? She's right behind the lamp.
I LOVE MY NEW SPACE! Such a simple fix, and I feel like a writer sitting there!
One of the books I bought was an Indie published how-to about writing 5K a day. I pretty much knew all the techniques and also that 5K is not the right daily goal for me, but I did get some really helpful strategies. Dictation is one I’ve been trying out, and also micro sprints when you have short stretches of free time. For me, these are simply exercises in keeping up my momentum.
The author also advocates for a tortoise shell enclosure--that is, a dedicated writing space where you only ever write. By never doing other activities, like paying bills or online shopping in that space, you train your brain to focus solely on writing. Again, this is pretty much impossible for me. I am absolutely going to be doing my father’s paperwork in the new writing space.
But my bike desk is kind of my tortoise shell--I don’t want to drip sweat on my bank statements! As you can see, it lives in my garage, surrounded by a tortoise shell of junk! With my new found energy I’ve been up and on it at 5am every day. I’m pedaling as I write this post!
It’s never been hard for me to spin and write at the same time, but when my energy was flagging, I didn’t want to do it, so I told myself my brain couldn’t handle it. That was a powerful negative message to myself, and it undercut both my health and my productivity. I hope I remember next time I hit a slump not to trust that kind of self talk.
I’m sure the bike desk isn’t for everyone, but I adore it! After I write a 1K and pedal 15 mi every morning, I feel warmed up and limber. If like me, you wear half a dozen different hats every day and can’t afford to do only one thing at a time, it’s a life saver.