This could be my new ritual. Sipping a fresh macchiato courtesy of our home espresso machine that we haven’t touched since we bought it with the credit from returned wedding gifts over three years ago. I forgot how pleasantly bitter and robust espresso tastes. Takes me back to my solo tour of Italy in 2002. I couldn’t resist the Illy stands at every turn. Best coffee in the world, bar none! The Italians know how to capture the essence of the sweet acidity of the bean. Any addition of sugar or milk is merely a flourish.
I’m listening to Miles Davis circa 1958 and the brass whines clear and soulful over the beat of the snare drum. Thinking of my 27th birthday at The Green Mill in Chicago. It felt like a dream, like coming home to the big city and big band and big life. How come I feel I’ve lived three lifetimes since then when it was only five years ago?
In this moment I bask in the quiet of the house while baby girl sleeps just behind the door and husband works 14 hours straight. It is decidedly not the carefree life of the late-bloomer I was in my late 20s when I was busy finding myself and losing myself and finding myself again. Now I fear I know myself all too well and yet, why has it been so hard to recapture this part of myself? Life changes, shifts like sand in an earthquake and I can’t seem to adapt quickly enough. When the aftershocks of a major life change have ceased, I am left with a fragmented sense of self. I left my jazz music in Chicago, my espresso and adventurous spirit in Italy, and my imagination in a thrift-store decorated studio apartment some place along the way. I know that this part of me lies hidden in the recesses of my soul, packed away in a box somewhere with memories of living in London, first loves, dusty journals, and tentative attempts at painting. But it takes time and patience to plumb the depths and draw out the artistic passion, and these days all I seem to have time for is doing the dishes and reading aloud to a 17 month old with a voracious appetite for books. Not that this daily routine isn’t rewarding on some level. My love and passion have been turned toward a sweet face with pouty lips, chubby cheeks, and deep blue eyes…but I am sensing a void.
I find myself wanting the floodgates of creativity to open for me at will when I finally scrape together an hour and sit down to write. But when day after day I strain to hear myself think above the shouting demands of motherhood, the muse seems like she’s taken a long vacation. I know some people can turn the artistic flow on and off again like a faucet. But my metaphor as a writer is a slow cooker. It takes a while for my writing muscle to get warmed up. Once I get going, it feels good, but inevitably I’ll hear the cry of a waking baby the moment I am finding my stride and about to get that kind of runner’s high creative flow.
So I’ve asked myself the question a thousands times, what do I do? I could keep pondering and pontificating on the degeneration of my creativity and wishing I had the old days of singleness and independence back. Or, I could do what all real writers do, keep plugging away at it no matter what. Write when writer’s block has set in, when it’s been a frustrating day, when I can’t even think straight enough to write a complete sentence. This is what I must do. It will be painful. Yes, it will be frustrating and exasperating and it won’t feel anything like listening to jazz and dreaming the day away. But maybe the work will pay off in unexpected ways. Maybe I’ll feel like a whole person again. Maybe I’ll get a glimpse of the unhindered passion of the naive, gutsy girl in flare-legged jeans and embroidered hippie top who was temporarily obsessed with The Beatles and wished she had been in college in the 60s instead of the new millennium so she could be a part of something that “mattered”. That girl who always thought more than she spoke and found writing to be a pathway to hearing the voice of God inside her, a chance to speak her mind in a way she never felt she could with her mouth. Maybe that girl will come alive and walk out the lessons learned over the past decade. The ones that she should have been logging in her journal as she did then but gradually fell out of the habit somewhere along the way.
What if what seems like the product of inspiration or magic or artistic genius is merely a slow and deliberate gathering and recording of the moments and days of ordinary life in black and white? Am I ready and willing to accept this? If so, I am without excuse.
So going back to the opening of this meandering monologue, I have decided that I need to keep a writing ritual. Early morning, late afternoon, espresso sipping, jazz to set the mood, whatever it takes. This is my time. Now who’s going to hold me to it? Oh wait, the baby is crying…