Thursday, October 7, 2010

Stealing Time

How do we poets "make" time to write? The answer is: We don't. We cannot manufacture time. We have to grab it. We have to literally steal it. We all know how time has a way of slipping by, causing us to say things like, "Oh my goodness! I can't believe it's October" (or August, or November, or December) "already! I had so many goals for this year and it's almost gone!" Or, how about feeling as if every time you turn around, it is time to flip the calendar to a new month? Personally, I'm so tired of flipping the calendar, I want one that only displays the entire year. Why? So I can see the gravity of the situation every day. That it IS already October (or August, or November, or December). And that all those days, weeks, and months (and all those goals—accomplished or not) have already disappeared. That I can see what I have left of my year—and steal some of it before it is gone.

Lately, it's been frustratingly difficult for me to find time to write. Since 2007 I have been fighting an illness. Along with un-fun symptoms like extreme heat intolerance (making it virtually impossible to make plans outside of my air-conditioned home in the summer) and stabbing pains which sometimes morph into electric-shock-like pains or into grabbing pains (I prefer the stabbing over the latter), my major symptom is fatigue. I am extremely lucky that I do my editing and photography work from my home office. I am extremely lucky to have a supportive husband and a capable Assistant Editor.

But I am not unique—many people, writers included—are living with some kind of illness or hardship that makes finding time to write very difficult or almost impossible. And on my "poor-me" days, I just look at my father's photo on the wall—a tree-surgeon and body-builder until the age of twenty-six, when, in 1955, polio hit. He was in an iron lung for two years, and when he came home, he was a shadow of his former self, weighing under 100 pounds, paralyzed in such a way that he could walk, but could not use his arms and needed a special bed to help him breathe. He had to be fed, bathed and dressed. And he never (ever) uttered an ungrateful word. He lived until the age of seventy-one this way, learned to type with his feet, pick up the telephone with his feet, write with a pen in his mouth, and take his drinks out of the refrigerator by way of the little bit of use he had left in his fingers. I learned gratitude from a good teacher. I learned that if I thought it couldn't be done, it probably could be done.

Before my illness came on, when I was teaching, I used to advise my adult poetry writing students to "put themselves on the list"—in the sense of making writing time a priority—advice I picked up somewhere in Sarah Ban Breathnach's Simple Abundance. For a while, I was able to tread water, taking care of my editing work, health, other necessary life-priorities, and finding a bit of time to write. And then a few weeks ago, my new doctor ordered once-a-week three-hour treatments. Not too bad. But new doctor is 240 miles away. So, needless to say, this takes one entire day out of our lives (my husband drives me now). Or, it takes a day and a half if we stay overnight the night before the treatments to make it a bit easier (truthfully, we haven't figured out which is easier—a fifteen-hour day—from leaving the house to returning—or packing for one night). I ( as in Cynthia, Cynthia's writing) came off that list when we began the medical traveling.

So I had to do something. I decided I had to steal some time. Nevermind wishing I had the mental energy to write when my workday was over. Nevermind hoping I could write while my three-hour IV was dripping. Nevermind thinking that time was going to throw itself at my feet and I'd be awake enough to grab it! I asked myself what could I do (what could I realistically do). And the answer was, I can fill up (or attempt to) a 4x6 card with some new writing every morning, either while the coffee is dripping, or while enjoying my coffee. I took a stack of 4x6 cards, a pencil (I like to erase), put an elastic around them and put them on my night table. Every morning (except for the mornings we leave the house at an ungodly hour for the 240-mile drive), I write on a 4x6 card. I may write a haiku. Some mornings, I am prolific enough to divide the card into two colums and I write a good first draft! But I do it. Every morning I write. Perhaps for five minutes, perhaps for thirty. But it works for me. I have put myself (my writing) back on my list! I have stolen some time before the calendar hoards it all for itself.

And it will get better, the treatments will not last forever (but long enough) and soon I will be able to have them closer to home. But no matter what, I'm going to keep stealing time. I'm going to keep doing what I think I cannot do. And I'm going to be grateful for it all. Right now, though, I'm going to go steal some alert-time to work on the Aurorean's mailing list for our 15th Anniversary Issue!


  1. Cynthia, you are one of my heroes - in addition to all your regular work, your poetry writing you have taken on the major work of designing and, in effect, publishing the Maine Poets Society Anthology - and this despite a painfuland debilitating illness

  2. I don't know about hero, Jim, but thank for your kind words...and the pain is intermittent (see, I did learn to be grateful!).

    And as far as the Maine Poets Society anthology goes (and this goes for the Aurorean too), if it weren't for my graphic designer husband on board I would be at a loss as to how to put it (them) together—goodness, until five years ago I didn't know how to send an attachment! I'm so glad he is going to be helping on this project with all his expertise.

    I'm glad you are part of both! Warmly, C

  3. She edits herself here: "thank for your kind words" should be "thank you..."!

  4. Cynthia, I thought you were amazing before this post, now...I'm just speechless. I bow to your willingness to share, your resourcefulness in finding a way to connect with your words, with yourself despite all that's thrown your way. "Keep moving forward" is something I often say – you, however, embody it.

    my best

  5. Kelly, thanks for your kind words! We do have to keep moving forward overall—even when we take two step backward at times.

    Warmly, C

  6. I hope you enjoy good health again soon Cynthia. You were the first to publish one of my poems two years ago and gave me the confidence to continue. When my husband (and best friend) went through some medical issues last year, my writing helped me through and devoted editors like you kept me writing. Thank you and get well soon. -- Marianne Gambaro

  7. Marianne, thanks for your good wishes! I send mine back to you. That first publication always means so much, and I'm sure you'll have many more appearances elsewhere (and here, we hope). Warmly, C

  8. Dear Cynthia, your courage gives all of us
    inspiration.THANK YOU for words to remember!!
    And wishes for a quick return to best health!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Thank-you, Natalia. I receive inspiration a hundred-fold from my family of Aurorean friends—including you, to be sure!