In Which A Writer Mama Finally Understands What Makes Her Father Tick

There were many mornings in my childhood when I would watch my father stride across rough gravel or dewy grass at an hour when everyone else still wanted to be in bed, knowing we wouldn’t see him again until dark some fourteen or fifteen hours later—at least, barring a Farm Bureau or a road district meeting—and I’d wonder why he did it. He never seemed to take a break, aside from a cat nap after lunch on days when he actually came home to eat it. I never saw a sense of “Whew! The big project is done; time to relax for a day or two.” There was always a sense of urgency, of the next task looming.

Dad says he can’t imagine having one of those office jobs where the work is the same every day. What he likes about farming is the constant variety. Building terraces has to get done when you can work in the field, which sometimes is the same time you need to be cultivating or planting. In the hog-farming years, the feed had to be ground, the animals fed, eyeballed for market-readiness, and hauled to the buying station, without neglecting the field work. It’s all on a deadline; miss the window and the yield suffers.

I didn’t really “get” all of this as a child. I just knew he worked all the time, and breakdowns were a source of helpless, choking frustration. Sometimes, my sisters and I wondered why he did it. Mostly, we just took it for granted.

Six years into my writing endeavors, I realize that my life has come to echo his. And I understand the passion that drives him. There’s a truism that says “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Baloney. Trust me. It’s work. But when what you do wraps around who you are, it reaches into your soul, grabs tight, and puts down roots until the two are one and the same. And then, work feels different. It feels like a privilege.

My dad doesn’t farm for a living; he is a farmer. I juggle kids and writing and household and Down syndrome concerns and multiple volunteer duties at church…and although I can’t boil my self-identity down to a single word, I know that my passions are symbiotic; without any one of them, I would not be me. I thrive on the juggling act, the mental challenge that requires me to

(Yes, it's an unflattering picture. So sue me. Or the 6yo photographer, who didn't warn me he was taking it.)

organize my mind: these two tasks are most important today; must plan everything else to facilitate them. Even today, after a late night, my body wakes itself as usual at 5:30 and says: Time to go downstairs and do some work…while the house is quiet.

“Work.” What a beautiful word. In fact, I have to guard against it becoming an idol. Long blocks of unstructured time terrify me. They sound like a recipe for nonproductivity…and thus, stress.

When I came home last Tuesday afternoon to a virus-paralyzed computer, I had to fight off anxiety. I knew it would be good for me, a chance to reset and break bad habits (can you say “checking email every ten minutes even though it’s unlikely there’s anything there”?). But I have so many projects awaiting completion, and Baby Day looms 6 ½ short weeks away. At some point in every project, I need the computer: to research, to network, to send, to input notes on staves and format scores. Yes, parts of it can be done via NEO or paper and pen(cil). But I can’t finish anything without the computer.

That first night, I went to bed with a dull sense of anxiety pressing me down. Again and again I listed what work I could do without the computer, but it didn’t really help. Wednesday I spent the whole day taking deep breaths and working around the house with my husband…which was nice. I enjoyed hanging around him without distractions. But still, I felt anxious, unsettled.

But at 5:35a.m. on Thursday, I woke with a plan: composing at the piano; short story revision on my NEO. More work than I could realistically do on a day when we needed to clean the house before a lunch date.

Ah…purpose. Direction. Structure. Back in business. Bring it on, baby.