The State of an Author-Composer’s World


Do you ever have that feeling that there’s just too much going on? No, of course not, she says (wink-wink). This summer hit me like a Mack truck, and the grace in it was that I was so focused on two weeks in July–my week at NPM in Cincinnati and our trip to Colorado last week–that I didn’t have any time to spend calculating how much other work was getting shoved off to the side. If I had really processed how much there was, the stress level would have skyrocketed.

As I was taking these pictures I was feeling bad for the poor mama moose, who was having to raise her babies with 50 people taking pictures…but now I think I sort of missed the part where she was living in ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, with no responsibilities except existing. There’s some beauty in that.

My poor kids have two weeks of summer break left and it’s the first real unstructured time we have. We needed one day for recovering from twelve hours on the road–day 1 we saw moose at Sprague Lake, I battled Nicholas and Michael on the aerial course, we had lunch and souvenir shopping, and THEN drove 6 hours in 7 hours. Day 2 we got up, ate breakfast, and drove 6 hours in 7 hours. And then did eight loads of laundry and went to a birthday party for the baby of a choir member. So yeah, we needed Sunday to recover. And Monday.

By Tuesday, they were “all war zone, all the time.”

And me, in the meantime?

I knocked out my first two deadlines on Monday and Tuesday–the shortest two. Some of the other tasks on my to-do list are gargantuan. It’s easy to say, “Query Trust Falls.” What that line item doesn’t tell you is I have to write a synopsis. And take the list of upwards of a hundred agents I’ve been collecting for the last two years and organize it and figure out which ones are the best match. Then agonize over the query letter and make sure it’s as compelling as it can possibly be, with the right balance of, well, everything. And only then comes the querying itself.

It’s also easy to write on that list, “Trio.” But writing a piece of music is not a short process. I will likely spend three or four months working on that.

So I view the upcoming school year with a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, all the kids will be in school all day for the first time. (Hurrah! Uninterrupted days to work!) On the other, homework season is starting. The reading assessments that ended 3rd grade underscored to us that we’ve really underserved Miss Julianna, and we can’t do it anymore. We’ve GOT to figure out where to scrape together 15-20 minutes a day for reading comprehension, and when the speech therapist sends home that 12-page packet that says “do this list of words 3x a day for a week, then do this list 3x a day for a week…”…well, we really need to do it.

Such things make me feel like whimpering. It makes me miss this even more:

I could totally stand to spend every day climbing enormous piles of boulders at the Alluvial Fan and cuddle up by a fire in the evening to write. Wait. If I write, that presupposes all the deadlines and the other stuff…roses and thorns.

When this round of deadlines clears out I have to take a clear-eyed stock of what I commit to and be more realistic.

That’s the state of my world right now, and I know no one’s all that interested, but I debated not blogging at all today because I just remembered (I’ve been working on agent lists this morning!), and I have a flute duet rehearsal any minute, so I decided it was the type of day that calls for a stream-of-consciousness post that only takes 12 minutes to write.

Because It Never Was About Just Being Mom, Anyway

A six-part fugue from The Musical Offering, in...

A six-part fugue from The Musical Offering, in the hand of Johann Sebastian Bach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of the time, my brain clicks along like a 6-part Bach fugue on steroids, all angles and gears turning, pushing forward without a pause for breath.

What I aspire to is a brain that works more like a Gregorian chant, or one of those “music from the hearts of space” pieces with long, sinuous lines that slow you down and soothe you to peacefulness.

In reality, I think I’d settle for a brain like a two-part invention.

There’s so much going on these days. So many different motifs to catch and develop: the sharp forward thrust of Alex’s interest in science, the straining tenor of Nicholas’ desire to be bigger than he is. The dissonance of Julianna’s delays, which add color to the mix, the earthy rumble of Michael beginning toilet training. Plus there are the work threads: the steady rhythm of nonfiction assignments, the crazed treble of book publicity and all things that spin off it, and of course the soaring, otherworldly lure of novel publication.

Sometimes I think I surely have to drop something altogether, rather than just pick up and drop motifs  in turn as time allows. But when I talk to my friends who are staying home with their kids, not working, I hear the same sentiment:

Just spent 1 full hour combing through emails, writing things in the calendar, and making a shopping list. All for my two big kids’ activities in the next two weeks. Lord, help us. (from a friend, on Facebook)

It would be nice to think otherwise, but life is picking up and dropping threads, and weaving them into the tapestry of something larger than the threads themselves. This just the reality of life–especially life with kids. It’s easy to go looking for a reality in which this is not the case, but it’s a chase after wind. There is a constant tension between the kids’ needs, our needs as a couple, and our personal needs. Between our responsibilities to them and our responsibilities to other things–and to ourselves.

Working mothers often feel guilty, as if we are choosing wrongly to do anything other than raise children. I didn’t used to feel this, because I used to consider myself a stay-at-home mom. Now that I’ve recognized I am a “work-at-home mom,” I feel it all the time. Surely I’d be holier, a better wife and mother, if I didn’t do anything else.

But even in the days when all moms stayed at home, they did other things too. They volunteered at church; they grew gardens and made jams and canned vegetables. There has never been a time when mothers were only mothers. And that’s as it should be. God didn’t put us on the earth to raise kids and bury every other talent He gave us. We all have gifts the world needs.

I can’t work in the parish nursery or volunteer in the school kitchen or at the food bank, because this is what I do: I write, when I can, what I can. Some of you do prolife work, some of you do ministry to mothers (or fathers); others teach Sunday school or clean the rectory or mow the neighbor’s lawn, or watch someone else’s kids so they can work at the art museum or teach dance or keep the library open.

And you know what? We need all these things. Life is poorer without them. We need each other, because no one person can do it all. The tapestry of the world would be much different if we all did nothing but raise children. Its timbre would be duller, the texture coarser. Yes, it’s a precarious balance, requiring constant adjustment. But it always was, and no matter what we do it always will be, world without end, amen.