Living in the Present Tense

by Linda Escalera Price

I’m supposed to be writing about reflecting on the past year and setting goals for the future. But in the past two months, I learned about an ALS diagnosis, went to the funeral of an old friend, cried when another old friend’s 17 year-old daughter died and sat in the doctor’s office holding the hand of someone very close to me as she heard the words – cancer, chemotherapy and 1-2 years.

Sometimes we need to live day by day.

Right now, it seems meaningless to look back at the things I wanted to accomplish this year. We all have things – within our writing or personal lives – that we wanted to accomplish. And many times we have fallen short. When we’ve chosen to ignore the cries of our characters because we’re hanging at the pool sucking down margaritas (I wish!), playing solitaire or have “writer’s block” then shame on us. But when our characters are silenced because the serious side of life gets in the way, then it’s okay to remember that writing is our job. And like any job, when we’re holding the hand of someone we love as they take their last breath, we’re not going to say, “I wish had finished that rewrite instead of spending those hours with you.”

But . . . . ultimately, it is the writing that will save me.

I have written letters of encouragement and sympathy – not just notes dashed off in quick moments, but well-formed, well-thought out, well-written missives. Through writing I have been able to pour out my frustrations and anger and fear – and make enough peace with it all to be able to walk through another day. And I have kept my writing eyes open – spending the night on a couch in a hospital room showed me rewrites I need to make to some hospital scenes in a work in progress, eavesdropping on cafeteria conversations has created new character ideas. (And somewhere I have to use to the line I heard one surgeon say to the other while they were getting coffee, “Be careful. You’ve spilled enough today already.” Whoa, what????)

Looking forward, what goals am I setting? To balance life and writing as best as I can. I know this sounds like a cop-out – and I know this isn’t the first time I’ve written about putting work aside for life. I’d like to say that on January 1, I will set off on this great writing schedule with a set time to write each day – sacred time that will never be encroached upon. Just after meditation and before yoga. But I know that’s not going to happen. But I also know I have to find a more disciplined road than I have been traveling.

Because it is the writing that will save me.

I gave a friend a CD of calming music for her hospital stay. While standing at the side of her bed, the music washed over me and I realized I had used that CD as the “Background Soundtrack” of a play I wrote years ago. As I listened to the music, I had a flashback to the moment I wrote a pivotal scene. My brain responded instantly. In a Pavlovian way, I knew that that particular music meant words were going to flow.

Creative License Alert: This is NOT my office – it is my son’s dorm room.

I have a lovely home office designed by my Environmental, Health and Safety professional husband to be ergonomically-ideal for writing. And I rarely use it. Partly because my schedule has meant I haven’t been home much. But mainly because it’s upstairs (oh, the horror of climbing the stairs) and the room has been a catch-all for stuff we have to hide when people come to visit. I might spill my coffee navigating around stuff.

But my plan is simple and two-fold.

  1. I will clear a path to that space. And I will sit at my desk to write whenever possible. And I will not surf the net or clean out my in-box or play games at my desk. It is for writing. (Note to my husband, notice I said clear a path, not clean the room!)
  2. I will experiment with music to find what seems to be the ideal Writing Soundtrack. I will play it as motivation and to get the gears turning before I head upstairs – like while I am drinking my morning coffee – as well as when I am writing. When I can’t physically be home at my desk, I will use the music as a means of creating a Writing-Only Zone.

But I will still be living day to day. Like hiking a difficult trail, I will keep my focus on what is directly in front of me, glancing ahead to see my progress toward the top – the goal. When I am feeling particularly weary and the top doesn’t seem any closer, I’ll glance back to remind myself how far I have come. But for the most part, my focus will stay on the immediately upcoming terrain.

And when those times come – which they will – when day to day is too long, I’ll follow the advice shared by a woman coping with her husband’s ALS. “If I take it one day at at time, I could be giving up 23 hours with my husband. Sometimes I have to take it hour by hour or minute by minute.”

Regardless of how far ahead I can look, it is the writing that will save me.

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