He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief. – Francis Bacon
One could say the same about writers of either sex who struggle to find time for their passion amid the demands of spouse and kids: the hostages they’ve given to fortune.
Today, I’d like to spotlight the writer, Jean Lee of Jean Lee’s World. She’s a blogger, educator, struggling novelist, and mother. Her blog, Jean Lee’s World, is the digital periodical of the modern working writer-mom, a showcase of fiction, fantasy, and confessional literature amid beautiful music and landscapes. Thanks for sharing your work with us, Jean Lee!
Writer’s Attention Span
Writing takes a lot out of us. It takes guts. Time. Imagination. The entire gamut of human emotion. WAY too much patience. Focus.
Focus is a particularly rough challenge in my house.
Here’s my workspace.
As you can see, it comes complete with Distractions, otherwise named Biff
For the past few years, the maternal knife has sliced up my focus. It’s several strips now, often pulling me in different directions: Bash get away from your sister’s room, Biff don’t climb the kitchen counter,
PUT THAT COFFEE DOWN THAT’S MOMMY’S.
Writing has always been a joy in my life, but in the past few years it became a weapon against depression. It is a source of escape, of hope and wonder.
But then there’s this—
—which is why I’m glad my focus has been cut into so many strips.
And really, don’t ALL writers have a special sort of focus? I’d like to call it The Writer’s Attention Span. We move through the world with all those strips draped about us. They flitter in the breeze, drag on the floor like a toddler with his blanket. They pick up anything and everything. We can’t help what intrigues us.
Case in point: my husband Bo and I had a day-date (the first since the boys were born, come to think) of lunch and a stroll through the art museum. Bo’s conversation meanders through past museum trips with his father, with friends. I nod and occasionally comment, but I’m way more interested in the lone man dressed to the nines on the opposite end of the café poking at his steak. At the cluster of elder pepper-pots at the table next to us trying to explain Twitter to each other. At the hippie family (even the dad kept his ski hat on at the table) complimenting the fries and wondering when the kite festival hits the lakeshore. Of the young mom in five-inch heels who maneuvers the baby carrier with ease. Of the lone middle-aged woman who never once looks up at that gorgeous lake view. Whatever’s on that phone must be totally engrossing. What’s on her phone, a book? Message from an old love? Sister finally ready to make amends?
“So whatcha think?”
“I’m gonna say a book, something she doesn’t want others to know she’s reading, and—”
“What are you talking about?”
Woops. “W-e-l-l, what are you talking about?”
Bo sighs. “I have to start over, don’t I?”
Writers—particularly those who don’t get out much—are keen to absorb as much of the world as possible. How else can we capture the nuances of character, dialogue, and setting if we don’t? Sure, it makes civilized conversation with a spouse nigh impossible, but that’s what the car ride is for. Unless other cars have really animated drivers, or we pass that one goofy billboard, and oooh, a fire truck, where’s it going?
Thankfully, we are capable of more focus than a yorkie hyped up on bacon. There are pieces of the world that spellbind us so that we don’t even notice when Bash drinks all the coffee.
We’re lost to the spider’s journey across its web. That one door in your uncle’s house no one touches. The sunlight’s pause on the tree blossoms. The patterns of smudged makeup on the churchmarm’s face. Writers should allow themselves to be transfixed by the ordinary because it’s never really ordinary, is it? Our strips of focus can catch fire at any moment, be it from a sunset, campfire, trip to Grandma’s—the world is full of sparks to set us alight.
Stand spellbound in the flames. Watch the story shake ashes from its wings.
Jean Lee has been writing all her life, from picture books for preschool to a screenplay for her Masters in Fine Arts. Nowadays she blogs about the fiction, music, and landscape that inspire her as a writer. She currently lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children.
Many thanks, Jean Lee! Please post any questions or comments for Jean Lee below.
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