Lately I’ve been thinking about depth and how desperately I miss it…
It is 9 p.m. on a Monday night and I am writing this with my seven-year-old sitting across from me, eating apples (“cut them in thin slices, okay?”) and almond butter. She’s already in her pajamas but decided that the right time to tell me that she was still hungry was not when we were still over at our friends’ for dinner, or even right when we walked in the door, but after she’d brushed her teeth and while I was on the toilet. My husband is playing the piano and the sound is filling our apartment. I’ll need to get her into her room soon. She won’t be asleep for hours. There will be many negotiations until then.
There she goes, to start the process all over.
I’ve tried, over these last few weeks, as we slowly emerge from our pandemic cocoons, to write about how much I’ve missed going deep: of sitting alone, for swaths of time, with my thoughts. Writing, or not writing, but having the chance to slowly sink to the bottom of something, to wander around in the depths of an idea, an image, a scene, to not bother coming up for air or laundry or a timer or a doorbell ringing or a call of “Mama!”
But, in the kind of plot twist that no one would find believable, only a few sentences into my most recent attempt — earphones strapped on, husband making lunch behind me in the kitchen, eyes firmly fixed on the screen — my phone rang. And rang again and again and again. Mine, not my husband’s. An unknown number. Decline decline decline, I’m working, I’m writing about going deep without being able to go deep.
Hi! This is Mrs. Pierce! My daughter’s teacher said when I finally picked up.
Oh, no, she must—
Don’t worry! She is fine!
You scared me!
It’s just that Noa needs to take a math test, and she forgot her email address at home and needs it to get into the school website. Can you go find it? She says it’s on her desk? On a blue slip of paper?
In the years after Covid, will there be no books published by mothers? Will all the primary caretakers have lost all ability to sink into anything beyond the immediate and pressing needs of the other members of our families? Will we have perfected the art of writing or composing or painting or choreographing (in our heads) to the sound of our families lying in bed, talking and laughing — as I am now — about, for example, LeBron James, or fighting over hair clips? Will we have learned to make dinner and text friends about our desperation and hand in assignments (somehow) and teach classes with children underfoot (somehow) and schlep them to and from their sliver of a school day (three hours!) and make the grocery list and get the perishables unpacked and find and register and pay for the summer camps, all while losing ourselves, our deepest selves, in the midst of it?
For some reason, I keep thinking back to the summer of 2019, before any of us knew what was coming. My husband, daughter and I hightailed it from Los Angeles, where we live, to Montreal, where I grew up, for a quieter summer. We put our girl in summer camp, had loads of family support, and I devoted myself whole-heartedly to a project that I felt could, eventually, become a book. I felt so inside it, returning to the story again and again, every single morning, trying to find its shape and meaning and the words to get from one thought to the next. I’d track my output, tens of thousands of words produced by the end of the summer. How satisfying that time had been!
It had, in other words, felt like just the opposite of all the writing I’ve done over the last 15 months: scattered, last-minute, surface. Paint thrown at a wall.
And then, my smallest, most awful voice whispered to me, Where might my book be if I’d been able to find — to carve out, to insist on — that quiet, deep place, even through this? If it hadn’t gone the way of the pandemic, to baking banana bread and clay and finding email addresses on a messy desk?
It feels lost to me now, that time, that skill.
Yes, I know it will come back. The children will return to school. We will, once again, work outside our homes, no longer on top of each other. We will find the spaces we once occupied that were ours alone. I have learned so much this year, about survival and community and multi-tasking. About keeping the proverbial balls in the air. About just getting by. About the power of a walk or a quick check-in with a friend or a hot cookie fresh out of the oven. About being a new kind of mother, one who says, yes yes yes to everything, more tickles, more TV, more ice cream, staying up late.
But I’ve lost a lot, too. Time alone. Time to think. To create in silence, fear somewhere in the room. To write without constant interruption. To be off the hook. Time to wait, to refine. To move into unexpected and surprising places in my mind. This is the luxury of space —
My daughter just wandered in. I can’t sleep. Pajama pants dragging along the floor. Hair mussed.
Let me just finish this one thing —
Abigail Rasminsky is a writer, editor and teacher based in Los Angeles. She teaches creative writing at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and writes the weekly newsletter, People + Bodies. She also wrote this story about marriage.
(Photo by Lauren Lee/Stocksy.)