When my husband came home on Christmas Eve eve, he found me sitting on the couch with my laptop. I was staring blankly at the screen, my contacts long since discarded, my glasses and cat lady sweater in place; my hair a rat’s nest stabbed with a pen. I seemed to think the harder I stared at the screen, the easier the words would come.
“You okay?” Randy asked, bending down in front of me. “How long you been sitting there?”
Shaking my head, I whispered, “I don’t know.”
“C’mon,” --he reached his hands out toward me-- “why don’t you stand…get the blood flowing again.”
But when I went to get up my vision blackened and my knees buckled. Randy put his arms around me until I was able to stand on my own.
“I think I’m burning out,” I said.
“Why don’t you just take a break?”
“I can’t!” I wailed. “I’ve only got two days to reach my deadline!”
Randy put his hands on my shoulders. “And who gave you that deadline?”
“I did,” I murmured.
“And what’s going to happen if you don’t reach it?”
“Then I’ll know I can’t!”
“Aaaand I’ve told people I’m going to finish by Christmas, and if I can’t reach my deadlines now…well--well, then I’ll never be able to reach them!”
“Really, Honey,” Randy said, “I think you’re making a bigger deal of this than it is. Just give yourself a break. Take a few days off, and once the holidays are over you can begin again.”
“But what if I lose momentum and can’t begin again?”
“Trust me….” He gave me a hug--cat lady sweater, nasty hair and all. “You’ll be fine.”
So, that’s exactly what I did. For an entire week I didn’t blog; I didn’t tweet; I didn’t Facebook unless I felt like it; I didn’t work on my novel….I simply forced myself to stop feeling guilty about my passing deadline and to enjoy those around me. I went sledding on an oiled cake pan with my nephews; I stayed up late playing Dutch Blitz and Settlers of Catan with my relatives from PA. When my best friend came up from Nashville to see me, I set aside two days and we went thrift store shopping; we sat in a coffee shop talking about books and music, traveling and relationships while drinking Italian cocoa and hot tea. We watched movies and went for long walks on the freshly-fallen snow. It was glorious, and whenever I began to panic about the days passing and the words failing to be written, I would pause and look around at those I so desperately love.
I watched my newest nephew as he slept on the couch with his tiny hand curled up around his face like a starflower; I watched my best friend as she twirled in her new black dress (a $5 thrift store find) and was amazed by how long her red hair has gotten; amazed by the three years that have passed cancer-free when we weren’t sure she would even have one. I watched families that were recently reunited; I watched fathers hug prodigal sons, and sisters giggle who'd been apart far too long.
The day after Christmas, once my novel’s deadline had officially passed with no The End in sight, I stood on a hill with a sled speared in the snow piled beneath my feet and whispered to my sister-in-law, “This’s it….” I spread my arms to take in the rolling hills sheathed in ice; the pine trees dusted with snow; the brightly-garbed children rollicking like pups. “This’s what it’s all about. This right here.”
And as I resume my race toward my novel’s elusive finish line, I hope I’ll remember that life isn’t about the story on the page; life is about the story unfolding around you.
Sometimes, it’s just waiting to be written.