I’ve been living in a parallel universe recently. Isolated from my husband and friends, I live in a shadow world. My days fill with phone calls, long waits at the pharmacy, and housekeeping.
My mom’s in the hospital recovering from heart valve surgery. It’s been a four month journey for her to get here, due to the holidays and insurance.
Since my husband and I live an hour away, we go back and forth. There is much prayer, much hope, much pain. Everything is urgent. Every conversation might be the last.
I find it impossible to make plans for the future. Too many plans have been swept away.
Yet there are bowls of ice cream, smiles, and laughter. In this universe, there is plenty of time to talk and share memories. Learn family secrets I didn’t want to know. There is a season for everything under Heaven.
Writers often complain about finding more writing time in their day. As a retired teacher, I thought I would have endless hours to type on my laptop, scribble outlines into notebooks, or muse about new story ideas. Instead, my schedule filled up quickly. I have heard it said, and now understand: “I am busier now than when I was working full-time.”
So I returned to my old writing time. It’s hard to turn off the alarm at 5:00 am and jump out of my warm bed. I’m not working. Why would I get up so early? I’ll admit sometimes I’ve hit the snooze button and gone back to sleep. But when I got up and grabbed my coffee, I’ve never regretted it.
Early morning. The perfect time to write. It’s so quiet I can hear my brain work. My husband and dogs are asleep. No daylight beckons me to go outside. Too early to do laundry or mop the floor.
My mind is a blank slate, not yet overloaded with the day’s problems and responsibilities.
Ideas flow. Possibilities seem endless.
Getting up that early may not work for you. You may prefer the dark hours of the evening. But the idea is the same.
Find the quiet hours in your day and use them for writing. You will find there is great reward gained by writing in the dark.
Pumpkin spice lattes are back. Halloween decorations dominate the craft stores. And in Southern California, it’s extended summer. Especially for teachers like me who jumped ship at the end of last school year. This is the first year I didn’t spend days setting up my classroom, organizing classroom supplies, and suffering through hours of staff meetings.
Next week, instead of sweating through triple-digit days sequestered inside with kids, my husband and I will be camping at the beach. We’ll walk our dogs, grill steaks, and watch the sunsets. I’m going to work on my latest book project until I run out of power on my laptop.
After 17 years of teaching (which in teacher years is 170), I’m writing a new chapter in my life. In my first years at college, I poured all my energy into being a visual artist. Then at graduation I was cast adrift in a world where creatives had few ways of earning a living. I went to work in retail buying, using my creativity to select season colors and magazine layouts.
After 9/11, I lost my job and became a substitute teacher. Then my husband died, and suddenly I was a single parent of three school age children. That led me back to college where I earned my teaching credential.
Writing children’s books was my new creative outlet. Seven years later, I found a husband that nourished my dreams. I joined writing groups and took classes. My obsession grew until I was up every morning at 5:00 am to squeeze in a few hours of writing before the day began.
Many years passed. My kids grew up and set out on their own journeys. Teaching kids taught me a lot. About hope for the future, and a passion for doing what you love. I gathered characters and stories like shells on a beach. Saving them for when I had time to write.
So here I am in my first year of retirement. Living life as a full time creative, writing instead of making art. My life is no longer fractured with conflicting responsibilities. I still get up early. Ideas flow in the quiet time before the day opens its eyes.
As I fall into more summer, more summer flows into me.
Her magic was failing, and there was nothing she could do about it. It was her fate. When you were over three hundred years old, something was bound to wear out.
The witch knew this with her brain, but her heart still grieved. Magic had been her companion through broken hearts, wars, and witch hunts. Over many long years, she had loved and lost friends and familiars, but magic had remained a constant hum underneath her skin. Now it was a faint whisper.
The witch steam mopped her kitchen floor, her long tangled white hair hanging in her face. She took her time, making sure to get all the blood in the grout. Living in these times was a lot easier than when she first crossed the ocean. Back then, she lived in a dirt floor hut outside the village. It was convenient to have her own animals for spells, but her city condo these days smelled a lot better. And she could order the animals she needed from Amazon.
After she tucked her steam mop away in the closet, she turned her cleaning energy to her bathrooms. Her three-bedroom condo had two of them, a luxury unheard of when she first came to this country. She sprayed her natural cleaner on the toilet and sink and scrubbed with what strength she still possessed. As she wiped down the mirror, she avoided looking at her reflection. That shriveled up crone was a stranger to her. If her magic was strong, she would be able to smooth those wrinkles with a potion.
If her magic was strong, she wouldn’t have to work like a cleaning lady. She used to be able to mumble a few words and her home would be sparkling clean. These were humbling days when she needed to save her magic for the big things.
Spells that used to spill off her tongue now sputtered and failed. Last week, she used her scry bowl to see what her sister witch, Agnes, was doing. The water refused to show her anything. In her anger, she tossed the ancient ceramic bowl across the room. It shattered on the tile floor. She had to FaceTime with her instead.
Losing her magic made her so angry she wanted to transform into a bird and fly away. Usually, anger amplified her power. Now when she spoke the spell, all she got were a few feathers and a sudden urge to eat granola.
When the bathroom was clean, the witch turned her attention to the shelves in her work room. The small room, formerly one of the bedrooms, had one whole wall covered in wooden bookshelves, mismatched and of different finishes. Jars lined the shelves, some filled with liquids while others held dried plants. Using a microfiber cloth, she lifted each one and wiped it before returning it to its place. This took a long time. She needed to be careful as some of her ingredients were volatile in combination with others.
A tear rolled down her gnarled cheek. Most of these jars would never be used again. Maybe she could sell them to a younger witch.
Weakness overcame her, and she had to sit down at her desk. What would be left without her magic? An ancient crone, powerless and friendless. How could she live without her craft?
She glanced down at her phone on the desk. Maybe she was allowing her circumstances to overwhelm her. She still had sister witches who cared about her. Maybe her magic just needed to be recharged like her phone.
There was power in mingling magics. How could she have forgotten? She reached her trembling hand to grasp her phone. She scrolled through her contacts and clicked the phone symbol.
There is a delightfully disturbing book titled Little, Big by John Crowley. It tells the tale of a man drawn into a family that deals with fairies. Fairies are often referred to as the Little People.
One of the characters remarks that her world was big but became little. She used to travel, entertain, take care of her children. Her life was big. Then it changed. She stayed home in the country, her children grew up and started their own lives. Her life was little.
My world shrank as well. My husband and I used to travel often on our Harley and in our motorhome. We flew across the country to visit our kids. We spent a week in Hawaii for our anniversary. We entertained and visited friends often. Our world was big.
Then my husband’s auto-immune disease worsened. COVID 19 arrived. I decided to retire early from teaching to write children’s books full time.
Of course, during the quarantine, my world was little. For days, our car sat in the driveway collecting tree sap. We spent the days moving from room to room in our small home before ending up in the backyard. We visited family online.
Even after my husband and I were vaccinated and some of the restrictions lifted, I didn’t have many reasons to leave my house. I got used to having my groceries delivered. I got used to shopping on Amazon. I worked with my critique group on Zoom.
In this new little life, I was available. I could help my husband with projects around the house. I could help my daughter take care of her preemie twins. I could spend time training our border collie puppy. I could call friends and encourage them in these chaotic times.
Maybe that’s the way life was designed. First we’re big, and then we’re little. To quote Tolkien “even the littlest person can change the course of the future.”