I thought a lot last week while I was away about the many stories you told, dear Readers — stories about how you went about making changes in your lives. Many things struck me — the courage it takes to pick up and strike out for something you only hope will be better, the number of places a person can live in a lifetime, the remarkable variety of jobs people have had, the decisions to say no to material things to do other things that matter.
I also noticed another current in those stories, one that’s about subtler changes, things that don’t look like change at all because you can’t actually see much outward motion. Sometimes what you need are just little course corrections, small adjustments. And sometimes all you need to do to really make a change happen is to get something right at long last and then do it over and over again.
Many readers made the very sensible point that you shouldn’t change anything in response to a vague feeling that things aren’t what they should be until you diagnose your problem.
So that’s what I’ve done. My problem? Well, beside the fact that my husband and I will have to each work until we’re the age of Moses (500 I think) so we can put our children through college, my biggest problem is, I’m pretty sure, that I don’t have enough separation between myself and my family.
Which seems a little weird to say, because I love my family — all five guys (including Archie). But lately I’ve been feeling like they’re standing between me and my soul — which is a dramatic way of saying that I can’t write in my own house very well, or at least I can’t without making everyone leave it so I can have some peace and quiet. And I’ve also gotten into the not very nice habit of opening up my computer on the dining room table (especially on a day when I didn’t get to write on the train) and telling them to leave me alone. Believe me, they hate that. There is nothing worse than having your mother right there. And not right there. It is stressful for all concerned — for those who would like someone to help them with their homework and for those who are trying to write about love and loss and longing and strippers who look like rotisserie chickens. So far, all I’ve been able to do about this is tell myself that it’s fine to write on the train and work in more writing when I can and won’t it be good for the boys, in the end, to have seen their mother concentrate so hard on her writing that she can’t actually hear William playing the drums? Not really.
As it turns out, change is the thing that waits for you when you get back from your roadtrip.
In my case, it came from my husband, who decided while I was gone that change would come about in our family life and in my writing life if he turned over to me the little apartment under our house, the one we rent out to UC Berkeley students, the one with the (gasp) completely separate entrance. He carpeted it and painted it and removed all the stuff in it and then moved my writing table (the one I don’t write on because it is the place pn which we put our bananas and oranges and stone fruit) and two lovely chairs from his mother’s house, chairs that are very old and very pretty, and a bookcase, and some curtains, and a nice new, small fridge into this space. We have agreed on office hours. They’re times when he’ll be with our children — afternoons on Saturdays and Sundays, after family mornings on those days. And early mornings, before the school rush, which he is in charge of dealing with. If someone needs to know the capital of Tibet, he’ll let them know.
And in return, all I have to do is leave my writing life down there and not plunk my computer down on our bed, or the dining room table and try to write while children are trying to get me to help them with their homework or he is trying to talk to me about how we are going to pay for college — much less that expensive trip to Washington D.C. Jack’s class is taking next fall.
It’s true that I have been thinking about this writing room for a while. My idea was that it would be great to have a writing studio time share thing for other bay area writers who need a space to work — including me — one where they won’t be tempted to clean out the fridge or make chocolate chip cookies. But I was not anywhere near getting close to executing that idea before he went to work on it. And that is what comes of marrying a practical Swede — he might sometimes not know the right thing to say, but he almost always knows the right thing to do.