Protecting Time

art of writing

I’ve been feeling very protective of my time lately. Almost like I’m being chased by something. Or like I anticipate that my lifespan is going to be a short one.

Maybe this is the truth: all of our lifespans are actually short ones. Maybe I’m just now feeling the pressure of mortality. (I don’t mean to say, Gosh, I’m old. Because I’m not. I’m quite young, which doesn’t mean that mortality isn’t on my mind.) Maybe in my heart the tick-tick of time passing has suddenly become amplified.

I feel impatient more often than I used to. I land in a space of irritability more than I’d like to. I take pleasure in the deep rooting of my body in things like good books, and there is no pleasure in trying to force myself to finish even a seven-paged story in The New Yorker if I feel as though the story is not contributing to my life. I find myself angered if I’m in a situation that makes me feel as though I’m in limbo — not in one place or another, not involved in my experience of the situation in a way that feels useful (and what is the definition of useful?).

I’m not saying that this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I do wonder if this has to do with my mental absorption in the world of my book, which is expanding to take up an enormous swath of my mind regardless of where I am or what I’m doing, as though it’s whispering to me, Let me be finished. Let me have my time.

Right now I’m reading The Three Marriages (Whyte), which is about the marriage to the Self, the marriage to one’s vocation, and the marriage to another being, and how life is in the unity, or marriage, of those three marriages. Which feels like a very appropriate thing for me to be reading right now.

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a motley assortment

Something in Gillian has changed, but an increase in happiness doesn’t seem to be it. She does seem more solid, as though she were porous before and is now achieving weight. Her constitution is not as floaty. When she eats fruit at the table she is really there and she is really eating fruit. When I say she doesn’t seem happier I mean that she doesn’t smile, or laugh, or perform any other signifiers of a carefree nature, but she does seem to be more in the moment. — from the draft of The Long Work

This seems to be true of myself these days. I feel newly determined. By which I mean —

Determined: (from the OED) (italics mine)

3. Decided, settled, fixed; decided or resolved upon.
5. Defined, definite, exact; distinctly marked or laid down; fixed.

The edges of myself being distinctly marked. Having resolved to actively move forward. I may not see it in myself all the time, but I’m becoming more sure of myself. This shows itself in a physical sensation of rootedness in my chest, which is the opposite of the mental instability that I’m accustomed to, which is physically loose, frightening, and wild.

Last night Chris went out, and I stayed in. I read the Fiction Issue of The New Yorker. Answered emails. Read some old and familiar stories by old and familiar writers. Wrote in my notebook. Sat in the quiet, and did nothing.

A rare evening — rare in that I could live in such quietness, and not feel desperate to fill it with noise.

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Morning Routines

a motley assortment

My morning routines are so sacred to me, now, that I feel utterly unhinged if I can’t have those hours to ease into my day. In Michigan, I’d sleep till 1 PM on a regular basis — my nights were fueled by coffee, dirty gin and tonics, and marathon writing sessions with H. in her studio apartment or my too-big one-bedroom, haunted apartment. But since taking this day job last September, I’ve been waking up at around 5 or 6 AM, sometimes 7 if I’ve had a later night.

I get up to the obnoxious ringing of my phone’s alarm. I admire the view of Sutro Tower and assess the quality of light. I nuzzle my sleeping partner, who is now on summer break (he works at a school) and has no reason to wake up early except to give me the occasional generous ride to the office. He falls back asleep. I go and wash up, and then I pad into the kitchen to make coffee.

We have a view of the city and the bay from the window above the sink. If I’m awake at the right time, the light is impeccably golden.

I make coffee with the French press we received from our wedding. I drink two cups in the morning in my Dean & Deluca mug, which I bought on a thrifting adventure with dear, darling Francesca (the mug was $1).

I sit on the couch, facing the window, beneath the electric throw. I get out my laptop and scan my email and Twitter feed. If I’m feeling anxious, which I often do in the mornings, I try to do some deep breathing and listen to white noise or an album of ocean sounds.

I set SelfControl for one hour or one and a half hour so that I can write without having the Internet to distract me. Then I log on to Adium so that I can chat with my faraway friends, like Anna and H. and Miriam, all of whom I miss terribly. Sometimes, I read blogs. I’m bad about breakfast; sometimes I’ll eat a salad if it’s around, or if I’m really inspired, I’ll make some oatmeal with raspberries and whipped cream.

Later, I have another go at writing. If I’ve hit 500 words, I consider it a good writing day. 1000 words is an excellent writing day.

At 9:30 I commute to work. But it’s that quiet time in the morning that I truly treasure.

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Writing and Comparing, My Name Change

art of writing

I am beginning to think, in my extremely limited amount of experience, that the last 1/3 of a book is the hardest to draft. After this will come revisions, which will be its own brand of entertainment, but I’ve had so many false starts with this last 1/3 that they could add up to become their own book. Or, at least, a novella. I keep changing from first person to omniscient. Adding sections. And, always, erasing, erasing, erasing. I think the difficulty may be in pulling everything together, although it’s hard to know — maybe I’m just heading down the wrong path. In the meantime, I keep beating my head against a boulder and wiping away the blood.

Part of being so stymied with this last third of the book is that floundering with my own work means that I’m infinitely more prone to comparing myself to others. The last four months of my writing life have been stuffed full with comparisons to friends, soul-sisters, and acquaintances. Books sold. Books released. Time spent at MacDowell and time preparing for Provincetown. I won’t go on, because really, who cares? It’s all chatter; it’s unimportant. I’m doing my own work and I trust that my work will be good. A bonus is that I have a wonderful team of cheerleaders. Another bonus is that Dani Shapiro writes blog posts like this, which reminds me that writing in the dark is both beneficial and to be treasured.

Now is not better, H. says.


For those of you not following me on Twitter (would you like to?), the latest news about my ovarian cyst is that it spontaneously ruptured on its own yesterday, which caused immense pain — but also means that I won’t require surgery to have it removed. (The likelihood of requiring surgery, had it not ruptured, was probably pretty high; my cysts tend to not resolve on their own.) I have a small prescription for Percocet now and will be working from home for today, at least. And hopefully the pain resulting from the rupture — I won’t get into it, but it has to do with the liquid from within the cyst irritating the abdominal cavity, etc. — won’t last for too long.

The upside, of course, being that I’ll most likely still be able to go to the writing residency at the Vermont Studio Center, as planned.

The downside, of course, being that I now have a track record for being a “cyst maker.” This will likely happen over and over again for the rest of my life, with perhaps some cancer scares thrown in for good measure (as with the first one). But, well. Bird by bird.


I’d like to make a small clarification here about the name change going on in my life. The ball is rolling to have my name legally changed. I filed papers with a lawyer yesterday to instigate the process, which is making everything feel very real to me. I don’t tend to do these types of big things lightly — I have no tattoos, and was gunshy about getting engaged even after six years of dating my now-husband — but this feels like something that I deep-down want to do.

What does this mean for you — “you” being my long-time readers, long-time friends, new friends, acquaintances, BFFs, etc.? Once the change officially goes through, I’m going to release an email announcement, which I’m also going to repost here. This missive will include information about what sparked the change, what to do if you “can’t see [yourself]” calling me anything but Meggy/Meg, and other matters of importance.

In the meantime, I’m going to exist in a weird state of limbo in which some people are starting to call me Esme and most people are still calling me Meggy or Meg. Both email addresses ( and are functional, and I check both of them.


May you have a wonderful day. I’m closing out the last of my morning activities before launching into day job duties, which means more espresso in my little birdie cup, cuddling with my fellow, and changing into Real Person Clothes. Love, love.

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Wanting to Be Good & Failing, Cyst Update

art of writing, compassion & care

I spent some time this morning making notes on a new section of The Long Work (I’ve taken my letter-sized Levenger Circa out of retirement, and it’s doing me just dandy right now — if you’re interested, there are plenty of ’em to be had for cheaper on eBay). A lot of what I’ve been thinking about, and talking to Miriam about, is the novelistic trope of people striving to be good and failing. Often miserably. & it recurs in both of our novels over and over again. There’s something that feels sadistic, as the makers, in creating people with flaws that undermine their desires to be good, and yet it happens so often outside of the fictional world — not just not wanting to be bad, but actively wanting to be an admirable, functioning, contributing human being, and then mucking it up, perhaps beyond repair.

But I do so badly want my characters to be happy, or to reach some kind of contentment and resolution. Though I am utterly pulled toward the type of endings that are a la There Will Be Blood.


My gut tells me that this particular ovarian cyst is not going to go away on its own, and the pain is increasing daily, although it’s still manageable enough for me to go to my day job. I’m concerned about strenuous activity for fear of rupture, but Dr. K says that if I eliminate all activities that could cause rupture, my life will become incredibly circumscribed. We’ll know more after the in-depth ultrasound next week, she said. I don’t want to go back to being in the pain spiral of being on daily Vicodin, though — Vicodin has a depressive effect on me, and the doctors are always reluctant to prescribe Percocet, although it certainly works.

What concerns me right now about the cyst — which I’m fairly certain is not cancerous — is that surgery means more time off of work. I already took a month and a half off for the last surgery, which wound up being complicated by infection and back problems. I went on government short-term disability for that, but ended up with a check that covered less than 1/10th of my rent. There is also a chance that a surgery would happen 2-3 months from now, which is when I’m to go for a month to the Vermont Studio Center for a writing residency that I’ve been absolutely looking forward to, thinking that I’ll be monastic and knock out the final third of The Long Work in a month’s time. (My first ovarian surgery in 2007 prevented me from going to another writing program, this one in New York, for which I’d won a full scholarship and had to decline.)


And, finally: if you’ve emailed me over the last few weeks and I haven’t responded, I do appreciate your patience. While I have read your email, I’m still mulling over what to write back.

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