Book Review: World Enough & Time

I picked up this book from an end table at my sister Joan’s house in Florida. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop, and she generously offered to let me take it home.

worl enough

The timing was perfect. World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down by Christian McEwen, was all about slowing down, something I’ve never been particularly good at.

This was the first real vacation I’ve ever taken. Any other traveling I’ve done has been for workshops, conferences, public speaking, or some other work-related trip. I’ve never traveled just for fun. I wasn’t sure I could ‘just be.’ A visit to the beach convinced me otherwise.

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Yes, I just sat and closed my eyes, listening to the sound of the ocean waves.

McEwan claims it is solitude, quiet, introspection, and slowing down that begets creativity, and while I understand the concept, there was very little time for any of that those many years while I was raising small children, yet I managed to create.

Even on vacation, I snuck in some writing time, staying up after everyone else one night to write an essay for the journal that will be published next spring. I also began three of the four mornings spent at my sister and brother-in-law’s house writing a letter to Mary, as a way to share my trip with her. McEwen would understand.

“I surrender to the pleasures of old-fashioned epistolary friendship: warmed by my friends’ kindness, their imagined company, even before I begin to write.”- Christian McEwen

She was, of course, talking about the pleasures of letter writing, something she often does on an airplane.

Other topics included in this book are obvious from chapter titles such as these: “The Art of Looking,” “In Praise of Walking,” “Learning to Pause,” and “Across the Bridge of Dreams.” (regarding the importance of getting enough sleep, something else I need to take to heart)

You can read more about the author on her website Christian McEwen, which coincidentally, includes a beach scene at the top of the webpage.

 

Journey back in time…with journals

My co-author and I discuss our mutual use of journals in Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink. Mary JH has been journaling for most of her adult life. I, on the other hand, utilized daybooks from 1992-2012, with just enough room on the pages to make daily notes.

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I clearly remember choosing most of these; searching for one that spoke to me in some way. If I really loved the style, I’d order more than one. The Lucy Swindoll “Quite Honestly” and the “Fruit of Her Hands” came from a Christian book club I belonged to. I loved the Susan Branch Days style so much, I searched for more on eBay. Who knows why I chose the 2010 Retro Mama with a wine bottle on the front, when the only time I drink wine is on Christmas Eve? Clearance rack, perhaps? The 2009 large format Day Book was one of my favorites. The dark blue leather-bound was a splurge for 2012. Sadly, I stopped writing in it after my husband’s death in late March, but that was also when I began journaling in earnest, utilizing personalized journals I’d gotten free with coupon codes, and then stashed away, not sure what to do with them.

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In looking through my old daybooks this morning, I discovered just how much I managed to convey in them; It’s painfully obvious that I lamented my lack of time as a young mother. I can’t look too closely at the many times I scrawled notes like a woman crazed, desperate for some time alone. I wrote about this in Mary & Me:

Not long ago, I unearthed my old weekly engagement books dating back to 1990, when I was a thirty-year-old mother of four. Two things are evident from these abbreviated journals: I loved my children with all my heart, and being a mother was a difficult job most days. Parenting was particularly hard considering the intensity of my mothering style. In the span of twenty years’ worth of journals, I would add an additional four children to our fray. Those daybooks with their brief notations do a pretty fair job of chronicling what it was like to care for a large brood.

After several hours of reading them, my breath quickened and my heart raced. Before I succumbed to an anxiety attack, I shoved them back into the cupboard. I telephoned my daughter Elizabeth. When she picked up and said hello, I heard a screech in the background along with an ominous crash.

“How do you do it?” I asked without preamble. “How do you handle three children underfoot all day and not go crazy?”

“Who said I’m not crazy?” she retorted with a laugh.  (page 50)

This morning’s foray into the past netted some interesting tidbits of information. I’m surprised how much of my past would eventually become my future. In 1992, I listed my goals for the year. I wanted to #1) send out one article a week, #2) present the idea of a couponing/refunding class to Hawkeye community college, and #3) approach the Independence Bulletin Journal newspaper with an idea for a column. By March 3 of that year, I had a job with the Bulletin-Journal, one that included a once a month column. In May, a New York film company visited my house, filming for a video-tape about couponing. It wouldn’t be until November 2011 that I would conduct a couponing workshop for a community college. On May 7, I noted that my article on “letter-writing” had appeared in the newspaper. A  prelude to a future book on letter writing perhaps?

In October 1994, my book proposal for “Homeschooling From Scratch” was accepted, via a postcard through the mail. I signed the book contract (again by mail) on December 14. Advance copies of that first book arrived on my doorstep on June 13, 1996.

I wouldn’t remember these dates, if it weren’t for the engagement books.

In 1998, I noted that I was sending out a book proposal to potential publishers again, one for a book I planned to write that would be filled with hints and tips for large families. I advertised in Mary Pride’s “Big Happy Family” magazine for women to respond to my questionnaire, and had collected nearly 40 responses.

Eventually, I would throw out the entire file. It wasn’t the greatest idea for a book, particularly during an era when families were getting smaller. After reading my daybooks, the real reason behind it becomes obvious. I was desperate to know the secrets of those mothers who’d managed to find time for themselves. Peace and quiet. Contemplative silence. By researching and writing a book specifically for women like me, I was hoping to find some answers for myself. Those answers remained elusive, however. I was disappointed to discover that none of the women who filled out my questionnaire had free time.

Maybe because the secret was in not having a large family in the first place. When Mary JH and I met in 1986, the youngest of her three children was three years old. I was pregnant with my third, and would go on to have five more children in the ensuing years, while Mary stopped at three. During the years I was lamenting my lack of time, letters from her revealed she was experiencing what I yearned for. She could already see a difference in 1987:

“Later journal entries showed mothering was less intense as my children grew, reflecting that freedom by showing a less-stressed mother. More joys of parenting were chronicled, and a woman with better rest, more confidence in her mothering, and more free time emerged. Me time was still a precious commodity, don’t get me wrong, but it was easier to fit in than before. Looking back, I only wish I could’ve given that worn-out mother with the young children in the early 1980s even a smidge of the bountiful time I have now. That young mother would’ve devoured it. I know this because I remember her well.”- Mary Jedlicka Humston, “Mary & Me” page 59

It’s obvious through the notes in my engagement books that I did manage to find time for one thing during those years, and that was writing. Some days, I think it saved my sanity.

I carried a notebook everywhere I went. If a child fell asleep in the back seat while I was driving, I’d pull over to the curb and frantically write before he or she woke up. I scribbled away on a legal pad as I sat on the toilet lid while toddlers bathed. I made notes on the back of grocery lists in the store. I eagerly welcomed my children’s desire to have me sit near them as they fell asleep, because I could write by the dim bulb of a nightlight.

When I teach beginning writing workshops now, I bring along a laminated 8 x 10 photo from that era. There I am in 1994, pecking away at a typewriter with baby Matthew in a backpack, peeking over my shoulder. This was my reality, the “glamorous life of a writer,” I tell those young mothers in my classes who lament their lack of writing time. –from “Mary & Me,” page 67

No matter how many children or how little time I had, that 1992 goal became a reality for me. Outside of a few arid months after the birth of each baby, I submitted something at least twice a month, sometimes once a week. If my work was rejected, which happened quite often, I’d tweak it, polish it up, and send it out again. The submissions, rejections, and acceptances are all noted in the daybooks. I managed to hit 100 acceptances by 1993. 1996 was particularly prolific. I stopped counting published clips by the time I hit 500.

I often wonder what I should do with my daybooks and journals. Mary JH has confided that she has wondered the same thing.

When I filled the first journal after David’s death, I knew I would leave it behind for the purpose of possibly helping one of my children (probably a daughter) through the inevitable loss of a spouse. It would have helped me to know how my mother handled the loss of Dad.  I lived more than an hour away from Mom and was busy raising young children when he died. She and I didn’t share a lot of conversations about her experience, but I still cherish the letters she wrote afterwards, where she shared little bits and pieces. Dad died in May. In June, my mother wrote about Father’s Day. It seemed as though she was thinking about her children’s loss more than her own:

mom letter fathers day

Four months later, she would write about a bereavement support group she attended:

mom letter bereavement2

My children won’t need to wonder how widowhood was for me. They’ll have my journals and my book, “Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace.”

But do they need to know that on November 4, 1994, I paid the bills and had only $85 left to get through the rest of the month?  Or that too many times to count in the year 2000 I wrote I would “go stark-raving mad” if I didn’t get some time to myself?

But then, maybe Michael would like to know we went to Show Biz Pizza on his 5th birthday, and Dan left on an airplane for Alaska on June 15, 1994, and a year later, on June 5, their dad and I opened a bookstore. That Matthew fell down the stairs on October 12, 1995, and while the ER doctor said it was just a bad sprain, three days later, our family doctor would discover his wrist was fractured. Would Emily like to know that in February 1996, when we discovered I was carrying a girl, we were considering naming her Sarah?

I guess I’ll hang onto those daybooks, after all.