There’s noise all around me, conversations and the whirring of coffee machines and chairs scraping against a tile floor. I sit at a counter against a window, the city buzzing in front of me over the top of my laptop. I’m as at home here writing as I am at home in the quiet of my office, where above the computer screen I look out on an evergreen tree that is home to birds and squirrels. A thought slowly emerges and my fingers pause, held lightly above the keyboard, and I glance up and out the window in front of me at the cars and people passing by, the buildings and streets of this city I once called home, letting the words arrange themselves, then wrestling with them as they refuse to cooperate. Tap, tap, tap, they slowly emerge.
I shut the world away. The din around me doesn’t affect me at all. I catch bits of conversation, but for the most part, these people are faded background props, white noise. Next to the computer are an empty yogurt container and a hot drink going cold. It will take me hours before I reach the last sip. It’s less a sustenance and more of a commodity that allows me entrance to sit here and use the free WiFi. Tap, tap, tap.
This book started with early morning wake-ups. I would groggily and somewhat begrudgingly rise from my bed at hours that normally seem unreasonable to me to open up my little laptop, position it on my lap, and sit back on the couch as I reflected and turned the words over in mind. The quiet of the house would help quiet my mind so I could focus.
A recent job change has given me more time — the time, I thought, that would grant me the completion of this project. But it keeps dragging. I sit for hours at our long wooden desk looking out at that evergreen tree in the backyard. The view is a mixture of our yard and the neighbors hilly backyard, her old Adirondack chair tucked behind our stack of firewood.
Some lucky afternoons, I write outside. I arrange all my materials just so and settle in to let the words flow. Sometimes I sit at the picnic table, other times on the cushioned benches, lounging comfortably while I strain against the reluctant words. Tap, tap, tap. As the afternoon marches on, the sun creeps up and up, first hitting my feet, then my legs, until my lap — the laptop and my working fingers — are engulfed in sunshine. Then I get hot and antsy and have to readjust.
There’s just enough room to get the laptop open on my lap, it’s screen butting against the seat in front of me. With the constant drone of the airplane engines as my background noise, I try to churn out some words that I won’t have time to write during this trip to see family. Right now, on this plane in the middle seat, this is the time I have, so I make the most of it.
The chapter I’m working on is full of heartache and loss, and as I type, my eyes well up. I look up and blink several times quickly to blot away the tears before they fall down my cheeks. I take a deep breath. Tap, tap, tap.
My gracious husband lets me lay my reference book open on his tray table, so I glance from there to my computer screen, trying to make sense out of a period of prolonged grief. For a few minutes, the words come fast and furiously, the word count climbing. I write my way out of tragedy and heartache. It’s always been that way, the emotions forming themselves into letters and words and stories. I write until the screen goes black, the laptop battery dying with an hour to go in the flight.
It seems like such a small thing, putting letters and words and sentences in the right order, but it’s not. It’s hard work and art and science and connection. It’s not a small thing to me, this great big work I’m doing. I’m chasing after self-imposed deadlines and it’s getting closer and closer and closer.
I’ve been working for a couple years at this point on this book that doesn’t seem to end. Every word I’ve written has healed me a little bit more, gotten me a little bit closer to some intangible goal of closure and accomplishment. I’ve written hundreds of words during times that I’ve eked out of my already full schedule — five a.m. wake ups, lunch breaks, and stolen afternoon hours.
Some days the words flow freely, but not always. Lately, each one feels hard fought, hard won. I write and write and write only to make small progressions, meeting small milestones one at a time. This is what it’s looked like for me to write this book: the gentle tap, tap, tapping on a long white page in moments I grab for greedily in this whirlwind of days.