Monday, December 3, 2012

Amy Willoughby-Burle's More Than Three-Ring Circus

In the 48th in a series of posts on 2012 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Amy Willoughby-Burle, author of Out Across the Nowhere (Press 53), talks about juggling parenting, home schooling, and writing.

The lights go up in the Burle Big Top and it’s “Show time!”

“Get your peanuts. Get your popcorn.”

“Turn your attention, folks, to the center ring. What looks like any given household in America is actually the setting for an amazing chaos defying feat. Gaze upon this ordinary woman as she attempts to write a story while juggling the laundry, the dishes, and homeschooling her children. The phone rings, the dog gets loose, the baby eats a crayon. Will she be able to get the story finished? Just as she sits down one more time, the kids wants lunch, the baby starts to cry, and her best girlfriend calls to chat. It doesn’t look good for our writer, but don’t give up hope—she turns off the phone, sends the kids out to play and puts the baby down for a nap. She won’t get much time, but she’ll make the most of what she has. She throws vacuuming to the wind, the laundry will wait, and if dinner doesn’t get made—well, that’s what Pizza Hut is for. Watch her go, folks! Write, ordinary woman, write!”

Ok, so no one is selling peanuts and there’s not an MC to narrate, but it certainly does feel like I’m writing in the midst of a circus sometimes—that circus we all know as our life. I had a writing student ask me once how I find time to write. How do any of us? I thought about that question and usually when you ask a writer that, they seem to tell you what their routine is, but they don’t say how they “found” any time. It’s not hiding under the couch. Believe me, I looked. The time is right in front of you. It just might not be as luxurious an amount as you’d like. It  might not come with a peaceful office, a big desk, and beautiful view out the window. But it’s there.

Each morning, I wake before my children do, grind some coffee beans, brew my drink, open my laptop (which sits on the kitchen table) and pick up where I left off. I get a moment of that thing called silence. But just a moment. The baby wakes and I feed him breakfast and turn on Disney Junior. Yes, I let Mickey Mouse and his whole clubhouse babysit for just a while. Other writers may turn on their favorite musical muse, but not me. Instead: M-I-C-K-E-Y  M-O-U-S-E  It’s the Mickey Mouse, clubhouse, come inside, it’s fun inside.

Later, the girls stumble out of their room still clouded with slumber, looking for cereal, and hoping that this will be the morning that Mommy forgets about home schooling and writes all day long, leaving them to the freedom of parental abandon. The more they wake, the louder they get. The baby cries out for his bottle. The phone rings. The laundry buzzes. I don’t forget about school, and we pull out the books. There’s lunch to make and dishes to do. But then later the older kids go out to play and the baby takes a nap and even though the house is a wreck, there are still dishes in the sink, and I never did return that call, I open up the laptop again and pick up where I left off. Again. That’s the time I have and I’m happy for it.

The curtain closes for the night and the performers get a few hours of sleep before the crowds return for the next show. Tomorrow the sun will rise on the Burle Big Top, and it will be another chaos defying feat as that ordinary woman opens her laptop, spins a tower of plates, dodges a clown shot from a cannon, and finally finishes her story.