On Tuesday, while my Indians in Cinema students fidgeted, outside our windowless room, the snow began. I don’t think the students felt the weather change in their bones or blood. I think at least half of them have smartphones. When I stepped outside, big white flakes nested in my dark hair.
The snow didn’t last long that afternoon, but everyone was talking about a big storm coming. On my way home, I stopped by Central Co-op to buy ambrosia apples, the only variety I eat. I wanted to get enough to last me a long time. The store only had five left, though, and I panicked a little, wondering whether the end of ambrosia season could be approaching. These apples are a new love of mine, and I have one every single morning with my coffee. Sometimes, I have another at night. Only ambrosia. Sorry, fuji, I don’t like you anymore. I don’t want to imagine my life without my morning ambrosia, and I don’t want to try a different kind of apple.
I bought the last five ambrosias in the Co-op bin and took the bus back down the steep hill to my neighborhood, Madison Park. This hamlet is reachable only by way of the hilly, treacherous-when-icy Madison Street or a network of narrow, winding lakeside roads. If snow comes, I’m stuck.
By the time I sliced the first apple, pictured above, school had been suspended for Wednesday. It was two in the morning and I was deep into the fifth season of Dexter. As though I was in college again, I was celebrating my freedom by staying up late and watching TV, though I was working on residency and grant applications while I watched. The more Dexter I watched, the more protective I became of my Wusthof chef’s knife, working on the apple in a late-night delirium, photographing it, imposing an order.
Lately, I’ve worked to control the elements of my work life and writing life, which is also a work life, just not one that pays yet. I’ve been reading for the teaching part of my job and reading for pleasure, which is sometimes the same as reading for teaching, sometimes more like reading to educate myself as a writer. I’ve been working on lectures, working on grant applications. I’ve been applying for residencies, a conference. I’ve been sending pieces to literary magazines. More than ever, I’ve been feeling the weight of the work writers are expected to do before we see the payoff, and feeling the sense of accomplishment of it, too. I love working on behalf of myself and my writing. And I’ve been working my office job, advising and teaching college students, which is great work with great people. But no matter how much I love all the things I do, it’s hard to do everything. Time just doesn’t work like that. I also need sleep time and social time, both of which regularly become the first to escape.
I went to bed late, looking forward to my morning apple and coffee.
On Wednesday morning, I woke up ready to work, and ready for my apple and coffee. I wanted to, in a single day, read all the books I needed to preview in order to craft my spring syllabus. But that just wasn’t going to be possible. In one day, I cannot read the 1,914 pages I wanted to peruse at that point. But I can read most of a book in a day. And I did. I sat on my couch, watching snow fall on the other side of the window, and read Cree writer Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen, a novel full of snow. My clenched-fist core relaxed as I fell for the novel. This snow day had afforded me the little bit of time I needed to catch up, just a little, and cut me off from the obligations I had out there in the rest of the world. I had no choice but to do the thing I wanted to do the most: turn inward.
But I did leave, briefly. My friend (and upstairs neighbor) Glenda and I walked around the neighborhood, chatting, avoiding dogs, admiring homes, and stretching our legs. We turned around at the “Welcome to Madison Park” sign, and then I got back home, back to the business of knocking down, one by one, the things that are in the way of my writing.
On Thursday morning, I woke up to a still-white world. The University’s closure for the day had been announced the night before. More time—not writing time, which would have been the greatest way to spend two snow days, not trapped in my apartment but, instead, not required to leave it. I should mention that I bought several pounds of meat at the Co-op and made excellent meatballs, which, along with some turkey, I’ve been pairing with the leftover brussels sprouts and broccoli in the fridge to tide me over. Understand: In Madison Park, there are plenty of places to eat, and there’s a grocery store, all of which I can easily walk to, even when it’s snowing. But if I’m allowed to use snow as my excuse, I do not have to leave the apartment. I value this. I pretend I’m trapped.
I couldn’t wait until morning to have the next apple. Thursday night, I was, as they say in the old books I sometimes teach, heavy-hearted. I had only read one and a half books during the Snowpocalypse, and it looked like the snow was ending. I didn’t know whether we would be returning to work in the morning, but I suspected it, and I still needed more time alone. I ate my apple while working on my lecture on Disney’s Pocahontas for Indians in Cinema. After finishing my lecture notes on an article, and looking back on the book and a half (the half being the first part of The Grass Dancer by Susan Power) I’d read, I didn’t feel so bad. Things were getting into order. My miniature residency was helping. Now, I just needed more of this: more time, more organizing.
I love my Wusthof knife, but not for the same reason Dexter, the lovable serial killer, loves his knives, and while I watched more Dexter before drifting off to bed on Thursday, I knew I was a completely different kind of social misfit: the kind who likes other people, and doesn’t want to hurt them, doesn’t have anything against them, but just needs time apart from most of the world because there is so much to get done.
Friday, it turned out, was a day without school. Facebook is littered with comments from stir-crazy people stuck at home, sick of snow. I feel like the only person in Seattle who is not. This week, I’ve realized that I can stand lots of time by myself, in my pajamas, working. My friend who lives upstairs would meet me for welcome coffee and walk breaks, but otherwise, I loved the long stretches of intense focus. I began to feel like a social misfit, happy in my warm apartment, watching my Facebook news feed fill with lamentations of friends desperate to escape their homes. In the end, I decided to call it being a writer, that label that makes weirdness acceptable. I didn’t need much human contact, fun, distraction, or food. I don’t need much hope of an end point. I don’t need sunshine.
But when the apples run out, I do need more apples.
I put my snow boots on and trudged down to the grocery store where, sure enough, I found some ambrosia apples. I hadn’t just eaten the last five in existence. There were plenty for the taking. I bought three to start with. No need to be greedy.
The snow days were nice, but I know I need to get back to reality: the office, class, the commute. Reality, too, is nice, but now I’m thinking of how much nicer it might be if I built in some breaks. The next time I take one, I want it to be planned, and I want it to be devoted to writing. My game plan, then, is to take care of all the things in the way. Conditions will never be truly clear, but if I replicate the snow days in tiny pieces here and there, maybe I can get the roadblocks out of the way and start clearing the way for writing. Once I get back into the practice, I know that scattered feeling will go away in no time.