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continued excerpt from
What I do when I’m not writing"

The Bench was created for our neighborhood grade school auction, which is what public schools around here do these days – hold auctions like private schools do – to fundraise for necessities, not extras.

I worked with my daughter’s fourth grade class to develop the writing and pictures. My husband Ron and I custom-built The Bench, and I merged and wood-burned the class’s creative take on Meriwether and William and their apparently equal counterpart, Seaman (given the number of drawings the big dog inspired.) Then we painted. One night plied with wine, Ron and I and a friend painted until 1:00 a.m., feeling altogether like kids again.

The project copped $2,700 at auction and went to an appreciative family so by all accounts it was a fundraising success. But what’s interesting to me is this: why did I lose myself in this project? The cause was noble enough – and it is the Lewis and Clark bicentennial after all – but it was more than that. Why did I spend the time it took Dostoevsky to write "The Gambler" attending to the tiniest details of the kids' art, adding blush to Charboneau’s cheeks and positioning him with his hand against Sacagawea’s belly? Why did I honor equally the expressions of nine-year-olds with artistic talent and those less gifted? And why did I take so seriously the arc of the kids’ verb phrases, capping a string of them with the solitary word “be,” knowing full-well no child in the room really left it at “be”?

Why, why, why, when I could have, should have been doing ‘my’ writing, did I continually jump from my chair to The Bench? Blatant procrastination? An excuse to stray from attending to difficult plot issues in my first novel or moving the horizontal action in my second?

I’m setting you up; I know the answer. The theme I wood-burned onto the back of the bench became mybench 2 process, where I needed to “be.” In the month of January, I journeyed through a make-your-life-count experience. Stopped my inner nag and went where the energy pulled me. Stilled the “My God, you haven’t sold your novel yet, get off the dime” and smothered the “What exactly are you doing with your life? You’re not fighting the battle or marching the peace. Not inventing the future or curing the past. You don’t have the skills to build a city, let alone a shed. That’s it. You cannot even build a shed.”

In January, without calculating the hours against the sale price, I earned more than I can measure. I took a creative diversion from my writing life and reinvented procrastination. Will anyone care about The Bench in a hundred years or next year or next week? Maybe not, but it changed the way I view progress. It changed me.

Last year, I finished a novel, continued to work on a second, identified weaknesses in my first novel and sought out resources to help, started studying structure and reworking my first novel, became a more intentional reader, continued my wifing and mothering duties, and even learned a thing or two about patience.

bench 3Oh, and I built a bench.

I built a bench.

Life isn’t a race; it’s a journey. Or as someone reminded me the other day: there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Enjoy the tunnel.


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