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It is almost one o’clock in the morning, and I am the only one awake. The house makes its nocturnal groans as the water softener flushes, the dishwasher kicks into the final cycle, and the refrigerator attempts to pull the internal temperature back down after a day of leering kids holding the door open – in hopes that the grocery fairy had inexplicably stocked it with more appetizing snacks than they found five minutes before. The dogs are irritated that I am on the couch, as I am betraying our unofficial agreement that they not get on the furniture in my presence. The 20-pound orange cat, who keeps the three dogs and four kids abreast of his penultimate position in the hierarchy (second only to me), snores like the grouchy old man I envision he would be as a human.
Down the hall, one of the girls has spoken something indiscernible to all wakeful ears, understood only by those of the other sleeping daughter, who responds with an equally gibberish phrase. The only other sound is the tapping of my keyboard, as I type the thoughts and stories that have been anxiously waiting to jump from the cyclone in my head.
The older characters, the ones who are a part of the novels that have been marinating for years, know that they must time their exits as if they are hopping into a round of double Dutch, watching for the moment that will keep the rhythm and allow the game to continue. The newbies, the ones who hit me through the day and begin as a short note jotted on a scrap of paper or in a notes app on my phone, often cut to the front of the line. They tend to be louder and less likely to allow sleep until they have been given a place on a page.
I have made four humans who breathe, eat, cry, and love. They are additions to a population that is changed because of their existence. One may create technology that saves the planet from climate change, whether the politicians deem it valid or not. One may make art that draws crowds of fans and haters but sparks necessary dialogue, no less. One may be the greatest love of another soul and the biggest heartbreak of another. One may endure hardships that no mother would wish on a child but grow stronger and smarter as a result.
Those are the humans I made last month. They are the largest part of the reason I consider four hours of sleep a long night of rest. Also, I have four kids who were birthed the more traditional way, over the course of 15 years, who carry my genes and keep my daylight hours in constant motion. These humans will continue to grow and need less assistance from me, eventually moving on with their lives. They will take small bits of the guidance I have tried to provide; they will make decisions that disagree with my hopes and desires for them. They will fill my heart and then break it, and I will let them. I will have to stand back, watching as they find their paths and create futures I could never have predicted.
So, I write. I have always written, and I always will. I wrote when my parents fought, my 6-year-old self begging them to love each other again. I wrote when I first believed that I was in love, and again when I knew that I wasn’t. I wrote in the depths of my drinking, hoping to recover bits of myself that were lost at the bottom of a bottle. I wrote to my oldest son every day that I didn’t have him in my home as I fumbled and scratched at my “rock bottom.” I wrote when I got sober. I write when my 2-year-old tells me not to help him, because the characters who do still need me help ease that ache in my chest. I write when my body is spent, but my mind didn’t get the memo. I will write if the man who is sleeping in my bed decides that the package that comes with me is too big, and his wanderlust is too strong to stay forever. I will also write if he discovers that he cannot, in fact, live without this chaos, and we end up sitting on the porch of our farm; hand in hand, growing old, watching our goats. I wrote, am writing, and will write.
Even when my fingers are not moving, the stories do not understand inertia. I fear that they will eventually die if I don’t pay them reliable attention. Just like the genetically related humans, if I do not feed my stories, they get agitated. They will get louder and less reasonable until I toss them some nourishment. Also like children, if the stories are neglected for too long (though, thankfully, I do not know this from personal experience), they will wither and fail to thrive.
I have people in my head in various stages of completion. There are characters whose lives I have crafted from birth to death. There are those who are simply husks; the slightest glances of passing strangers that I see in my periphery. Some of them comforted me in my loneliest hours, when I didn’t feel I was worth the time of people in this plane of existence. Others have shown strength that I only found after learning from their examples. I collect those people and their stories, allowing them to live inside me until I make the time to let them out.
Some days, the Writing Gods shine on me. The baby takes a nap without a fight, the laundry isn’t threatening to animate, and I don’t fall asleep as soon as my body stops moving. The insomnia of night seems to have an evil day twin that is closely related to narcolepsy. When the evil twin is sleeping on the job (so to speak), and I have a chance to write during the day, I seem to have more energy for the remaining tasks. When my everyday life stretches and spreads into each available minute, I know there will be a battle between my need to rest and my need to write.
It is a need. It didn’t start out that way, but writing has become enmeshed in my existence. I chose my life as a mother, but I believe that I was born as a writer. My children have each added to my purpose; my spirit has grown because they allow me to witness their stories on a daily basis. Writing was there from the beginning; it grows within me. It has cast tendrils into each of my senses, changing the ways in which I perceive the world, so that those perceptions can be used to create my stories.
There are stories to be written with every person I meet, the places I find myself, and each time I am met with pressure or resistance from the Universe that seems to push or pull me from the direction I thought I was heading. An assumption can be made that everything can be used in a story. Sometimes I pick up little details that I store in the back pocket of my mind, though I don’t find them until I’m sorting through words and one falls out of the pile: washed, dried, and ready for use. Larger concepts bounce around, fueled by my intention to catch them before the energy is lost and they roll to a corner: spent and deflated.
I take notes when I am waiting in the infuriating line to pick up my girls. I consume the words of authors who write with such ferocity, it makes my mundane angst thirst for more fire. I take in the phrases of my spiritual gurus when I have the same argument, for the hundredth time, with the father of my daughters. I use their words to understand the recurring issues that I will draft for my characters, who one day may encourage me to have a different argument for a change. I remember parts of my past that I tried for decades to discard, so things could be different for that little girl. I can rewrite heroes into those scenes, fashioning a parallel universe with a different timeline, and wondering how much we would still have in common in my changed history.
I get to be angry, to love, to get endless mulligans for things I regret. I can create worlds that require characters to have strengths that I will never possess, and whose faults are much deeper than my most shameful moments. It is cathartic and empowering to embody all of the vicarious lives shaped by my words. I can shine light on all of my skeletons, let them dance in the sun, and then march them back to someone else’s closet because they are no longer tied to me.
The worlds that come from my stories do not diminish the importance of my comparably droll and patterned life. Rather, they provide me the opportunity to find the novelty and magic in everyday moments. I can focus on those little snippets of life and living that may otherwise be overlooked, because they may end up being very significant to a character’s development or journey. Writing enhances every moment and every emotion that I experience because it creates, replicates, and morphs those same moments and emotions for my characters.
I have argued with my dead mother and my estranged father, having never actually uttered a word out loud. I have expressed love for a man long lost to me. I have received apologies I have never heard with my ears. I have rushed to the aid of a friend quicker than I ever have in my sometimes selfish life. I am a better person through the people I write.
This is not an option, this writing thing. It is a way of being. It is the air that is breathed – parts of our lives that we inhale, take what we need, and exhale those bits and pieces back into a blanket of new life. It cannot be understood by those not marked by the curse of ink. It is nothing and everything, and it is something that I have always done, am doing, and will always do.
Chantal Meek lives in Idaho Falls, Idaho, though Colorado will always be home. She bartends to support her four kids, menagerie of pets, and writing habit. She hopes to publish many delicious books in this life, and plans to spend many years watching baby goats with her perfect boyfriend who is likely a serial killer.