#writerproblems: Taking a Break

Four weeks.

Four weeks of rewrites and hours locked away in the basement to the screams of “I want my MUMMY!” Four weeks of barely saying more to the kids than, “Good morning,” “Eat,” “Get dressed we’re late,” “Stop sitting on each other,” and “Goodnight, I love you.”

Three weeks of that had the additional fun of writing to eighty new students, grading their work, and answering those who don’t get why they can’t just write about how obesity is bad and wonder why I don’t hand out my phone number so they can call when they need me.

Damn, I cried. Hard. And often.

I wasn’t being a mom. A wife. I was just glued to the stupid screen to grade yet another round of papers, tackling another dozen pages of rewrites and DAMMIT, I lost three days’ worth of work, and–

Bo played with the kids. He kept them upstairs with books, video games, food–anything he could. He sat with me as I cried, and reminded me, time and again:

“Focus on what you’ve achieved, not on the hell right now.”

To which I often spat something back like, “And how’s that going to give me time to respond to two dozen students and edit thirty pages?”

Because that’s the killer, isn’t it? Time. We writers are desperate for it. It’s lousy timing when the fun writing hour we save for ourselves gets nixed for an obligation. But when writing is one such obligation, suddenly we realize just how little daylight we have for family, work, and writing.

~*~

When the term started, my mother offered to watch the kids for a day so Bo and I could get out.

Bo offered to go off on his own. “You should use that time to work.”

My immediate thought: Yes, I should. Several hours of peace. No “Where’s Mom?” No forced interaction with my family…that just want a little time with me. Any time. 

Bo looked so tired. He fell asleep in the chair next to me yesterday, exhausted from his new double-shift life of ten hours at the postal service every day and Prime Caregiver every evening and weekend.

I set my screen aside. “Yeah, I should. But I need some time with you, too.”

~*~

Since neither of us were keen on the current films, we decided to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum–this time, for art we kinda actually knew.

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I partially kid. A traveling exhibit of early Modern works was in town. Photography wasn’t allowed inside, I’m afraid, so I can’t show you how unique the exhibit was. Much of the work consisted of early sketches and practice drawings; for instance, one Toulouse Lautrec sketch of a horse was bordered by various drawings of hooves, just hooves, because he was trying to capture them just so.

Seems a familiar practice between writer and artist, that constant running of the pen to find the perfect strength in chosen lines.

The other big theme in those sketches? Women coming out of the bath. Not bathing, but coming out and drying themselves. Always drying the legs, too. Well, I suppose armpits aren’t exactly a sexy location to sketch.

Anyway.

When I was a kid, the museum building consisted of a 50s rectangle made of gravel that is actually a War Memorial (I still can’t tell how), but since 2001 we’ve had the very fancy-pants edition of the Quadracci Pavilion. The outside is built in the shape of a bird, complete with wings that open and close.

The inside of the Pavilion is pretty swanky, too.

 

 

The art contained within is something of a quirky hodge podge. And I say this as a Philistine who never took a lick of art history in school, so feel free to turn up your noses at my ignorance on the subject. All I know is that if your chosen first impression on visitors is a giant trowel in dirt, “classics” are not going to come to one’s mind.

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Take this creature, for instance.

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Yes, that is a machine projecting a man’s face onto a balloon. He says things like, “Life is but a tunnel of darkness. Are we truly alive, or are we toys?” And yes, it’s all with a drowsy monotone.

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Is this normal, to have captions of guesswork?

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This Garden of Eden painting creeps me out. An attendant noticed me with my camera and mentioned that the dog had originally been covered by a bush, but in restoration they discovered him there in the corner. Just look at that thing. No one else is looking out at the viewer. Why that dog? And those eyes follow you everywhere in the room.

Creepy demon dog.

And some pieces…look, I don’t get super-modern stuff. I just don’t. When an empty acrylic case can be put on display as art, and labeled as such and donated as such, and things like big pieces of blue plastic are leaned against the wall and declared art, I just…

I like words.

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Not that all pieces are like this, to be clear. There’s this beautiful creation by artist Dave Chihuly in the Quad Pavilion:

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Some other pieces that are just plain neat, such as the powder-wig boys up for some badminton. (Yes, the maintenance fellow is a sculpture. He’s been around for decades.)

 

 

In our sojourning through the exhibits we came across a suitcase.

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I got super excited. I was determined to take a picture to show you all the inside: a pond swimming with life. A statue of a father’s feet can be seen, with part of a baby’s body, its toes just above the water.

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But try as I might, I could not get a good position. Bo reluctantly offered to hold information card about the sculpture. Here’s a little more information about the piece.

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Anyway.

I hulked over, on my knees, on my toes, shoving my camera in. Bo gave up on me and looked at another piece in the room.20180113_131621

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP

Outside of my head, I slid backwards and whirled around the corner, poking at my phone under the guise of sending a text. A security guard walked briskly by as I approached Bo with my phone and said, “Did you see this? This is very interesting.”

Inside my head: “OH SHIT! They’re gonna fine me and ban me from art! Run for the post-moderns, RUN! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

Bo, of course, found this to be hiLARiuos. “You know, I can’t take you anywhere. You bonk your head into display glass at the public museum. You walked into a glass wall when we came here last year. Now you’ve got The Man after you.” He proceeds to then make “BEEP” sounds any time I try to take a picture.

A little later we came upon a strange room of pottery without captions. There’s a little model room display behind some glass.

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Hmmm.

Next to this little room is a bellrope marked “Pull.”

Hmmm.

“Don’t you touch that,” Bo said.

“But it says, ‘Pull.'”

“BEEP!”

“Shut up.”

“Well I don’t know you, Miss Whoever You Are.”

I pulled it.

(I know, I’m as bad as Alice in Alice in Wonderland.)

 

 

A recording started: a wee ghost stepped into the miniature room and described the pottery collection around us. It was neatly filmed: she pull pottery out of the trunk nearby, sat in the little chair, laid things on the table. Here’s a little more information about the room, as I’m clearly not doing it justice.

“See? I was supposed to pull that cord,” I declared triumphantly to Bo.

And proceeded to walk into the glass door of an uber-bright Spanish exhibit of “playful art.”

Bo laughed. And despite the annoyed security guards, I laughed, too. Because it’s moments like these make breaks from writing so very necessary.

We can’t create life in stories if we don’t live a little. And sometimes that living does seem little–I’m not trying to rescue refugees from Mexico. I’m just going to the art museum with my husband.

But it’s in these everyday moments that we remember what it’s like to be around other people, listen to other people, roll our eyes at other people, skee-daddle from other people. It’s in such moments that we remember what it means to hold another’s hand, share a smile, tell a joke that sets the other groaning. And through these everyday moments we find new imagination to channel into our worlds.

So don’t forget to take a break, writers. That giant green ceramic chicken ain’t gonna rock itself.

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47 thoughts on “#writerproblems: Taking a Break

  1. I’ve made a point of getting into ‘odd’ art recently. I’m liking what you have written and the photos. The little model room is so ‘dark’ like its been left alone after a murder. Brill stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really does look like a wee murder room, doesn’t it? I thought this far more interesting than the wing dedicated to various furniture pieces. Because…furniture? Well, to be fair, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright (another Wisconsinite) designed some furniture, so apparently that made the walls of 1950s chairs art. Apparently. 🙂 (I was tempted to include that, but Bo wants to write about that for his own blog, so I chose to leave it be. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I know! I just get so caught up in what I’m looking at that I never notice the boundaries. The public museum incident was particularly awful: A display of shadow puppets. Neat, right? And it’s obviously INSIDE a case. But there I go, trying to get a closer look, and THUNK! That “Thunk” literally echoed down the hall….quickly followed by Bo laughing his bum off. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved this! Love the beautiful Pavillion and eclectic treasures inside -truly up for debate and I echo many of your sentiments! …Where do I start? 🙂 🙂 You highlight the importance of taking a break to freshen and feed the senses. You’ve come up for air. Very important.

    “Seems a familiar practice between writer and artist, that constant running of the pen to find the perfect strength in chosen lines”.

    So true and beautifully put. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, thank you, Friend! I admit–I was proud of that line, esp since it was damn hard to get. It was a sentiment I had as we walked through the exhibit, but I just couldn’t describe what I was thinking. I tried half a dozen times with Bo, but the thought wasn’t getting through. Guess it just needed some time to percolate! 🙂 xxxxxxx

      PS–And those weren’t even all the weird ones! There were a few other paintings that I’d swear were created to house nefarious evil, especially one particular portrait of a girl and her cat. CREEPY. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      • Pleasure! 🙂 xxxx It’s a jewel of a line! Worth the time it took to ‘percolate’ -love that!

        Hehe I think the exhibition sounds like a gas! 🙂 Such a lot there to generate questions about the human mind… and the strange energy that finds itself in some of those animal paintings…
        🙂 xxx

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this! You and I are so much alike, except I sometimes even walk into solid walls with my nose in a book, but I would be irresistibly drawn to cause the BEEP!! Lol!! I’d have to pull the cord if it said to pull it!!!

    As I was reading this I was thinking how much Bo sounds like your true soulmate, he’s there for you through thick and thin. Even when he’s exhausted he’s still looking out for the kids so you can work, while also rooting you on! Then at the museum, he knew what to expect. But was ok with it too. You’ve got a keeper there.

    As far as writing goes, it’s so sad how anything we love to do becomes so difficult because of pressure put upon it. If only we were left in peace to just do it. But that would get us nowhere now, would it?

    Thank you for your beautiful words.💜

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for reading! Bo’s been amazing. It was a hard road getting here, and some hard lessons learned for both of us, but the more we support each other, the more we know what the other needs of us. 🙂 xxxxxx
      It’s been especially hard because of my three kids, only one’s at school all day. The other two are only 5, so they go to half-day preschool. This has made the tripled workload this winter just…it has been a hell, not gonna lie. But if Bo hadn’t stepped up, I’d have failed weeks ago. Period. So I am very, very, VERY thankful for the blessings I have–the friends I have here in the writing-verse as well as the family who makes any fight with hell worthwhile.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I see a few items I missed last visit. The first time we went, I walked past the maintenance man several times and announced to my husband, it was definitely performance art. He told me I was totally wrong, and he was right of course 🙂

    I don’t think you can take a bad picture in there. You guys look very happy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, thanks! I was trying to find this other piece of a newspaper stand made of newspapers that the maintenance man used to stand by, but it was taken out when they got the new building. At least that’s how my memory works. You can actually buy an ornament of that maintenance man in the art museum gift shop. I can only imagine what die-hards purchase that for their Christmas trees… 🙂

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  5. My apologizes. I spotted this early afternoon, thought I would savour it a little later, then my new laptop arrived. Engossed in complicated setting up ‘things’ I forgot the world about me. Art such as this reminds me of my beloved France…so much so that I have just booked another holiday there…the best I can do following this ridicolous Brexit vote, for previous I would have settled there; not for a single moment stayed ‘here’. Jolly good stuff, Ms Lee.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you so much for yet another slice of your life – another generous helping:). I often tell my students that we are not machines and to have a break when they need it… This visit is a delight! I love the quirkiness and general mix of it all. Loved it!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ha! The blue surfboard thingy is still there? I’m with you on some of the newer art, friend. When it comes up in class (since I try to do a variety of projects and periods) and the kids ask me, “how is that art?” I hem and haw and change the subject… I LOVE Chihuly- even though I guess there’s some debate whether his work (or rather his team’s work, since it’s collaborative) is technically ‘art’ or just ‘craft.’ (And I’m typing that in a VERY snooty voice. There are some fabulous examples of his glass in Tacoma, WA- we need to go there together someday! Some nice pieces at Mayo Clinic too, but I’d just as soon we never need to meet up there…) The suitcase sounds fascinating- thanks for the extra details on that too!
    Sigh- can you tell I miss museums that don’t include the word ‘Children’s?’ Thanks for the virtual tour.
    I m rooting for you and Bo- I’m so pleased you got a breather. Sometimes a break is necessary to recharge so that you CAN keep slogging through the crazy! Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hugs back! You know, we’ve yet to take the kids to a children’s museum. As much as I love their joy in discovery, I just don’t feel like getting yanked in three different directions. Maybe this year I’ll try taking one at a time. I know Blondie wanted to come with Bo and I, but we just frantically shook our heads. And in seeing the little kids shuffling behind their folks, I’m glad we made that judgment call.
      I do hope you and your hubby can get to a museum or an outing of some kind soon! I was hoping Bo and I could go see the orchestra perform live with the Star Wars: A New Hope screened in the background, but it sounds like that will be a Daddy-Daughter Day come this summer. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks 🙂 It is HARD with three- I do fewer outings than I used to. If I could just grow another arm…or maybe two, for the sake of symmetry… Fortunately we have a few nice children’s museums in the area that are small (and I’ve scouted out all of their free days, cuz then if things go terribly wrong it’s no major loss 😉 )
        Some day… once we get through the grey season here it might be easier to get ourselves out the door.
        Sorry the orchestra won’t make a date for you guys, but those Daddy-Daughter times are sooo important too (especially for the eldest, I think. I feel like the younger ones tend to take 90 percent of my time and energy!)

        Liked by 1 person

  8. For the record, Bo sounds truly wonderful!!!! (I don’t think I’ve ever written that before…)
    and I’m so glad you decided to spend time with him, my dear one.
    Amazing photos as usual!
    And I’m glad you didn’t skimp on sharing your museum adventures!

    Perhaps in the future you could visit the Baraboo Candy Store??? 😉
    Sending you love, as always, and cups of the most delectable, buzzy java ever!!!!!! ☕️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh I TOTALLY want to visit Baraboo this summer and show the kids the Circus World Museum…and the Candy Store….It’s getting on the calendar somehow!

      Sleepy hugs back atcha, O Empress Percolatia! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: #LessonsLearned in World-Building for #fiction: Jeff Vandermeer’s #Annihilation | Jean Lee's World

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