Photo by Elohee (InkWell Retreat 2017)
Because it’s still a pandemic.
And there’s nowhere to go.
So we hardly ever drive the car.
Which is 17 years old and not worth spending money on.
That’s why we haven’t bothered to fix that thing that happens when we drive at high speeds. An alarming smell wafts about, suggesting something’s about to catch fire. We’d have to ask friends to recommend a mechanic, then Uber back and forth to the shop. It all feels like too much effort for too little return.
Which is why, on a Sunday afternoon, I’m plodding along Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive at 40 mph, pissing off every driver behind me. I thought staying in the right lane would help. I even spent a few triumphant seconds crowing to myself when I saw a sign claiming that I am actually going the speed limit. But soon the cars pile up behind me. They ride my tail. They swerve around me, meaningfully close to my left rear bumper.
Because I am a people pleaser (and because I’ve lived in Chicago for 20+ years and never realized the speed limit was so low), I finally decide to do the thing I should have done all along.
I turn on my blinkers.
Ninety seconds later, mine’s the only car in the right hand lane. No one even bothers to get behind me anymore—it’s like there’s a bubble around me that gently directs each car to the left the instant they see me from half a mile back. They zoom past in happy superiority. And me? I get to enjoy, for the first time in all the years I’ve lived here, the pleasure of a slow Sunday drive along Lake Michigan. Everybody on the lake path. Bright blue sky. Sunshine winking off the water.
All because I told the people around me that I needed a little space.
The point is so simple, we often forget it—whether we’re driving or writing. Before people can give us what we need, we have to ask for it. Before people can give us time and space to write, we have to…tell them we need time and space to write. This is part of what I mean when I say we have to create a writing refuge: we have to put up a boundary, by sending an unambiguous message that we are unavailable for whatever other people have in mind.
You might be wondering why I’m saying this to you now, since summer is right around the corner. The swaths of free time you’ve been dying for are so close you can almost smell them—isn’t the fact of summer enough of a refuge?
Unfortunately, “not teaching” is not a boundary—it’s a condition. Which means your unavailability is implied, not expressed. Summer is the lane you’re traveling in. But there are still plenty of other cars on the road who will enter your lane, ride your tail, and try to get you to move at the pace and direction that works best for them.
So go ahead and put on your blinkers, love. Put an automated reply on your email, saying that after a strenuous year, you’re completely offline for the summer and will not be responding to service requests. Close the door on your home office. Then open it back up and put up a sign that says, “Go ask Grandma.” Do whatever you need to do to keep all those people who love and admire you from running you off the road.
The best part of doing this won’t be the time to write. It’ll be the freedom to write at your own pace. To notice new ideas. To follow tangents to their end, even if you’re not sure they’re any good. To drift aimlessly down the highway of your ideas, to whatever unknown place they want you to go.
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