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Faith in Vermont: Just Two Pages a Day

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Posted on October 2, 2018 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



Last weekend, I did something I’ve never done before: Packed my family into the minivan and drove up to Burlington for a book-signing event. I would do this for very few authors, but I did it for Kate DiCamillo. 

For those who don’t have children under age 18, Kate DiCamillo is a children’s book author known for an impressive array of beautifully written and moving works, from picture books to young adult fiction. I taught her novel, Because of Winn-Dixie, to my third grade class before I had children of my own. My own children have devoured her Bink and Gollie books (co-authored with Alison McGhee), The Tale of Despereaux, and – our family’s favorite – the Mercy Watson series, about a pig who lives with the Watson family on Deckawoo drive and will do anything for toast with a great deal of butter on it. (I consider one of the Mercy Watson spin-off books, Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?, to be among the most perfect books ever written, period.) 

Needless to say, when I learned that the Flying Pig Bookshop was hosting an event with Kate DiCamillo and New Yorker cartoonist and illustrator Harry Bliss to promote their latest collaboration, Good Rosie!, I deemed it a worthwhile way for our family to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Out of the entire afternoon, one moment stuck in my head:

When asked by a young girl in the audience how she handles writer’s block, Kate DiCamillo explained that she doesn’t getwriter’s block, because her working day involves sitting down to write two pages. Just two pages a day. If those don’t turn out well, she said, it’s not writer’s block, “it’s just a bad writing day.”

This moment stuck in my husband’s head as well; my long-suffering husband, who has spent a decade listening to me bemoan my lack of writing time. 

“Two pages a day,” he said to me as we exited the event.

“Yup,” I said, smiling in an attempt to look brave. “That seems pretty manageable.”

Inside, I was thinking: HOW can I find the time to write two pages a day?!?

***

Now that the autumnal equinox has passed, the sky outside the windows is still dark when I awake. I try to be the first one up in our house, so that I can claim 20 quiet minutes before the day’s tasks begin. This is my time to be still, to get centered. When I can see the shed roof’s outline against the greying sky, it’s time to get going: make the coffee, prepare breakfast, feed the poultry, rouse my daughters. 

Less than a month ago, when it was still summer, I craved the structure that the school year promised. Back then, when days often stretched ahead of us like a blank scroll, life seemed to be an endless rotation of “I’m bored!,” followed by a sibling fight, followed by some sort of household disaster (usually of the spill variety.) 

That sequence of events hasn’t stopped; not even a little. But now it happens within a structure: after I homeschool my girls for four hours every morning, we dash off to some activity at least four afternoons a week.

We have a homeschool book group, a homeschool musical. Piano for three girls, theater workshop for two girls, Chinese for one girl. Girl Scouts twice a month, outdoor nature class and volunteering at our former preschool once a month. 

And that’s just our regularly scheduled program. 

“How did this happen?” I ask my husband. “Where did I go wrong?”

It’s all such good stuff. It was irresistible. It wormed its way into our lives.

This week, I used up half a tank of gas shuttling my daughters to their various activities. 

***

My daughters went to the moon in school today. 

It was an activity designed for my two younger daughters, who were learning about the moon. But even though their two older sisters completed this unit years ago, everyone helped build the spaceship out of cardboard boxes we dragged up from the basement. There was a control panel. There were helmets. There was a flag made from a bandana tied to a wiffleball bat. There was lift-off.

After their voyage, we sampled freeze-dried “astronaut” ice cream and read a book about what the moon is like. 

I’d budgeted 20 minutes for this activity. It took over an hour. We skipped writing. We skipped history. This lack of structure – or rather, this abandonment of my planned structure – is not easy for me; it does not come naturally. But when my nine-year-old exclaimed, “How is this school? School isn’t supposed to be this fun!” I thought: To heck with my plans.

Structure can give our days shape; it can help us get things accomplished beyond boredom, sibling fights, and spills. But sometimes, structure can make it hard to find time to breathe. And breathing, so I’m told, is important.

***

“Do you have time to breathe?” a friend asked me recently. 

Upon reflection, I realized that I do. Even on the most structured days – those half-a-tank-of-gas days – there are 20 quiet minutes at dawn. There is the making and drinking of morning coffee. There is the sun rising over the mountains when I go outside to feed the poultry. There is a chill in the air and the smell of woodsmoke; sometimes there are Canada geese in their cacophonous V-formations. Driving around town in the afternoons, there are fields and mountains dipped in gold. There are grace-filled friends and family who take my children for a couple of hours. There are late afternoon walks with my dog and my neighbor along our gravel driveway, while the clouds turn red-orange. There is dinner with my daughters’ faces around the table; as they tell their father about their day, I realize that what may have seemed frenzied to me was joyful for them. 

I do have time to breathe; I just don’t always have time to write. Not even two pages a day. 

“I don’t have any idea what my next column will be about,” I confessed to my friend. She is also a writer, mother, homeschooler.

“Why not write about what you just told me  – how crazy life seems right now?” she suggested. “I bet a lot of people will relate to that.”

 

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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