Tonight was bedlam. I was watching a nine-year-old girl for a friend and the younger children were running around our feet, screaming in glee and showing off. To top it off I was late starting dinner and forgot I was having dinner guests until they arrived at the door. Somehow I had also asked my teenager to make dinner rolls. Of course, they weren't ready in time and the kitchen sink was piled high with all the dishes she had used for her small little salty mounds of what tasted like hardened playdough. My older sons and my husband were loudly debating the option of writing in Kermit the Frog on their ballots rather than vote for McCain who looks like the GOP candidate with our guests and I was running around frantically, trying to get edible food on the table. It was bedlam.
By the time the guests left and dinner was cleared I noticed my thirteen year old son who had been working on his math homework the entire time slumped over face down in his open book. I sat next to him, looked at the broken pencil and bent dinner fork, and guessed it wasn't going well. "Can I help you?" I offered.
"No! This is so stupid; it is impossible. It won't do what I want it to. I hate it!"
"Well, buddy," I tried to soften his frustration, "maybe if you look at it a different way..."
"There is no other way!" He smashed his face two or three times back into the page, returning to his lifeless stance.
I lifted the book and saw percentages. I explained that the key to percentages is that "of" means its the denominator but he wouldn't believe me. So I went back over his work, most of it incorrect and showed him how to do it. After the third correct answer in the back of the book, he began to see hope that it might work out. He did a problem and got it right and then grabbed the pencil and I became to him. Less than ten minutes later he closed the book with satisfaction, finished with his impossible task and ran upstairs to catch the last of American Idol before family prayer.
What surprised me as I watched him go was how similar his experience had been to my own just the day before. I was working on a chapter about "small sins." I had a scripture I wanted to weave into a C. S. Lewis quote that totally correlated to the topic but everytime I tried to segue it together, it was AWFUL. I couldn't make it work; it just wouldn't twist and squeeze into compliance. The entire day I only produced four pages of ragged, nasty copy and when my husband got home, I felt like I was an idiot to think I could even attempt such a massive project with my addled brain.
My patient husband pulled me away from the computer and we talked about it. My problem was the same as my son's, I wasn't willing to let go of my false idea so I could let a better one enter. Greg made some other suggestions and we talked about themes of the book and the big picture and a whole new and better connection came to mind that lead to the introduction of three more quotes and life was fabulous and you couldn't tear me away from flopping out the ten fabulous pages I produced today.
Now as I look back on it, I wonder how many times I wasn't willing to let go of what I had to take in something better. How many times have I felt too busy to attend a meeting or said no to a friend who had invited me to lunch or didn't ever make a phone call I thought about but let life get in the way? I remember after I lost my baby and my father passed away just four days later I sort of shut down. One day a woman my husband worked with came over to take me to dinner. I told her I didn't want to go out but she would not let me politely say no. When we got in the car, I began by talking about my loss but she wouldn't let me. She said that it would be there when we got back but for an hour I was going to go on vacation from all that pain and have fun, and I did. When I got back, it was amazing because suddenly I wasn't still marinated in it. I realized I could be free of some of the extreme emotion that was drowning me. I hadn't realized I had that ability but once I did, it was easier.
Part of being a writer is seeing connections others don't see. They say there are no new plots, only new perspectives on the old ones. But if we don't let go every once in a while and open our minds and hearts, we can spend our whole lives trapped in the same old, same old.
Thank goodness for mothers that can do math, husbands who can put up with their crazy wives and close friends who pull us out of our comfort zones against our wills.