Buckling Down: A Guest Post by Miranda Weiss

The other day, a street sign I’m sure I’ve read dozens of times before stopped me in my tracks: “Buckle up. Somebody needs you!”

I was on one of my now-frequent multi-tasking hikes across Homer: pushing my five-month-old daughter in her SUV-style jogging stroller (complete with shocks, oversized pneumatic tires, storm cover, and cargo hold), throwing a tennis ball using a long plastic wand to the blue heeler, catching a spring warbler or two through a pair of binoculars strung around my neck, and maybe, I’ll admit, trying to carry on a cell phone conversation with a friend or family member in another time zone.

“Buckle up. Somebody needs you.” The sign felt too true. Since the birth of my daughter over the winter, I’ve gotten daily lessons in being needed. And it feels wonderful. She is the sun I orbit, and I am her, um, milky way. It is my face she sees right before she falls asleep at night and mine she sees when she first wakes up. I get the first smiles of the day. My daughter and I are almost always together, our bodies in contact. It’s not that my husband is absent—far from it—but my newly-full breasts are a constant reminder that I am her umbilical cord of survival.

The more my daughter needs me, of course, the harder it is to go about getting back to my writing. And in contrast to what is a chemical, animal hunger my baby and I have for each other, my writing feels so…unnecessary. No one is going to cry or starve or lie helpless in her own filth if I don’t write a second book.

Still, around the time my baby was two months old, I forced myself back into my study. For short stints during naps, I sat in front of the computer trying to string a few unimportant sentences together, all the while my ears hyper-alert for any noise coming out of the baby monitor.

Now that the paperback of Tide, Feather, Snow is coming out, I’m reflecting on why I write. Nobody needs my work. It doesn’t pay my agent’s mortgage, and has long since stopped paying mine. There are those brief moments of ecstasy from writing—like during my book tour last spring when a radio interviewer in Seattle had selected passages for me to read, the same passages in the book that I love. Or when, from time to time, someone will ask whether I have another book coming out, hoping that I do. But these episodes are so few and far between, if I relied on them to fuel my work, I’d quickly grind to a stop, becoming like one of those cars you see pushed off to the side of the road, tires flattened from being abandoned, grass growing up all around.

There are writers out there, I’m sure, who need no one to help convince them of the necessity to keep going in their work. But I’m not one of them.

I rely on a patchwork writing community—mostly readers in other time zones. We make schedules for our work and help each other stick to them. We read, encourage, and critique. This is the unsexy side of writing, but also the side that keeps me going.

After writing—and throwing away—months of distracted work, I recently finished a short essay that recounted an experience I’d had as a kid where I grew up in Maryland, bringing tadpoles back to life that had spilled out of the bucket I was raising them in. It was a light piece about ponds and frogs and what that stuff can teach us about mortality and luck. It was only 1300 words and I was immensely proud of it while simultaneously wondering whether it was a piece of crap.

The first thing I did was email the essay to a writer friend who is a reader of my work. She called me when I was once again behind the stroller, drifting around while waiting for the studded tires on my car to be changed out, and scanning the slough in the middle of town for newly arrived ducks and geese. “It’s great,” I heard her saying over the wind coming across the slough. “Observant, smart,” she said. And then we quickly proceeded to discuss how to revise it.

I’m excited by Andromeda and Deb’s work—and that of the whole community of 49 Writers—to establish a lasting, tangible writing community across the state. Count me in. We need to keep writing—and we need each other.

Miranda Weiss is the author of Tide, Feather, Snow, released in paperback this week.

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