Writing is a magic act, like slipping into the space of a pocket door between layers of drywall, contorting into a fold of space-time. All around me, the house vibrates with activity, oblivious to my sorcery. The song within, the chorus surrounding, bloodlines uncrossed. Masterful illusion.
While all magic acts exercise deception, I wonder where exactly the deceit occurs. Does the writing brew subconsciously under daily activities so that I fool myself into thinking that life interferes with the creative act? Or does the craft agitate daily activities, revealing insight?
Three kids afford little free time. Manipulating the TV, I disappear into the shower. With a precise slip of my hand, I extract a layer of dust without jarring a pile of toys. Sealed boxes taunt me, stacked in our bedroom two summers ago. Elongating a one-story life into a two-story dream, we now sleep above the same coordinates we occupy during the day. I recall Calvino’s Invisible Cities whenever I use the stair. Doubling the mortgage for nearly the same square footage, we bartered for safety and a pool to relieve the triple digits. The leather cloak of desert heat, a magician’s cape that gives and takes at will. Within two weeks, my husband was laid off. We swam, kicking and screaming below the surface. Somehow, I remembered to float, to breathe. In the evenings, I perched on the edge of our bed wondering if this would be our only summer in this pool. I was hypnotized by endless cardboard text, “Most versatile box for items such as toys… small appliances.” Writing first employs staring, dropping out of consciousness, vanishing. The mind-body connection stashes tricks up both sleeves.
Raising my wand, I devise plans to write. Thoughts strike, I mouth words like spells, scribble ideas. Living by the calendar, I shift to-do lists from date to date along the electronic number line, text my back-to-work husband: plan ahead, between dinner and bedtime, if you’ll arrive home soon. It rarely catches. I tuck the last sick child back into bed for the fifth time, electric moon pulsing in window frames as I pass through doorways undetected, impaling webs of flesh on Lego crumbs. Slipping into the sheets is a blessing. My failing book light yawns between lines of frenetic graphite before the sun burns into tomorrow. Relinquishing my career as an architect in order to raise my children, I stutter through days unwilling to kick a well-worn writing habit.
Run down, I mentally script epitaphs. Here I lie in bed, at dinnertime, fever climbing, the family cold festering in my throat. Sick, I care for sick people. They revive. I swallow antibiotics. Forgetting myself is a full-time job. Climbing the stairs from one city to the next, I leave the kids flitting between homework and amorphous chicken shapes, my husband eyeing the baby’s dairy-slick hair. I surrender, body aching, tangling into the pillow top. Heady with congestion, I feel myself levitate, nightstand drawer gapping, my enchanted pen. I plead for anonymity, “No! Wait, not now!” The odd silence of occupied children, a gift of guilty time. I scratch a few lines that gush into finger-cramp passages, impossible to keep rhythm with my synapses. They burst from the ether, channeling my body, transcribe, transcribe. So I translate visual images into language scraps. Syncopated rapture. Like a rabbit enticed from a hat, pure conjuring.
My mind spurns rest. When the trinkets are collected and fingered, I edit obsessively between daily tasks, dragging the piece from school pick-up to the checkout line. Loose writing postures into typed text coupling, deconstructing. Muscles bulk, links materialize, memories race forward. Stir and skim. Pages color with red ink and dirty shoeprints. I try to tether this stage of expression to family time, snuggling over picture and chapter books that are later shelved beside the humid sleep of my little apprentices. Recorded reality shows bleed into a bedside memoir— bliss.
By daylight, editing dredges resources, launches internet searches, nudges my comforting ambiguity towards specifics. I wrestle tenses and interrogate the subjects as I invite them up onto the stage. Chopping stanzas into boxes, I reassemble head below torso, feet dangling off to the side. The handsaw of the critic dissects the work into compartments that I spin around, rehearsing. Gasps of horror shriek from the hypothetical audience. I must distill words into a deck of cards stacked beforehand. Deadline dangling, I thrash in my cage, underwater, locating my voice like a lost key. Perhaps this is the moment when the magic act metamorphoses into true magic. I lean back from the page. What am I really saying here? What is truly surfacing?
Pick a card, any card.
Kristen Kerrick Morton is a native New Jerseyan who now writes from Phoenix, Arizona where she lives with her husband, raising their three, young children. Formerly an architect, she received her Bachelor of Architecture / Philosophy Minor from Syracuse University. She is a past President of the Arizona State Poetry Society. Her writing has appeared in Mad Poets Review and is forthcoming in Minerva Rising, Issue 9, Light.
Image credit: James Hawkins, Deviant Art