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Thursday, 11:15 a.m.  The phone rings.  I look up from my writing and squint at Caller ID:  PUBLIC SCHOOLS.  And just like that, my work day is over.thermometer

In the office of the school nurse at Hillside Elementary School, Eli sits slumped in a chair, his face pale, pupils dilated.  His forehead is hot.  “He’s 102.  This fever is going around,” the nurse says.  “Could be a virus.  Or …”  She doesn’t finish the sentence, but we both know what she’s thinking.  A child at another elementary school in our town has Swine Flu.  “You’ll need to get him to a doctor right away.  And even if it’s only a virus, he can’t come back to school for a week.”

I make an appointment for 2:15 p.m.  By 3:45 Eli and I have spent an hour in the pediatrician’s waiting room surrounded by other pale-faced, feverish kids, and half an hour alone in a sterile examining room.   Finally the doctor arrives to take Eli’s temperature (still 102), administer a flu test (negative), and send us home with a prescription for plenty of liquids and sleep.  Yep, it’s “only” a virus.

I relate this story because it is a small illustration of how my best-laid plans can evaporate in a moment.  Four single-spaced, handwritten pages — my daily goal — may not sound like much, but some days it’s impossible.  On Wednesday, before Eli got sick, I’d started writing about a new character; my hand flew across the pages.  Thursday was a different story: the two pages I managed to eke out before the school called were painstaking and hard-won.  Friday, with Eli home and miserable, I didn’t write at all.

Sometimes it’s the life of the mind.  Sometimes it’s just life.  And knowing when to give up, to let go of my expectations for myself and simply exist in the moment, watching “Mythbusters” with Eli, is a lesson I’m still learning.

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DSCN7684When you’re working on a novel, not writing is part of the writing process.  At least that’s what I told myself today.  It was a gorgeously mild and sunny day — Memorial Day; the park across the street from our house was filled with people biking, strolling, and listening to a military band that played for hours.  (The music wafted across the pond: muted patriotism.)  The kids were home from school, milling aimlessly around the house, and eventually I abandoned all thought of work and took them to a lake for the afternoon, where I sat in an Adirondack chair and read Anna Karenina.

Tolstoy’s exacting descriptions — his careful parsing of behaviors and attitudes, woven gracefully into the narrative — made me think of my own character, a 90-year-old woman with complicated responses to and relationships with everyone around her.  From Tolstoy I am learning (re-learning; I read this novel once before, in my early twenties) how to give an omniscient narrator immediacy and warmth.  And I wonder about the perspective I’m employing in my own novel-in-progress, alternating first-person and third-person limited chapters.  Perhaps the third-person perspective should be broader?  That would allow me to bring in other points of view — one in particular that I haven’t been sure how to convey.  I’ll be thinking hard about this question of perspective in the coming weeks.

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