The Eye

On writing and boundaries and the lack thereof


These days, rather than asking myself what my writing schedule will be I am trying to ask myself how I will protect my writing time and set boundaries around my artistic work while doing so in a healthy manner.

When I thought of this, today, while in the shower, I felt very smug and grown up and like the bi-weekly therapy sessions had started to take. But I also know that this weekend I will have to shut myself up in the basement to hit a deadline for a piece that is, by my reckoning, 6 months overdue. 

When I write in the basement, my daughter screams. It does not matter that she’s in a household with four other adults and two older children who adore her and constantly entertain her. She will scream and scream while I write in the cold basement and if they let her, she will crawl up close to the crack in the door and try to peer at me through it. If I look up from the bottom of the stairs, I can see her bright, unblinking eye.

When I see her eye, I think of the Toni Morrison documentary, where Fran Lebowitz says that Morrison’s study door was always open so that her children could wander in to talk to her whenever they felt like it. She didn’t want them to feel like they were excluded from her work. Will I ever get to that point in life? I hope so, but I do not see it coming any time soon. Not when my daughter has now learned to pull my glasses off my face at bedtime, to assure I can’t see and thus can’t read edits off of my phone screen over her shoulder while she nurses.

I used to write every day after work. I would take the A/C to the 4/ 5, first from Crown Heights and later from DUMBO, all the way uptown to sit in the Hunter College Library’s computer lab. This was so long ago, it was before the current renovation, with the crystalline Louis XIV plastic chairs and purple carpeting. The lab I sat in was beige. There was an old man, probably also an alumni using ancient ID, who was often in the lab with me. He would print off hundreds of pages of documents and always jam the printer. He was there when I got there at 6, again when I came back from my dinner break at 8 and was the last to leave, when I did, at midnight. He was there on Saturdays and Sundays when I went as well. I never saw what he was printing and he never saw mine. For all I know, he thinks I was the mad one to be there in the library under humming fluorescent lights every night.

In that Toni Morrison documentary, Morrison herself says that at one point, when she was an editor for basically every Black public figure of the 70s and publishing her first few novels and raising her sons as a single mother and also carpooling with Angela Davis (!), she made a list of everything she was being asked to do. And then she made another list of everything she had to do. On that list was “mother my children” and “write”. Everything else was incidental. 

I wish for that kind of clarity. I need it. Because the eye is watching.

I was going to end this post there but I found this quote of Morrison’s while looking for a photograph of her and her sons that seemed like a better ending. “Each generation has a kind of love.” She told the Nashville Public Library in 2012, “Some of it’s really tough. What my grandmother thought was love of her children was really staying alive for them. What my mother thought was love of her children was to get a better place, maybe get enough money to send you to college if you wanted to. What I thought was love of my children was giving them the maximum amount of freedom, setting an example of how you could make choices in your life.”