It’s a cold, sunny morning in early January – unusually sunny for Cincinnati at this time of year, for which I’m grateful. I miss the bright winter sun of Colorado, where I grew up. Last year I went so far as to purchase a desktop “happy therapy lamp” to try to trick myself into feeling sunlight and keep my energy level up. It worked, marginally, but the biggest challenges for any writer come from within, not from the weather or the news or even the circumstances of your life. Finding the time and space to write has been, for me, a lifelong struggle.
My life has always felt like a merry-go-round, turning faster and faster. When I was raising my two boys, I joked with friends that I could write while cooking spaghetti and helping with homework. I couldn’t, of course. I’ve been teaching for nearly thirty years and I still kid with colleagues that I can jot down a paragraph or two between classes and meetings. It never really works. I try to write on airplanes and in hotels, but even that’s a challenge. I’ll get the middle seat and feel lucky if I can fit my long legs under the seat in front of me, never mind pull out my laptop. Hotels are cold or noisy or I’m just plain tired when I get there.
As I’ve gotten older, I realize I have even less tolerance of distraction. I crave a quiet space with endless time, a serene spot to really focus and write, a center of peace where I can hear the wheels turning in my mind and catch the words before they fly away. But where and how to find that place? I feel like I’m eternally waiting for the fairy godmother of writers to suddenly arrive, wave her wand, and say: Here is the perfect writing space. Here is all the time you need. I will stand right here beside you and chase all distraction away.
But sometimes, if you’re paying attention, life sends you a sign. New Orleans is one of my favorite cities, full of character and personality. One afternoon, as I walked down a busy residential street, I encountered a chair bolted to the cement, in the middle of the sidewalk, in the midst of the city. Cars whizzed by and people walked past with dogs and baby carriages as if the chair wasn’t even there.
“Please be tranquil” was hand carved into the back. It was an invitation I couldn’t resist. I sat down, and the world continued its hectic pace all around me. No one took notice.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines tranquility as “the quality or state of being tranquil; freedom from disturbance or agitation; serenity, calmness; quietness, peacefulness.” My resolution for 2020 is to begin each day in my tranquility chair, regardless of whether it’s in New Orleans, Cincinnati, Colorado, or anywhere else on the planet. From this little center of peace, I will find the time and focus for my writing each day, even as the world madly gallops on.
In the year ahead, may you find a moment of tranquility each day, every day.