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The voices

I hear voices. Sometimes they talk all at once, and I can’t distinguish one from the other or what they’re telling me. They talk to me at work and in the car -- always at a time and place that is wholly inconvenient. I pull my hair and tell them to shut up. And then, when I’m open to them -- when I’m ready with a pen and paper to jot down every word -- they shun me except to rant on my mediocrity.

During my dark years of unemployment, for instance, the voices -- and I’m only guessing here to excuse their vicious diatribes against me -- were apparently sick on vacation or robbed at gunpoint or detained at Customs. I tried to write in their absence, but my words were dull and clumsy. I consulted my good friends Merriam Webster and Will Shortz. I read a lot of books and highlighted words and phrases that inspired me. But I couldn’t write a word without my voices. I decided to give it a rest -- if I focused on something else the words would come eventually.

I blamed it on television. It was certainly plausible that lazy entertainment was turning my brain to mush. I told Lily -- she was 3 at the time and I was 7 months pregnant -- that she couldn't watch cartoons anymore -- "I'm taking you on an adventure." And that was that.

I packed a first-aid kit, a couple of pairs of socks and boots for Lily -- who insisted on wearing Keds -- a flashlight and a camera. It was raining. So me and Lily in our rain gear climbed into the car and started off on our adventure. We made a quick stop at McDonalds -- because you can't deprive a kid of TV and Happy Meals -- on our trip St. Edwards Park in Kenmore, WA.  I grew up in the woods atop Finn Hill so muddy terrain and torrential rain were nothing to me. They proved quite challenging for Lily, who'd never played in to the woods or hiked on trails infested with blackberry bushes and stinging nettles. 

"You're fine," I said in response to her pleas. "We're on an adventure."

We followed a slippery path to the lake, stopping occasionally to look at toad stools and flowers and squirrels and trees that were shaped like houses ... and before I knew it we were off the trail completely in the middle of a swamp. Lily was up to her knees in muddy water. I found a log to sit her on while I rummaged through the backpack for pants and dry socks. 

We argued for a bit, because Lily didn't want to change her pants outside. Then -- when I'd finally convinced her that no one would see -- I dropped her dry socks in the swamp


"No worries," I told her. "We have another pair."

We made it to the lake without incident, which in and of itself was a red flag. There we were. I turned back towards the trail for one second to admire our accomplishment. When I looked back Lily was waist-deep in Lake Washington.

"Look mommy," she shrieked. "I'm swimming. I'm swimming."

I wasn't terribly worried until I remembered that she was wearing her last pair of dry shoes and socks. I looked up the trail again and shook my head. There was no way Lily could walk all that way in wet boots and socks. I dug in the backpack again and retrieved the first-aid kit. Inside was a pack of waterproof matches and a tea light. I knew it was a long shot but I figured maybe -- just maybe -- I could use them to dry Lily's socks.

"What the hell?" I shrugged, and I lit the tea light.

Let me first say that tea lights have no business in first-aid kits. It should come as no shock that the flame from the little candle wasn't sufficient to light a match let alone dry a pair of socks. Luckily there was a waste station with a baggie dispenser for dog walkers, and it just so happens that pooper-scooper baggies make excellent boot liners if you're ever in a pinch. 

I couldn't really blame Lily for complaining the whole of the hike back. And it probably served me right that she told everyone what a terrible time she had.

Next on my list of things to keep my mind off writing was having a baby.

Then came painting. I did a lot of pretty pictures – a couple of cats, a giraffe, some ducks and a lot of portraits of Lily. I briefly considered going into business -- doing  the whole gallery bit and the craft fair circuit -- but I couldn't part with my paintings. Mom said, “I told you to paint things you don’t care about.”

Somewhere in the middle of it all the voices came back and my words came with them. And just when I started writing again -- after two years of steady unemployment -- I got a job. My point -- perhaps buried in these tales of woe and personal catastrophes -- is that nothing creative comes easy. You can't force inspiration when it's not forthcoming, you can only make time for it when it finally comes around.

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