I remember reading Annie Dillard’s essay “Schedules” back when I was an undergraduate creative writing student. Dillard describes spending her days writing in a toolshed in the backyard, a structure that I imagined to be much like the one occupied by the Unabomber. She also writes about her former writing studies, small rooms with cinderblock walls because “one wants a room with no view, so imagination can dance with memory in the dark.” At the time, as a 27 year-old undergraduate student at a state university in Florida, I thought: she sounds like a loser. Dillard seemed like someone who wore sensible shoes, knew when to say when, and had probably never played Pictionary while wearing a bikini. Dillard even admits skipping the Fourth of July to go to her study and write, forgetting the holiday completely until she heard the muffled boom of fireworks in the distance outside her covered window. At the time, just the occasion of “Friday” was enough for missing work and binge drinking, so the thought of missing a holiday that celebrates independence with alcohol, blowing things up, and racing anything with an engine was incomprehensible.
Now, I am alone in a campus office during Christmas break trying to work on my thesis. Classes are finished for the fall and the campus is set on silent. When I walk out of the second floor stairwell each morning the sensor lights down my hall flicker on like dominoes, illuminating a succession of locked doors. The only other person I have seen this week is the morning janitor, who I thought was trying to speak to me in the atrium, so I smiled and walked hurriedly towards her, but it turned out she was just on the phone. My office is not cinderblock, and it is not small; somehow it is as if I have won the equivalent of the graduate student lottery. I try to lay low, rarely mentioning my office around the department just in case my placement in this room is a mistake, and part of my assigned office number was missing, like a letter that designated “basement” or “behind elevator shaft.” However, here I squat. Alone. Writing.
I am not sure how I got here. Graduating from college the first time was a surprise to me. It took me ten years, and an actual diploma seemed like the rabbit dangling a few feet in front of the world’s laziest Greyhound. Eventually, I guess the rabbit just got real tired or maybe died, and I caught up. Now I have two kids, and I am close to finishing a second degree. College is easy now. Sitting anonymously in an air conditioned classroom? Sign me up! Taking Saturday afternoons to go to campus to write a paper/stare at the wall? Schedule it! Being a mom makes me value anything that involves privacy. Last night, I managed a dispute over the last Capri Sun while sitting on the toilet. If writing a thesis is all it takes to have some alone time, then I am in.
What the hell am I going to do when I am finished?
Annie Dillard’s essay, Schedules, is cited from its publication in The Essayist at Work: Profiles of Creative Nonfiction Writers, Lee Gutkind, editor. Heinemann, 1998.