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Writing and Newton’s First Law of Motion

It has taken me a while to admit this — to really feel it in my bones — but what many writers say is true: the longer I do not write, the harder it is to begin writing again, and conversely, the more frequently I write, the faster and better I write, and the less time I spend getting myself into the place where the words start to flow.

(Actually, the words almost never flow; they are extracted one by one. Sometimes it’s as easily as pulling small carrots from rain-softened loam, but other times it’s like tugging potatoes big as shoes out of rocky soil. But “the place where I torture words out of my protesting brain” sounds a bit grim for this post.)

So my practice of saving up for several hours of quality time every week isn’t quite as helpful as my other, newer practice, which is that no matter what else I do that day, I open a piece in progress and work on it, even if it’s for five minutes. This does include feedback on other writers’ work, but it doesn’t include research.

The cat-door our handyperson will soon install for us plays into this scheme in its own Rube Goldberg way. I need to be able to shut my office door, even for five minutes, so I can focus on my writing. I’d rather be in my make-believe shed in the backyard, and perhaps someday that will happen, but for now, it’s my office, within hollering range of every room in the house.

The closed door is my little way of saying, “Yes, I know the kitchen is engulfed in flames, an alligator broke through the back door and is chasing the cats, and you swallowed a bone and need the Heimlich maneuver, but for the next few minutes, I’m all about Me.” (Writers are nothing if not attentive to their families.)

Right now I can’t shut my office door, because even if Dot and Emma have ignored me all day — to the point of walking away, tails up, when I come home — once I shut the door, my office becomes the most important room in the house. They yearn for the room; they keen outside; they slide paws under the doorjamb, crying for attention.

Naturally, as soon as I open the door, two things happen: the cats lose interest in my office, and I immediately become the target of questions, requests, and long sections read from the New York Times. I have found I cannot get away with a list posted on my door, no matter how predictable the questions: No, you do not look fat in that dress; yes, I will take out the recycling; I agree, Frank Rich is a little long-winded this week. For some reason, this is not considered cricket.

We found a good cat-door, but it took us another week to get around to ensuring that Emma fit through it. The door said it worked for pets “up to 12 pounds,” and she weighs about 13 pounds. I was banking that the pet-door people meant 12 proportionately-distributed pounds, and not 5 pounds on legs, head, and tail and 7 pounds around Emma’s Buddha-like belly, and in fact — as we demonstrated by Sandy holding the door while I pushed Emma through the flap — that is indeed the case: Emma popped right through, then turned to me as if to ask, “What’s the point here?” before waddling away.

Our handy-man was also confounded when I said “This is for an interior door,” but he rolled with the punches. Sometimes it’s good to be from Out Of Town, because people assume your behavior has a lot to do with habits acquired in your Country of Origin, and they do like to be sensitive to cultural preferences.

Anyway, the cat-door isn’t quite as good as the shed (which I have not given up on; I have simply dropped back to think before my next punt), but it’s one small way to help me prove Newton’s First Law of Motion, which in the original Latin is:

An ject-obway in otion-may ill-way emain-ray in otion-may…

Oh, wait… that’s Pig Latin. So for what Newton really said, more or less:

An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force. An object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force.

Which translated into the vernacular means: at least once a day, put your fanny in a chair, crank up your favorite writing machine, and pull those damn carrots and potatoes.

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