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Parenting and Playwriting

Coffee Spoons

This post is part of a regular series on Parenting & Playwriting. If you have a topic you’d like me to address, contact me at [email protected].

Every morning, I drag both girls out of bed at the last possible minute, brush hair, eat cereal, locate backpacks, and we are out the door at 7:45, on our way to school, glorious school. The kindergartener trots behind her older sister across the parking lot, and I watch them disappear behind the blue metal cafeteria door. I follow the line of cars out of the lot, squinting my eyes against the sun, and two minutes later I’m measuring coffee grounds into the coffee maker, alone, glorious solitude. The house is quiet, if not clean, still cool from the night, and whatever itch I have, I am free to scratch.

The itch I’m supposed to scratch is, of course, the playwriting one, which I do, most days, with discipline if not inspiration. I remember my first year of graduate school, locking myself in a room until I wrote five pages, alternately napping and tearing out my hair. Fifteen years later, I can write five pages a day without generally breaking a sweat. Seven is reliably doable. Ten harder. I’ve never done twenty; or if I have, the pages were so bad, I’ve blocked them out. Some writers count words instead of pages. A novelist friend posts his word count on facebook daily. I can’t decide if this is inspiring or crippling; his count is always in the thousands. If I counted words, I’d cry. Take out the character names, and it comes to such a paltry sum. These few words, really?

I measure my days in pages written. Lizzie measures them in pages read. In a life that often feels bisected by conflicting responsibilities to work and home, this makes me feel a little bit more whole.

I know writers who don’t write for weeks, then hole up in a hotel for a weekend and write reams. This seems a sort of insanity to me, like running a marathon without training. As grateful as I am to new play festivals, which more than anything else have lifted my plays from page to production, I also want to yell it is unreasonable to revise an entire play in three days! I need to walk and think and write my five pages a day, maybe seven. Why don’t you just give me notes, and I’ll send you a new draft in a month?

Five pages a day has been my mantra since grad school. I’ve carried it with me through two pregnancies, a failed bid at a PhD, and truly delusional levels of DYI home renovation. In our first home in Kansas, the Professor hand-made the kitchen cabinets without using power tools. Don’t be impressed; it took three years. He finished right before we moved. I didn’t have countertops for three years, but still I wrote five pages a day, usually in the bedroom with the door closed.

Every night, Lizzie has to enter how many pages she’s read into a reading log. Apparently, some professors at Columbia University think this helps children become better readers and have sold USD 489 on the idea. She enters the title of the book, the time she begins, and the page number, then the time she ends and the page number. There’s also a section for comments and a parent’s signature. Those, we leave blank.


At first she rebelled. I admit, I supported the rebellion. Such log-keeping seems like busy work, an anathema to the joy of reading we’re supposed to be instilling in our children. Reading shouldn’t be quantified each night, like measuring cough syrup.  Reading should be an act of forgetting time altogether. It’s one of the few reliable refuges for relaxing the ego’s grip for a spell. That’s what they should teach, if they want to make life long readers.

A couple of weeks ago, however, Lizzie took the reading log upstairs and started filling it out each night. I don’t know why. Maybe her gentle teacher encouraged it; maybe she observed the other kids completing it. Either way, it’s become part of her nightly ritual. And even though I still think it’s ridiculous and a form of busy work, I also find it oddly satisfying to look at. I take in her long list of books and hours and learn, in a concrete way, where she’s been each night and what she saw there. Sometimes I find odd interruptions; Laura Ingalls Wilder set aside for Percy Jackson. Sometimes there’s clear obsession: The Penderwick books: one, two, three, and four. You can tell the nights she falls asleep reading, because the log has a starting time entered but no end.

I measure my days in pages written. Lizzie measures them in pages read. In a life that often feels bisected by conflicting responsibilities to work and home, this makes me feel a little bit more whole.

How do you measure your days?

You are not allowed to say love.

Thoughts from the curator

A series on balancing responsibilities as a working playwright and as a parent.

Parenting & Playwriting


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