How This Baby is Saving Me

A friend asked, in the days following my emergency trip to the hospital, if I thought the flare-up in my intestine could be a result of how busy I’ve been. Could the stress be getting to me? The numerous projects? The deadlines?

Of course, I deflected that idea. We are always in control, aren’t we? We are always sure that the alcohol is helping us to cope with life. We are always sure that the sugar is a harmless sidekick. We are always sure that the work and the busyness and the fast pace is something helping us to thrive.

Meanwhile, our minds and bodies, never meant to operate under such heavy burdens, begin to break down.

* * * * *

Maile wakes me between 4:30 and 5:45. She has been up with Leo a few times, and it’s my turn. I roll out of bed and carry him downstairs so she can get some uninterrupted sleep. The house is quiet, but if the windows are open I can hear the early-morning traffic going by on James Street. I sit in the dark living room, light from the hallway falling diagonally through the room, lighting up a few dirty diapers still on the coffee table, a few magic markers half-hidden under the sofa. The chess board is open, pieces strewn in mid-battle.

The light falls on Leo’s face, and I cannot work while I hold him, and I cannot make myself breakfast, and I cannot do anything besides look at his face and remind myself to breathe.





This baby has forced me to slow down, to sit quietly, to breathe. I chomp at the bit, wanting to run full force again into a day’s worth of work, but he tugs on the reins and holds me in check.

So we sit together, and he smiles in his sleep. A friend of mine on Facebook said that her mother used to say angels were whispering in a baby’s ear when they smile like that in their sleep. I find that easy to believe, on a quiet morning, when the light slants in that particular way, and the early-morning traffic is going by on James Street.

5 Replies to “How This Baby is Saving Me”

  1. I love those blissed-out smiles. Breastfeeding did the same for me, especially with twins. No reading, no typing, it was the only time each day (5xs a day) that I sat down, for me it was the closest I’ve ever come to a monastic practice, benedictine breaking open of the day via sacred interruptions.

  2. What a sweet thing to say about the smiles. Babies are so precious.
    Glad you are taking your time getting well.

  3. “A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” ― Stephen King

    I couldn’t write worth a darn when I started out. I ended up doing a kiloword a day for the paper, because there wee all those column-inches that needed filling, but as Truman Capote said about Jack Kerouac, “That’s not writing,that’s typing.” Although I prefer Kerouac’s typing to Capote’s writing, he had a point. Still, I’ve read that it takes half a million words to “find your voice.”

    Maybe – but there’s a lot of stuff happening while one grinds out that half-million words. Friends discover that a 27-inch-wide maple tree trunk is nearly undamaged by the skull-crushing impact that shove the engine of a Catalina into the back seat. Dogs die of cancer. A girl goes off to college in Tennessee and changes her last name. A business that you’ve invested all your money in, and 17 hours a day for two years, and – most importantly of all – your priceless hopes and dreams, well, eventually, that’s not enough. and it dies, too, making you question yourself,your God, apple pie, Chevrolet, truth, justice and the American Way.

    And I seem to recall you had difficulties in the painting trade, too, Shawn.

    I gave up on writing, working at all kinds of dead-end jobs. I knocked on doors, selling $20 insurance policies, vacuum cleaners. vanilla and spices, and freezers full of food. I made brake linings clay tile, and mood stone rings. I washed cars, changed oil, pumped gas and flipped burgers. The scars weren’t deep, but they were many; I was being nibbled to death by Muscovy ducks.

    But while I’d given up on writing, it hadn’t given up on me. I decided to prove to myself that I needed to stop by collecting an even one hundred rejection slips – but it didn’t work. I hadn’t gotten a dozen when the Magazine of Fantasy And Science Fiction, a market that pays in cash,not copies, and features big name writers, sent me a rejection slip with a note on it. “Don’t give up on us; keep sending us more.” No signature, not even initials, but soon.I was getting *letters* of rejection, not just preprinted slips.

    I made a phone call, and learned “Writer’s Digest” and “The Writer” were full of baloney. Dick Dell – yeah, from *that* Dell family – took my call. Don’t want to waste your time or mine, I said. I have in mind a “corporate biography” that would probably not sell well in stores except locally, would do well to employees and retirees, to vendors and customers of the company if promoted by direct mail, might sell 700 or 1000 copies. Is this something for a publishing house,or would this be a vanity press book? He was enthusiastic about it, told me that if I consistently could sell 1000 books, that would make me desirable to almost any publisher, and he wishes more writers would submit “corporate biographies” to him.

    Wow! But if I hadn’t had the deep scar of a business failure, the many smaller scars of doors being *literally* closed in my face, and the myriad scars pf kinder people who head a sales pitch before firmly telling me “no”, I’d never had the guts to call a publishing house – can’t remember which one – and getting connected to an unspecified editor who turned out to be Dick Dell.

    Researching and writing a book takes months, maybe a year, and I couldn’t finance that, but Dick gave me the courage to pursue smaller projects that kept the lights on.

    And over the years, I’ve accumulated many more scars and become a much better writer. I spent 17 years watching a wife die of SLE, and of *my* five kids, four didn’t live to take a single breath.

    I suspect that your hospital stay WAS caused in part by the new baby. You have a lot of stressors in your life right now, and even when most of them are great – a new house you love, a new baby, a new venture into fiction – stress is still stress. And good writing is incredibly hard work. Researchers say that’s one reason so many writers lead dissolute lives. Or maybe, as King says, it’s that the scars make it possible to be a good writer.

    “May you lead an interesting life” is a Chinese curse – and many writers lead interesting lives. Were it up to me, as Mark Twain said, I’d druther be tarred and feathered and rid out of town on a rail – but I don’t think we have that option.

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