One of the many part-time jobs I do to support myself before I make millions with my writing career (ha, ha) is tutor middle school students at a local school. I tutor in a room that is allegedly called The Learning Lair, but no one actually calls it that, so I usually tell kids, “I’ll meet you in that room in the basement,” which sounds a lot creepier than it is.
This basement room is where I always meet students, even if we end up going somewhere else because the Learning Lair is occupied. Which is why I was surprised last week when I was waiting for my 4 o’clock student to arrive and got an email from her mother saying, Suzie* is looking for you, but she can’t find you.
I wrote back immediately, I’m here! In the basement of the middle school! I’ll stay put. Then I waited. Kids these days have cell phones, and Suzie had been cc’ed on the message, so she should now know where to go. Why she was confused? This was where we always meet. Perhaps I had gone to the bathroom at 3:59 and missed little Suzie stopping by, but you’d think she would have waited for a minute or two instead of leaving to wander about the school grounds in search of me.
When Suzie didn’t appear, I sent another email: Still here. In the place where we normally meet. But Suzie never showed. Apparently she had already been picked up by her nanny and was on her way home.
I have a feeling I know what happened. After all, I was a middle school girl once. And middle school girls are sneaky. Take, for example, when I was in the sixth grade and didn’t like riding the school bus because the other kids were mean to me. I would walk really slowly down to the bus stop, see that the bus wasn’t there at that exact moment, and then walk really slowly back up the hill to my house. “Mom!” I’d yell. “I think I missed the bus!” She would then have to drive me to school, and this happened so frequently that eventually we got my friend Amanda’s mom to start giving me a ride every morning.
My mom never found out about my trickery because middle school girls seem very sweet and innocent. I’m pretty darn sure what happened with sweet little Suzie was that she didn’t want to have a tutoring session that day, so she used the old, “I can’t find my tutor anywhere” trick. I know all about that, and I won’t allow it. Not on my watch.
Which was why I was really annoyed on Monday when it happened again, with a different student. I had been tutoring from three to four in another classroom and arrived back at “The Learning Lair” at 4:00 pm, or perhaps 4:01 at the latest. But my 4 o’clock student, little Jane*, was nowhere to be found. Soon I got an email from her mother that Jane had “looked for me” but “couldn’t find me.”
I was outraged. This was starting to make me look bad, as if I was some drifting, invisible tutor who could never be found, when in fact I had been sitting, clearly visible, right smack in the middle of the Learning Lair for the past fifteen minutes. I’m here in our normal meeting spot, I wrote to Jane’s mother. I was in another room from three to four, so it’s possible I wasn’t here at 4pm exactly, but please tell Jane to wait for me next time! If I’m not here when she arrives, I’ll be here soon!
These middle school girls, I tell ya. Poking their heads in the Learning Lair, seeing I’m not there, and immediately assuming/pretending, “well, Eva’s not here today. Guess I should just go home.” Obviously they should have waited for me. Or checked back a few minutes later. Instead they made a big show of “looking for me” and told their parents, “oh, it’s not my fault, the tutor must not have showed up today.”
Trust me. I always show up.
There are a lot of quotes about “showing up” for writing, even when you don’t feel like it or don’t feel inspired. Author Isabel Allende says, “show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”
Too often, we writers act like sneaky middle school girls. We open our laptops, but when the writing doesn’t come immediately we think, “oh well, I guess I should do something else today.” We move on, make a big show of “looking for inspiration,” pretend that the lack of writing isn’t actually our fault.
So I have something to add to Allende’s writing advice: show up, show up, show up, and WAIT. Don’t just poke your head in, see that nothing is there, and go on home. Ideas don’t always arrive on a schedule. Writing doesn’t always flow right away. Don’t just show up to your writing desk for a few minutes to say that you were there. Show up and then give it some time.
Trust me. The muse isn’t as punctual as Eva the Tutor, but it will be there eventually.
* * *
Luckily, I was able to reschedule with little Jane. We’re meeting today at the Learning Lair, and she knows that if I’m not there at 4:00 pm exactly, she should wait for me.
Woody Allen once said that eighty-percent of success is showing up. Maybe the other twenty percent is being patient enough to wait.
*Names have been changed to protect the (somewhat) innocent