A few weeks ago, I had a drink with a friend. She is my age, 46, two young kids and is in the middle of studying for her LSATs. She’s decided she’s going to law school, come hell or high water and fulfill a lifelong dream of hers. What triggered this sudden fire under her ass was listening to a woman in her 70s speak about how, at our age, she knew didn’t want to get old without knowing she didn’t at least try to pursue her dream—didn’t at least take the plunge. She didn’t want to reach the age of 70 and regret the way she lived her life.
This conversation nagged at me. What is it I would regret not doing when I turn 70? What is my dream? What am I passionate about? What would I be doing if I didn’t have to worry about money, household stuff, bills, etc.? What would I be doing if I could do anything in the world?
Yeah. I bet you got there faster than I did.
It took me a full week of mulling over this question, of really searching to see what I would regret doing by the time I’m 70 to come up with an answer. At the time, I was (sort of still am) really looking into treating my freelance writing as a business, trying to see if I could grow it enough to become full-time. I was looking at it as something I can do that could potentially make me more money than working for the Government and actually make ends meet for once in my life.
But then…. July 27 came along. July 27 is J’s new wedding anniversary. He has been married to someone else for two years. I know I should not have this date so clear in my mind. I know it is none of my business. But I do; I can’t help it.
When the kids were growing up we would talk about how it would be when they finished high school, how our lives could be a little less centered around the necessity of raising kids. I could quit my full-time job for something more flexible, maybe even to accompany him on his tours. He would pick up some of the slack of the finances. We could simplify our lives, pare it down to how it had been before children when both of us were pursuing our art. This was the vision that got me through those years of working full-time and child-rearing—that maybe one day it would be my turn. His wedding anniversary is a constant reminder he is living that life with someone else and my dreams have once again been buried in the detritus of quotidian necessities.
It made me mad. Why does he get to be an artist and I don’t? Why is he able to forget about everyone else and just do what he pleases? Why did I spend years trying to shape our lives around his needs as an artist while I swept mine under the table, dismissed them as the least important thing in our family, the one thing that could always be sacrificed?
Though I have plenty of reason to be mad at J, this one, alas, is on me. I am so mad at myself for not believing in me, for not thinking my own creative needs were important and deserved as much space in our home as his did.
And then I finally got there. What would I regret not doing by the time I am 70? Write, goddamnit.
I know, I know. I’ve talked about it many times on this blog. Hell, this blog is all about me writing. But I have become very, very good at unseeing it. I’ve wanted to be a writer since the first time I picked up a book and got lost in a story. Writing is the way I understand the world, it is what I can contribute, for whatever that is worth.
There is a part of me that still rebels at this. Why can’t my dream be something that will have more direct impact on people’s lives? Why can’t it be something that will at least make me some money?
Nope. It has to be writing. Useless, financially suicidal, often navel-gazing, sometimes transcendent, writing. Admitting this is to admit that my life is always going to be a struggle to make ends meet, to have the constant cognitive dissonance between what you imagine in your head and what actually lands on paper. It means finding the time to write queries and pitches and bracing oneself for the barrage of rejection letters or worse, the echoing void of no response at all.
Most of all, it is resigning oneself to a perpetual state of emotional rawness and vulnerability, of letting one’s guts hang out in the hopes of illuminating a small, universal truth.
Why couldn’t I want to be a lawyer?
As a first step in truly accepting this dream of mine, I took last week off from work to write—my own little stay at home writer’s residency. It is the first time in, well, ever, that I dedicated so much time to my own writing. I wanted to finish a draft of a novel that’s been an ongoing project for at least 7 or 8 years.
I averaged between 3 to 6 hours of writing every day. I am sure my novel is farther along, though it is hard to tell at this stage, as I am mired in the details, trying to make sure it all sticks together. Some days I thought it was pretty good. Other days I wanted to burn it and go hide under a rock. Today I have no idea if it is good or bad, or if I am completely insane or criminally self-indulgent even to entertain the idea.
Though I didn’t accomplish my goal of finishing that first draft to send out to readers, I did something more important: I managed to crack the hard, shell of fear in which I encased this particular dream and let in a bit of light. Hopefully, I can stay focused and crack it some more.
Next post: Lessons I learned from writer’s week.