What do you do when the Universe has spent the past forty years trying to tell you what to do, what your purpose was, and you’ve mostly ignored her?
There was that time when you were nineteen and the director, who happened to be sitting next to you on a plane, asked what you were writing. At the end of the flight, he gave you his card and said that if you ever wrote anything good, you should send it to him. When you did that and he wrote back saying he liked it, you froze. You never sent him anything else or gave him permission to use what you had written. You squandered that opportunity.
Then, there was the editor who was sleeping with your roommate. You wanted to impress him, remember? You wanted to impress him so much that you almost did a line of coke except that you blew it out by accident instead of breathing in. You never ran to your room to find that story you’d written the week before. You made the wrong moves and ended up alone in your kitchen with the grit of blown coke on the vinyl floor beneath your feet. You knew you were ridiculous, even then.
There was the children’s literature class you took on a whim and the professor said you had talent, set herself up as your mentor, yet you stopped sending out your work and wound around and around, grinding words into dust with your editing. You were honest and told her you were afraid. You asked about pseudonyms instead of asking about pronoun confusion and the joy of contronyms.
What did you do when the Universe kept showing you what you needed to do and you kept ignoring her until finally you think that maybe she’d given up on you? When the minister preached about purpose and the only thing you could think of was that abandoned book? What did you do when the synchronicity stopped happening and the only thing left was the fact that the only time you felt truly happy was when you did your work, the stuff of your true purpose?
You didn’t have to write, you told yourself. You had a great life, a wonderful family, a fulfilling part-time job working with children. You could let it go. You wanted to scream it into the darkness.
You turned on the television and tried to ignore that awful feeling in your gut. You tried not to see the mouth of the abyss yawning in front of you as one medical issue after another slapped you down, held you down, showed you the end.
And yet, everyone can be a writer these days. The guy on your husband’s headset playing Destiny every night wrote a book. Destiny, get it? Maybe you need to play some video games. The woman who owns the cafe where you sit and write shows you a copy of her book. The woman you volunteered with at the school library wrote two books and is beginning to shop them around. Check out your old writing buddy’s new book on kindle! Look at the crappy book covers hawked on Twitter every day by people just like you, people who took the time to finish their books. You haven’t done that much lately, have you? Your teacher friend is writing a book and always has an excuse why she hasn’t written that second chapter. You pretend to be supportive, but secretly it satisfies your selfish little soul. You aren’t the only one.
You have excuses too. You’ve come to a grinding halt.
You’ve been sick a lot lately. Yet, you know the man who wrote ‘The Butterfly in the Bell Jar’ finished his book despite having locked-in syndrome. You know that the man who wrote ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ was going to die before the end of his book, yet he wrote it anyway.
You’re embarrassed because your other books haven’t even been mildly successful. You feel like a fraud, like that ridiculous woman who thinks, at 59, she might be able to break into acting. You google ‘authors who published late in life’ and most of the authors who are listed were in their early forties when they broke out of obscurity. That doesn’t make you feel any better. You tell yourself you aren’t looking to break out, just make enough to paint the house, get your boy through college, and leave a few words with someone who might need them. You wanted your donations, the ones you wrote about in the front of every book, the ten percent to charities that you love… you wanted them to add up to more than $11.13. You’ve paid most of them, but not that last one. You can’t seem to face giving $5.18 to your pastor because you know he hasn’t read your book. It makes you feel too ridiculous. Pathetic.
And yet this afternoon after work, you will make yourself sit down to finish editing that next book, the one about your wild kitten with the broken tail, the one who almost starved to death. You will keep trying because giving up seems so bleak. Pathetic or not, this is what you were meant to do. So you’re going to do it.
Thank you for listening, jules