Note: This is part of a recurring series of posts I’m calling The Year of Living Intentionally. (Unofficially, I’m calling it That Time Leah Decided to Get Her Shit Together.) You’ll be able to access all the posts here. I hope you’ll join me on the adventure.
Writing–or novel writing, like I do, because who needs a sane job–is a weird profession, and it’s not for people with borderline self-esteem issues who feel much better about themselves when they know where they stand in the world.
Not saying I am such a person, of course. Just speaking in general.
Other than that one time I married David even though I barely knew him (not a very big deal at all, really), very rarely have I ever been okay with not knowing how something I was endeavoring to take on would work out. I need to make sure people like me well enough, for one thing. And I’ve never not had a job where I haven’t been working toward the next promotion (hey, publishing, I’m looking at you!), or next marking period (or, in some marking periods, the next year). I am not a “be content in the present” sort of person. That’s just…ugh. I can’t do it. I need to know.
Regardless of this common sense knowledge of myself, I finally went and became a writer anyway, never mind the nagging feeling of oh my gad what have I DONE? There’s no solid path, here. There’s no guarantee of success. And no matter how well a writer crafts her books, the future just isn’t in her control. Traditional book publishing is so largely dependent on the whims of the industry (remember all those vampire books?) that basically, unless you’re Jodi Picoult or Stephen King, there’s no guarantee that the book you’re writing will actually be read. It has nothing to do with the actual book so much as it has to do with what the bigger world is asking for. You can’t be lasagne if people are in the mood for sushi. And I, with one book (I like it so!) in my agent’s hands and another being written as I type this (I mean that. The document’s open in a window right behind this one), am just settling into this place of not knowing. I’m in good company–pretty much every other writer, published or not, is in here with me (though for some reason I can’t seem to find J.K. Rowling anywhere). It’s the nature of any kind of life in the arts–it just takes some getting used to at first, especially for those of us who’d gotten accustomed to the nine-to-five raise-hunting.
I gave Cian his lunch after preschool today (“I don’t like this sauce,” he said of the hummus. Three months ago, he loved hummus, because writing isn’t the only thing that you can’t predict), and he kept wiping his hands on his clothes (one swipe from the chest all the way down to the knee in one smooth, grease-filled motion) instead of using the napkin right there in front of him.
“Use the napkin, Cian,” I said, for probably the fifteenth time that minute. Sometimes the words are just a knee-jerk reaction. .
“It’s my SLOBBAH!” he replied, as if that was a way better option to wipe on his pants than, say, a stray crumb.
“I don’t care if it’s your slobber,”–the things we hear ourselves say, I tell you–“you still need to wipe your hand on your napkin and not your clothes.” The fact that this is how my lunchtime conversations usually go isn’t humbling at all.
“It’s my slobbah,” he muttered. He looked at me like I just didn’t get it. And so it continued:
“Stop wiping your hands on your clothes!”
“USE your NAPKIN.”
“IT’S MY SLOBBAH!”
Finally, I pushed the napkin closer to him, and very calm-mother-like, said the following: “You can’t wipe your hands on your clean clothes. That makes them dirty. I need you to use a napkin instead.”
Cian looked at me, sighed, then slapped the table in frustration. “I don’t know what I’m doing, that’s why!” he said. The napkin lay directly under his palm. I burst out laughing. I couldn’t help it. And then he realized where his hand lay, grabbed the fabric in his fingers, and looked at me sheepishly.
All I wanted to say was, Yeah, I know what you mean, buddy. It’s right there in front of me, too.
I’m famous in my little world for flailing about, for overthinking, for searching around a problem instead of seeing its answers right there in front of me. I’m really nearsighted in real life, and might not have the best sight in my mental one, either. Time and again, I’ve had to have been told, “Just relax. Stop worrying, and it’ll work out.” I’ve read before that you can judge a person’s faith in God (though should you do that?) but how much she worries–because those that believe also trust in themselves.
Yeah. Chew on that for a little, why don’t you.
Too often I find myself wiping my hands on my shirt even though the (organic, reusable, thoughtfully purchased) napkin’s right in front of me. Too often I ask David, “What am I going to do with my life?” instead of realizing I’m actually living it. And every once in a while–not often, mind you, because remember, I like to be liked–I email my agent, asking her to read the tarot cards of my writing future, and she kindly says, “Just be true to yourself. Keep writing…though maybe a little faster this time.”
You hear, that kids? It’s important. Stop worrying about whether or not someone’s holding your hand. You have your job (not the writing kind. We already talked about that) for a reason. Your spouse is with you because he kind of enjoys having you around (or maybe just your butt. I don’t know your marriage). Your friends keep hanging around with you because they already enjoy your sparkling wit. So stop worrying about whether you’re wanted in this world. You are. Don’t worry so much about where you’re going but if you enjoy being where you are. Just trust that the world wants you to make the most of yourself, so it’ll be rooting for you to succeed (gotta have faith-a, faith-a, faith-aaahhhh).
And for Pete’s sake, use your napkin once in a while.
If you’re going to trust where you are in the moment, it’s at least nice to be wearing a clean shirt.