On a recent drive to Michigan, I passed the time by listening to author Elizabeth Gilbert being interviewed on the podcast “On Being.” She was talking about the creative process and said the same words that I’ve read on the back cover of her new book, Big Magic:
“The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.”
I admit, I teared up.
Do you ever wonder why asking “How are you?” continues to be such a common greeting? It’s like opening a door to a shadowy room. You never know what will come out. You’ll learn about aches and pains, work stress, annoying family members, or sometimes just get slimed with general ennui.
And being the one asked is just as fraught. You want to be positive, but the urge to trot out your woes is so strong. Attentive ears can be hard to come by, and if you’re being honest….
“I am grieved, indeed,” cried Darcy; “grieved—shocked. But is it certain, absolutely certain?”
These were the words that came to me immediately after Donald Trump was elected. I only wish Mr. Darcy were actually reaching for my hand to comfort me in my tears, as he did with Elizabeth Bennet when she discovered the true nature and intentions of the nefarious Mr. Wickam.
When my son was barely two weeks old, I went with my husband to see the movie The Matrix. It was our first outing as parents and we brought the baby along, figuring he would sleep the whole time in the Baby Bjorn.
Everything was fine until a scene began that showed a large room full of babies floating in pods that were attached to a tangle of black tubing. I found the image disturbing and became very upset. I left the theater, paced the lobby for a while, and ended up watching the rest of the movie standing in the back.
I’m not proud of the fact that there are unwashed dishes in my sink, a pile of unfolded laundry on my bed, or a family of dust bunnies under my dresser. But I’m writing. And when my writing time increases, my usually high cleaning standards take a dramatic fall.
My dirty little secret is that, in order to write the way I want to, I have to allow myself to be a little slovenly. I have to accept that the blocks of time spent staring out the window, taking meandering walks, even dumping clean clothes on the bed, becoming distracted, and wandering away are part of my creative process.
This morning I was walking my dog when we passed a young mother struggling with her toddler. They were standing on the corner and the little girl was refusing to take her mother’s hand to cross the street. Against the girl’s screeching cries of no, no no, the mother was quickly losing her cool. She was grabbing at the girl and trying to push a plastic scooter at the same time.
Finally she yelled, “Look how hard this is for me!”
Well, I looked. And I saw not only her struggle but my own. How perfectly her words captured my state of mind. Whether I’m flailing against my writing, overwhelmed by parenting, or simply carrying or doing too much, I often want to shout those same words to someone, anyone.
My teenage son and I were watching the movie La La Land and the ending made him sad. It brought up memories of his first heartbreak, which happened in the not-so-distant past. I wished I could comfort him or tell him that someday those feelings will be transformed into painless memories.
But the truth is I don’t believe heartbreaks ever completely leave us.
Fear had me in its claws this week.
I was making dinner and had just called my kids to come eat. My younger son Boone was sitting by the baseboard radiator playing on his phone. He jumped up and took a few steps toward the kitchen counter. Suddenly he fell back, stiff as a falling tree, in a faint, bumping against a table before landing flat on his back. I was terrified, and so were his brother and sister. I’d never seen anyone faint before, and in the few seconds it took him to revive, I imagined a hundred worst-case scenarios.
This week the word perseverance has been scratching at me, wanting to be written about. It’s pestered me with all the doggedness you would expect from it. So here I am, struggling to come up with an opening story to illustrate what it means to persevere and why it interests me
I don’t have a story. But that in itself is perfect. Because the essence of perseverance isn’t in the moment of triumph, realization, or reward. It’s not about outcome. It is, by definition, the steady persistence in a course of action—and here’s the best part—in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.
I used to call myself the reluctant blogger. When the term blog was coined, I dismissed it as frivolous. I studied journalism in college before Al Gore invented the internet, at a time when stories were called articles and were written on electric typewriters (look it up). When blogs came along, it seemed that everyone and their brother had one, and it sort of ruffled my feathers that anyone could call themselves a writer.
Yes, I was a real snob.