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’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.
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’m no astrologist, but in my experience, there must be an alignment of the heavens that causes someone of a certain age to crave ‘80s rom-com movies. Last night I found myself inexplicably searching for anything starring Hugh Grant, Tom Hanks, or John Cusack.
I chose Serendipity, which isn’t technically an 80’s movie, but since it stars John Cusack, it counts. Incidentally, I once had my own moment of serendipity with John when he came into the Chicago spa where I used to work. He was taller than I expected, with a slumping, hunched-over posture that I assume comes from years of trying to be incognito. Unlike in the movie, there was no love at first sight, at least on his part.
Confession: I used to be a bit of an Eeyore. Just like the famous stuffed grey donkey, I was prone to gloominess and pessimism. I may not have said aloud, like he often did, “thanks for noticin’ me,” but that could sometimes describe my vibe.
So one year on my birthday my husband surprised me with a spontaneous trip to Austin, Texas for the annual Eeyore Birthday Bash.
The title of my first book, Hello Loved Ones, comes from an “endearment “ used casually by the father of the narrator when he comes home drunk after long unexplained absences. He tosses these words at his children, who are starved for his attention, before leaving them again. The novel looks at the importance of love in action and questions whether love is determined by blood or by choice.
A Course in Miracles teaches that love is always a choice and that, in fact, nothing exists except the choice between love and fear.
I heard comedian Yakov Smirnoff on the radio talking about his career and how he was invited to write jokes for Ronald Reagan during the Cold War. Before immigrating to the U.S. from the Soviet Union, Smirnov had been required to submit all his jokes to the Department of Humor in his communist country. Sex, politics, and religion were off-limits. Now he was being given the creative freedom to write a joke for the president of the United States to deliver at the 1988 Moscow Summit.