I once had a nearly completed novel about a twenty-seven-year-old, leaving her job on a whim and finding herself out in Eastern Europe. It was perfectly fine, a novel that I had begun when I was fresh out of college and applying to Master’s programs. The first chapters were the ones that I brought with me to my first workshops at Lesley.
More than a decade ago, I found it again and dusted it off, sent it to a few publishers. One actually offered to take it – but just after the exhilaration that they wanted my work, there was a moment of pause. This would be my first book. This, this story of a woman I hardly knew anymore, a character living in the early 2000’s, struggling with things that I no longer could relate to. And the writing – oh, it was fine, but I had grown much more literary and polished. It no longer represented what I could do. What I wanted to do.
How could I let this be my first book?
I kindly thanked the editor and explained my thoughts as I withdrew my book.
His reply was that he understood, but also to try to not get in my own way.
For the past fourteen years, I’ve been nothing but in my own way. Motherhood has a magical way of giving purpose and focus to everything, but also, in doing so, taking purpose and focus away from the person herself.
And now, in a blink, I’m turning forty in a couple of months. Like a cliche, I lay in bed before the sun comes up with the thought, you’re close to halfway through your life.
And, are you okay with that?
My thirties started with me as a mother of two, then four. It held the chaos of births, job losses, moves, business beginnings, homeschooling transitions, trans-Atlantic trips to the places where I scattered pieces of my soul – back when I was more like that young character in the book I’ve long since put back on a shelf.
In blogs, I’ve been writing about the antics of my children and my fumbling through motherhood since my firstborn was a baby and we lived temporarily at my parents’ house. I’ve written about tantrums and poop explosions, about miscarriages, about pregnancies, about failures and triumphs and every tired, rumpled at the end of the day moment in between.
But now, my kids are all reaching stages where they need me less and less – no one is running off down the driveway without pants. No one needs help wiping in the bathroom or pouring their breakfast cereal at the counter. And, to be honest, none of them probably want to be the focus of my writings anymore – they are their own people, with the right to narrate their own stories.
So, my thirties are ending with me like a butterfly, climbing out of the cocoon – or, more like a mother who’s finally remembered that she left her coffee in the microwave, BEFORE it’s gone cold, because, her thoughts are now returning to herself.
On long runs and walks, my mind wanders to all of the things I want to do. All of the things I haven’t done. All of the things I’ve failed at. All of the things I want to try, regardless of whether or not I will fail at them, too. All of the ways I’ve held myself back, waiting for the perfect moment when it all comes together and I can see the art in my own life and feel complete satisfaction.
I’m coming to terms that I need to accept that there will never be anything that I write that I feel is complete or couldn’t use one-more-pass – that I will always feel as though I’m leaving ink in the pen, a sentence left untyped, an ellipsis. That the most beautiful and perfect expression of a thought is still lingering somewhere in the space between the shadow and my soul.
I thought of new ideas for novels as I ran during Evaline’s speech therapy appointment yesterday. I wondered – could I let myself just do something? Could I just let go and write and submit without retraction? With the acceptance that there will always be an ache for the things that could’ve been better said, or the words that still linger, looking for a page – but that it is okay. It’s more than okay, it will drive the next piece. And the next.
When I went to pick up Evie, her therapist gave me an update on her progress, and then tilted his head and added, and she’s a tricky one. He winked at my daughter, who shook her head with a smirk. I caught her, a few times, where it’s obvious she can do it, without even thinking about it. Actually, it’s probably even easier if she ISN’T over thinking it.
So, thanks, Universe. Thanks, Evie’s therapist. Thanks, thirties. Thanks, early morning unsettled thoughts and the winding internal ramblings of my brain on long runs.
Maybe, you’re all right. Perhaps I’m ready, finally, to embrace the advice from that editor over a decade ago.
Maybe it’s time to get out of my own way.