It’s been a low month for me. Something triggered the melancholy and the mood snowballed. Whatchagonnado?
Making drastic changes in your life, shifting your focus, leaving your home, your friends, your career and everything familiar to create a new sort of existence, requires a leap of faith – not only faith in your own potential, but unyielding faith in your spouse and the world at large. You need to hold on to the belief that things will work out – economically, environmentally, and in all those life areas you have no control over. You have to trust your life partner can tap into a new career and/or life rhythm and be happy and productive and content because your happiness is always wrapped up in the happiness of those you live with. Considering the many factors that need to line up, a great deal can happen to squash your picture perfect vision for a new existence.
At times there’s just so much distance between where you were and where you want to be that the journey seems insurmountable. You wonder if you’re delusional in your ambition to create a different sort of life –if it’s all a big pie in the sky dream. Perhaps you should stop all this foolishness and settle for something less far reaching.
Frankly, change is hard. It’s hard on the ego. It strips all the comfort and ease from your life, replacing the familiar with insecurity and experimentation as you wrestle with your self definition and question your choices. Change is an adventure, true. But as in any adventure, the early phases are exciting and fun, but the unknown (and risk) wears thin after a while. You begin to crave routine, security and a sense of self and place. You start seeing things through other people’s critical eyes, with all the censure, judgment and forecasting of trouble that comes from people who do not themselves push the envelope.
Luckily, when doubt oozes in, it doesn’t hit both members of the marriage at once (at least for us). God forbid, if it did, we’d hold hands and bail with the same spontaneity that helped us leap in the first place. But it just so happens that when one member of a strong team looses site of the master plan or has waning confidence, the other instinctually bucks them up with reminders of why the great leap occurred in the first place, reinforcing the future vision with as much positive fuel as can be mustered. It’s time to catalogue everything accomplished so far, to proclaim your faith in you and your spouse’s potential and to pause to appreciate what’s good and right about the changes you’ve already made.
Mark and I have both had our turns as the panic stricken naysayer and the overly optimistic cheerleader, but this month, its been Mark working to snap his other half (notice I didn’t say “better”) out of a season of despair. I’ve felt isolated, frustrated and nostalgic. I’m concerned that the new project we’re embarking on will lead us away from our core plan, to live a creative, unencumbered life filled with positive people and enriching experiences. I am, at long last, writing as much and as well as I hoped I would when we retired from dance and I fear we’re going to open a new business and drown in responsibility again, having to put life, dreams, family, and travel on hold as before.
It would be easier for Mark to just slap me silly and accuse me of being self-indulgent in my misery, but as usual, he’s chosen reason and kindness as his weapon of choice to battle my demons. I’m happy to say, I’m coming out of my funk. Faith is a fickle friend.
Doesn’t it figure that when you’re feeling low, life tortures you with little annoyances?
I washed my phone. Not like I was making dirty phone calls to merit a sound cleansing. I had gone to an appointment and was dressed in a rather sporting outfit, complete with a matching plaid raincoat. As I pulled into the driveway, I thought I’d just pop by the barn and check on the animals. While I was there, I decided to feed the horses. Then, I figured they could use some hay. Might as well shovel some dung (in my heels) since I’m here and spread some new pine shavings. By the time I got to the house I looked like I’d lived through an episode of Survivor. So I walked into the house, stopped by the mud room, stripped down and tossed everything I had on into the washer. At the last minute I decided to pop my raincoat into the load too. About an hour later it occurred to me my phone was in the pocket. Dang.
I stepped out to my car and heard a hissing sound. Did I run over a snake? No, it was a nail. My tire was flat within 90 seconds. Double dang. I figured I better call Kathy to cancel our reading appointment and call AAA. But Kathy’s number was in my soggy phone, now sitting on the washer with a sudsy fog clouding the window. Great.
I was planning to cancel our appointment anyway because both my kids had the flu. Kent’s version included projectile vomiting – never in a bowl, just on his bedding, the rug, the dog . . . . Neva’s strain came with a raging fever that peaked on her birthday. Talk about pitiful. She woke up with big, sorrowful eyes and announced, “This is the worst birthday I’ve ever had”. Granted, she’s only eleven, but still . . . .
I purchased a big bunch of baby chicks on-line and got a call from the post office that they’d arrived. AAA had changed my tire, so I zipped down at 7:30am to pick them up. I thought a boxful of sweet chicks might cheer up Neva. But why were they here on a Tuesday? Monday was a holiday and the Post office isn’t open on Sunday. Day old chicks should only be in route for one day. They need food, water and most importantly, heat. Sure enough, when I opened the box, 22 stiff baby chicks were piled in a heap. Over the course of the next hour, due to too much heat from the new infrared light I set up and their stressed journey, another 16 were goners. I ended up with 3 healthy chicks out of 39.
The company said they’d send me a replacement order. “These things happen,” they announced. That may be true, but that doesn’t absolve my trauma. Seeing all those little dead chicks piled in a box disturbed me to the core. Silly, but I guess the fact that I was feeling low made me ill prepared to welcome 36 little feathered ghosts into my head.
We sold our second dance studio building at long last. (It closed today.) This albatross remained empty almost 9 months – stressing out our finances and dwindling our hopes for a fiscally comfortable future. This is the third time we’ve sold this building – the other two sales fell through at the very last minute keeping the property off the market and the bills arriving in our mailbox for far too long. This time, we took considerably less than our previous contract because alleviating the stress and finally closing the door on the entire heart wrenching episode of watching FLEX die seemed worth it. But it stung.
Anyway – today the last piece of the FLEX puzzle has finally been put to rest. Talk about pulling the band-aid off slow!
On a positive note: I’ve spent the last two months working diligently, eight hours a day, rewriting my book. Changed the name (again). I haven’t been blogging because I’m logging a great many hours on actual productive writing projects. I’ve cut 100 pages, tightened the prose and turned what was a hunk of garbage into what I believe is a very lovely, ready to be published, book. I’ve queried 30 or so agents and begun the laborious process of sending the book out. I have a really positive feeling about my writing now. It’s been a long haul, but I’ve grown so much. I’ve always known there were writers with greater natural talent than I, but I knew I’d do more with it than them. Because I believe the people who last are those who love the process and enjoy the challenges. I’m a rather tenatious person.
With my first project wrapped up, I decided to turn my attentions to rewriting my second book, so I opened the file for the first time in two years and was aghast to see how amateurish and poorly written this manuscript is too. Like the first book, I love the story and I feel it’s worth preserving. Honestly, I ADORE the plot and characters of that second book. I even sent the opening in as my writing sample to get into my MFA (can’t believe I made it in now that I see the work through new eyes. How embarrassing!) I sat there reading with a mixture of chagrin and excitement because I recognized the good and the bad in the writing. I can do so much better now. My clarity is tangible evidence of all I’ve learned and how I’ve grown. Very encouraging. And if this one doesn’t sell – hell, I’ll write another one. Each one is always better, which is very promising too.
I had to laugh though. I told my family, “You know how those crazy people on American Idol who think they are great singers? You watch them warbling away, thinking they are the cat’s pajamas, but everyone watching considers them totally delusional. You want to laugh, but you’re mortified by their cluelessness at the same time.
Well, I’m one of those people, only instead of singing, my blind spot is writing. I thought I had talent back when I wrote that book, but I sucked the big one.”
Everyone insisted I’ve always been a great storyteller. Mark says it’s like dance. Not all students are great dancers from the start, but you can always tell those with an undercurrent of passion and style. If they keep training and diligently practicing, it’s only a matter of time until they blossom. These are the artists who often end up far better than the ones who peeked early.
“That’s the kind of writer you’ll be. You’ve worked hard, despite frustration along the way. You’ve buckled down to get a good education, despite how hard that was on your ego, and you don’t give up. Now you’re ready to blossom. You’ve earned it. Your ability to write is based on a real understanding of the craft because you didn’t look for shortcuts. Your first books may not have been masterpieces but that doesn’t mean you are anything at all like the American Idol crazies.”
That’s nice. But I still feel like one of those poor saps- only I’ve been holding a pen rather than a musical score.
I spent only about an hour on the opening of book two, then closed the file. I went on Amazon and bought some research books to inspire ideas regarding the Underground Railroad (key subject matter to the plot), then decided I might want to work on a few shorter pieces before beginning this second massive rewrite. I might even work a bit on the dance book that was my thesis, torturous as it is to write. It’s the book of my heart.
The point is, I’m feeling very positive about my writing for the first time in ages, looking forward to digging in again to see what I’m capable of.
The other day, Mark and I took a day off and went to Atlanta to visit coffee shops and art galleries as our Valentine ’s Day date. We are still in research mode, letting our ideas fester and take shape. While we were there, I suggested we go to the Margret Mitchell house, a small museum I’m been wanting to see for some time. It’s really just a preserved Victorian house where the author lived (in a small apartment she called the dump) while writing Gone with the Wind. It’s now a literary center featuring readings with great authors and lectures and classes for adults (which I also want to attend). They have a second building filled with author’s correspondence and movie paraphernalia.
Anyway, I didn’t realize Gone with the Wind won a Pulitzer Prize, nor did I know much about the author. (She got hit by a car a few years later, thus this was her one and only masterpiece.) I never read the book, because like many people, I was spoiled by the movie. I figured I didn’t have to read the story because I already knew it. But I’m reading it now. And I’m remarkably impressed with the characterization and the history and the artful way the author handled the unfolding.
Gone with the Wind is really just a romance, not far removed from genre writing today. When it was released, it was subject to more hype than any story ever told. It was a commercial hit, and yet it had such quality it was applauded by the literary world too. I find it inspirational to see a commercial endeavor done with such artistic class. I want to write that way – but boy oh boy, does it take time, energy, effort and patience to develop the craft. There are no short cuts when you want to do something well. Gone with the Wind would never get published today. It’s too long and rambling for the attention span of readers today. But it’s a great example of mastery of the craft and a joy to read..
I’m so happy to have discovered it.
And on that note – I should return to work.
Life goes on . . .