I know a lot of people who’ve had to make some very serious, heavy decisions in the past few weeks. Some have had to leave business partners, back out of deals that were seemingly a dream come true, or leave relationships. It seems that though the year of the horse is in full swing, some people are still shedding their skins, as though year of the snake continues on indefinitely. I, too, have been shedding, though it feels like it’s been many small things as opposed to one huge thing. Well, that’s not true. I tried to shed my dream of fiction writing last week, but it didn’t take.
I got a rejection. Another one. On a story on which I’d worked fairly hard. What’s worse, the rejection came from an outlet that I adore and I was mortified. How could I have sent them something so obviously not for them? For the record, that’s all the rejection said. Not for us. How could I have let them in on the secret that I suck at this? (Writers well know this downward slide. I’d call it a spiral, except a spiral seems to take more time than this one did. This was an instantaneous and gigantic thud on the playground. Like when my daughter swings on the bar above the slide to get a little extra momentum and then leans back into the slide to make herself more aerodynamic. Only I think she has fun doing it.)
I don’t usually write about the fear and loathing that come with writing or the process because, as we say in the law, it would be cumulative. There are posts on the topic that will make you laugh, make you nod your head in agreement, and make you want to send some therapy referrals. It’s been done. So I won’t go into it further except to note that it happened and now I’m glad it did.
After the thud, I decided to stop writing fiction. It’s not the first time, though this time it wasn’t driven by the “I suck at this” that got me to the top of the slide in the first place. For the past five-plus years, I’ve been searching for my purpose. In fact, those who know me well are probably bored with this topic. “What does it matter?” some say. “Just follow your bliss. That’s your purpose.” “Isn’t our purpose enlightenment? Does it matter what you do if it’s all just an illusion anyway?” And my favorite, this one from a spiritual teacher, “Who are you to ask what your purpose is anyway?” Right. There are so many different theories on purpose finding, various techniques to use, and classes that could suck your life saving’s faster than my kids can get juice through a straw. It all left me dizzy and nauseated.
So I sat down with my mortifying rejection and I gave it up to the divine. I said, “I don’t want to waste time on this if it isn’t what’s in the highest good. I’m done striving.”
To back up a bit, I joined the Twitter writing community a year or two ago. It was wonderful at first. I found my people! They get me! Only, after a while, it became an effort to keep up with all of the discussions about what I’ve submitted and to whom, where I’m at on the novel I won’t quit rewriting, and, more importantly, showing up so I could interact with people be it about writing or kittens or Dr. Who. I was striving. Big time. It was like trying to be popular in high school all over again, only now I’m on the cusp of 40 and that shit wears me out. I’m not interested. So, I dropped out. Sort of.
I kept checking in from time to time. Reading journals I loved, reading the works of authors I respect and admire. I have a whole lot of love for my writer friends on Twitter, don’t get me wrong, and I learn so much from reading their work. But at some point, it’s like being in a crowded bar where everyone is yelling and it’s just so much sensory input. Not surprisingly, because I failed to center myself, I lost my voice, a case of proverbial laryngitis. When I visited Twitter and then went to write, I sounded like someone else when the words went on the page. No wonder I keep rewriting. It’s never me, never authentic, and that’s what I’m always looking for when I write.
It makes me think of how when I put my daughter down for the night (why do these phrases about putting kids to bed always sound like euthanizing a pet?), I sing her the same medley of songs that I started singing to her when she was only a few months old. She’s two now and so she sings with me. It’s adorable. But often I end up being wildly out of key (as opposed to only mildly) and way off-tempo. It’s because I’m listening to how freaking adorable she is when she is singing along with me and I’m not listening to my own voice. This is what Twitter and writing have been like for the past six months or more. Reading other works is ESSENTIAL. But you need the quiet space to clear out all the noise and hear yourself afterward. If that space is instead filled with the voices of a thousand other people shouting at you in 140 characters or less, well, your own voice is going to get trampled by the herd. And so she did.
Circling back to the thud and the handing this problem over to a force bigger and more powerful than myself, I went to bed relieved, if not mourning my decision to pack it in. The fact is, I’m going to turn 40 in a few months and I don’t want to waste any more time doing things that are forced and likely just another person’s idea that I adopted as my own. My mom wanted to write when I was a kid. Is it possible this dream isn’t mine and is just someone else’s? If it is, I don’t want it, as hard as it may be for my ego to accept.
The next day was hectic, filled with home improvement projects, sick kids, and the need to rescue two baby hummingbirds (a story for another day). I didn’t give my decision much thought because I didn’t have the time for it. On the way home from driving the birds to the rescue location, I was listening to Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ LATE BLOOMER and, whabam, my purpose slapped me in the face. It had been there all along. Everyone who said it wasn’t a profession was right. My purpose isn’t to be a writer, though it is still an integral part of who I am and how I operate in the world. It is a muscle that helps the body do its work, on caliber with the heart.
Writing is the way I share my gifts. It is the primary outlet for what I have to give, which is why I am surly and brooding when I haven’t written for a few days in a row. As Natalie Goldberg said in a discussion with Julia Cameron, when I write, it is a generous act, because it allows me to be present with those around me. Otherwise, I am writing in my head. Things are backing up. All that light I have is trapped and circling back in on itself, morphing to darkness. And as Julia Cameron said, it is a spiritual practice. Writing is the way I connect, with myself, with the bigger truths of life, with everyone else sharing this human journey. It only works, though, if I’m able to make enough space to listen to myself.
My story, the rejected one, should have been rejected. When I first wrote it, there was a deep truth there, something I was teasing out. Then I saw that a journal was having a theme issue and so I tried to package the story in the theme. Along the way, it became about the theme and not the truth. That gem that I was polishing got traded for a nice, big hunk of pyrite. And who wants pyrite? Aside from my son, anyway.
I’ve gotten plenty of other confirmation from the universe that fiction is part of this path, at least for now. And I am grateful for that because it really is my bliss. I always wanted to be a medium and this is the closest to it I get for now.
I read last night that the spring equinox is supposed to be one of the biggest times of release for the year. I do a full moon release of what’s troubling me or no longer serving me as often as I can, but this recent revelation feels like it needs something bigger. The timing couldn’t be better since the equinox is on Friday, just a few short days away.
I know it sounds hokey and new agey, but I believe in these clearing rituals. In the fall of 2007, I became pregnant. It was a complete surprise, but one I was grateful for because I realized then that I very much did want to have children. I was bereft when I miscarried. I couldn’t shake the grief for months. It clouded everything. Seeing a baby would make me break down because I felt so acutely that my body had denied me that after teasing me with the possibility. This was a spiral, a long, winding, interminable spiral. My husband and I went to Hawaii that December, which in normal circumstances would have recharged me in an instant. I lived there for a bit as a kid and it is my heart home. Even that didn’t work and I was grateful it rained almost every day we were there because I didn’t have to try to rise to the occasion. Instead, I sat on the sofa and watched a whole lot of Top Chef Hawaii (set at the same resort where we were staying). Not one of my prouder moments.
Finally, on New Year’s Eve, exhausted by the burden I was carrying and the emptiness of what I wasn’t, I gathered up everything related to the pregnancy: the ultrasounds, the medical records, the genetic testing results showing the defects were incompatible with life, and also telling me it was a boy. That last piece of information caused me more grief than any of the rest of it because that made him real, a ghost child I would never get to hold. I took all of the paper and the emotional hole they signified and I threw it in the fireplace. It felt so good, so cathartic.
No amount of meditating and yoga and prayer did for me what that little bonfire did. I suspect because I did it with the intent of freeing myself from the whole thing, including the desire to become pregnant again. I burned it all. Eight days later, I did get pregnant again. And now my son is five and a half.
Friday night, you’ll be able to find me out back at my fire pit, watching the story I wrote for someone else go up in flames. The ritual will clear the field of the other voices, the expectations I placed on getting it published and where that would be, and send the conflicted emotions swirling around the story in an upward spiral of smoke. I prefer to think of it as what once went down must arise. Once the path is cleared, I’ll walk it a whole lot more quietly this time, listening only for the sounds of what I know to be true.