Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Little gifts along the way .....

Inauguration Day began so well. I kept my daughters home late from school so we could watch the Inauguration together. We sat sprawled on the couch, a knot of bony arms and legs in pajamas, and--despite my better judgment at nine o'clock in the morning--munched on salty popcorn. Above our crunching, the music, fanfare, and Obama's speech moved the three of us to tears. My youngest, aged six, said that she wished our family could be the four Obamas! They're making history, I told her, there's nothing stopping any of us from also dreaming big and doing great things, that's how we get to be just like them. She smiled, from the roots of her hair right down to her milky-white toes. She believed me.

Walking the beach alone a little later in the morning, though, my mood dimmed, souring right along with the popcorn aftertaste. Despite yet another glorious day in San Francisco and the comfort the beach always gives me, I felt uneasy. For the first time I experienced the enormity of Barack Obama's achievement not in its usual inspirational and hopeful sense, but in an oppressive way. Despite the sunshine and warm sand under my feet, I felt cold. I decided I needed to temper what I'd told my daughter, and the sooner the better, emphasize to her and her sister that some of us were history makers, the stuff of great things, and some of us were everyday people going about everyday things and that we were all vital and valid just so long as we did our best, nourished our hopes and dreams, however "small," and in all things acted with love.

Still, I couldn't shake the downward spiral, turn it around. My mood crashed right along with the white waves. And then it hit me. There's plenty in life that stops us from dreaming big and doing great things. We can't and don't all "make it." That's more truthful than the pat phrase I'd fed my daughter earlier. And then another insight, a matchstick struck in the dark: I felt sad and frustrated because realizing my own long-held dream still seemed so far out of reach.

I want to write fiction, both short stories and novels, to widespread critical acclaim. There, I've admitted it. I need to feel validated and successful as a writer, know that my work and my life have meaning. Thus far, the act of writing itself has not proved enough.

And then something else remarkable happened, and all in the same day too. I started a private writing workshop last night, and met some wonderful fellow writers and a truly inspirational instructor. At one point in the evening, the instructor spoke about how writing made him a better human being, allowing him understand others better and feel more compassion toward them. His wisdom felt like a gift. Writing did make me a better person. Through its daily practice, I was growing both as a writer and as a person. I did understand and love others more. Not just others either, but also myself. That was something I could get behind, feel good about, and celebrate. That truth alone allowed me feel more successful, less confused and anxious about whether or not I was living up to my full potential, doing the right thing with my life.

I still have my dreams and ambitions, but I can sit a little easier with the now of where I am as a writer, knowing that it's not pointless, not totally self-indulgent, not without meaning. In the end, it has to be about the journey, not the destination. I was familiar with that truism already, I've just never felt so close to actually understanding, appreciating, and realizing it. Getting published doesn't make me a successful writer, living and writing with my heart wide open does.

Isn't it the unstoppable spirit in the face of our obstacles, tragedies, and disappointments in life that makes us truly great? That thought buoys me. Just as in memorable fiction, it's not what happens us in life so much as what we do about what happens us that really matters.

I'd never have imagined it possible given my state of mind while walking the beach yesterday afternoon, but Inauguration Day ended just as it began: oh so well.


  1. "but I can sit a little easier with the now of where I am as a writer, knowing that it's not pointless, not totally self-indulgent, not without meaning" -- KEEP THINKING THIS!

    I often feel as if people look at me with skepticism and a bit of annoyance when I speak to this topic, but the fact is that the feeling of self-indulgent nattering on often does not vanish once one is published. I still feel pretty useless; seeking external validation often leaves one in that position. BUT, you hit the nail on the head:

    "Getting published doesn't make me a successful writer, living and writing with my heart wide open does."

    And then we hear from the Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit how much it hurts.

    But it's worth it to be Real.

  2. Thanks, Tadmack, I needed that this morning! It's such a pendulum, isn't it? So good to hear from you. Thanks for reading. My mantra for the day? "Be real."