I love your last letter. I love the idea of an “oversoul,” a term I have never heard before, and I agree wholeheartedly that we must be grateful for our own creative work and the creative work of others, that there is really no other way to be.
But I remember feeling otherwise. I remember years of bitterness as I worked hard at physical jobs, and crammed my writing into the cracks and crevices of each day. I remember the weight I put onto the writing, the pressure I applied to one little story of my own creation to change my life. “Get me out of here,” I constantly said to my words, to my creative life. “Come on. Change my life. Change me.” Get me out of cleaning houses for a living. Get me off my knees before someone else’s gleaming toilet with a plastic brush in my hand. Get me out from behind the deli counter serving food to people with allergies and demands for the bagel with the most sesame seeds on it. Get me a car that runs. Get me a house. Get me new shoes. Get me health insurance. “Come on. Come on. Come on. Come on.”
I had a vision for myself, a vision of success. Huge success. I had a vision of people knowing my name and my books, of people wanting to talk with me, of people being impressed with my intelligence. Most of all I had a vision of making a living through my talent for writing.
That vision, parts of it, have come true. It surprises me when I meet someone who does know my name and my books. It surprises me when people want to talk with me. As for impressing others with my intelligence, this was never going to happen until I recognized myself as intelligent. As for making a living through my talent for writing, that’s happening. It’s happening right now, and it’s been happening for years, and it looks nothing like the way I imagined it.
I have many writing friends. We love to talk about writing. Some writers want to whine. Some writers are careful to never whine. Some writers are looking for signs from the universe that show them clearly they should continue. Some are grappling with difficult characters. Some people call it challenging. Others use harsher words. We all want to be successful.
As for me, the things I will and will not say about writing: I’m pro-whining occasionally, although I think it is important not to get mired in the quicksand of it; I dislike the word challenging to describe the writing process, and prefer the words hard, a puzzle, bewildering, and interesting. I used to ask the universe for signs that I should continue, but I never do that any more. I don’t think the universe particularly cares whether I write or not, but I have faith that the universe will support me in my decision, if I back up my decision to be a writer with actually writing.
On success, I believe that on the inside, it is never what it looks like on the outside, or what we are lead to believe it is. My life is a case in point. As I said, I now make my living as a writer. I do this mostly by teaching. This was not part of my vision. My vision involved cashing checks that show up in the mail as a result of something I’ve written. I can’t tell you the last time that happened, but years is the measure to go by. On teaching, on the work I do that earns me my living, someone recently said to me that this isn’t a job. It is a job. It’s a job that I love, and I’ve made it my own, created my own life outside of corporate America, but it is a job.
So – have I failed? Have I been ripped off? Am I bitter?
No, no, and no.
I’ve learned, because I’ve seen it, that people see a published book, and they think it means a certain lifestyle, a certain prestige, a certain something they don’t have, yet long for. For me, after working through my years of bitterness, after teaching writing, after rejections and acceptances, after reading books I love that garnered no attention and books that did not appeal to me that garnered lots of attention (and the reverse), after having cleaned an average of a dozen toilets a week for years, after all that and more, now, when I see a published book, I see magic.
When I hold a book and read it, I feel the hours spent crafting, and imagining, and studying, and revising, and researching. I feel all the people whose names are not on the cover, but perhaps in the acknowledgments page, or perhaps not on the acknowledgements page, but who cooked meals and watched children and provided retreats and gave the book to their sister for her birthday. I feel a web of connections, and I don’t feel it as weight, as heaviness, as labor. I feel it as community. It takes a village to write a book. I’m grateful for my village. I am well aware that there are people who support me, whom I have never even met. I am well aware that anything could happen once a book is put out into the world, including success, and including absolutely nothing.
So, yes it’s hard. To put pressure on ourselves to never admit that it’s hard is to feed the beast of isolation. And as my favorite piece of graffiti says, a spray painted saying under a bridge along the river I walk, “Harder than you think is a beautiful thing.”
The biggest path to success is to not think about it, to keep showing up and writing, to keep fitting it into the cracks and crevices of whatever life you’re living. I still have to squeeze it into small bits of open time. I think the biggest truth of life is that there’s no such thing as getting it right. And that we are not here to get it right (our careers, our important work, our weight, our striving for whatever), but to do our best and to become empathetic to our fellow travelers. All of them.
Thank you for being a part of my village. XXOO – Nancy