The question burned in me for a long time: ‘what am I supposed to do with my life?’ More likely it was phrased ‘what is my destiny?’; but hey, same thing. I wanted to find a way to express myself without revealing myself, help people without telling my own story, and make a difference without challenging my own deepest held beliefs. What a schmuck, right?
I floundered in that for awhile, wondering what I might do that wouldn’t take too much out of me. I wrote about my agonizing lack of self-knowledge in my journal, and lamented my lack of purpose to anyone that would listen. I was, admittedly, a real downer. The only real help I was to anyone was when I was quoting my own journals, relating some answer I had found to some problem another was expressing. Sometimes folks would ask, “Hey, that’s pretty smart. Where did you hear that?” I’d say that I wrote it; I thought it was something everyone should do, write out their thoughts at least once a day. It had really helped me.
The look some folks gave me when I suggested such a thing; it was like recommending that they play guitar every day, or draw, or paint. They couldn’t see why I was writing every day, if not to get better at it; I couldn’t see why they were confused. They would usually tell me that I should write a book, or books; and I would usually tell them that this was just an exercise, the writing thing. As soon as I got it all together, I would be done and ready to move on.
I went through every possible profession, in my head or on paper. I saw myself burned out or bored in five years, no matter where I looked. The blank pages kept filling up, but all I was figuring out was what I didn’t want to do. It was right around the twenty-fifth time that I read ‘Illusions’ by Richard Bach that it hit me.
What if he hadn’t written it?
What if my favorite author of all time had done what he thought of doing, way back when? What if he had been properly disgusted by the way that some fools had received ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’, and followed through with his promise to stop writing? What if I had never discovered Richard Bach, or Donald Shimoda, or the version of myself that waited at the end of the book? That wouldn’t be that big of a deal for Mister Bach; he would still know all the stuff he had to learn to write his books, and he doesn’t know me in either scenario. But for me, that would have been a tragic loss; I really needed that book.
It would take all that I had to write the kind of books that I loved to read. I couldn’t leave any part of myself behind, or play my cards close to my vest, like I was accustomed to doing. It was too much to ask, looking at myself as honestly as I could, to bring my whole self to bear on something I actually wanted to get done. What if I failed? What if I didn’t finish? What if I did finish, and it was awful? What if I did finish, and it was awful, and everyone knew it but me?
It all came together, all at once, and the answer that had been staring me in the face finally smacked me full-on. It was just like anything else: you try, you fail, you try again. Wash, rinse and repeat. The only thing stopping me from doing anything was the thought that I would get tired of any field of study after awhile. Writing didn’t look boring; it looked scary. I had never done anything that really scared me before, and I couldn’t wait to get started. I knew there was no end to what I could learn here, right from the beginning; as soon as I embraced my own inevitable ignorance, I felt the flow of my own destiny’s timeline finally take hold in me. I couldn’t believe it: I knew what I had to do!
Cut to me staring at a blank page, wondering what the hell I was going to write about. I started the same story a dozen times, filling the trash bin with crumpled papers like a bad eighties movie about a struggling author. It was totally different than writing in my journals; I had no idea how to connect with the story I saw in my head. It was totally clear, what I wanted to say; but how on Earth was I going to say it?
It was back to the books for awhile, until I realized that I had been training my whole life for this. I had already written a bunch, found my voice and used it to find myself. All those spelling bees from when I was a kid made sense suddenly, as did my easy grades in English classes. When I had pointed out to a teacher that we had already learned all this stuff years ago, that we were just retreading elementary school material, she had pulled me aside. She had explained that what I understood naturally might never dawn on some people. After all these years, what she had said finally made sense.
Other people understood other things, complicated things that I would never have the ability or inclination to understand. This was my thing. It looked hard because it is hard; but also because I saw how much there was to it. Some folks might read a book, and never wonder how the author strung together all those words to leave them with that final feeling. Not me; I idolized those people, mulled over their thoughts as though they were my own, wondered what it was like to read your own book and be glad for having written it.
How silly of me to have ever considered anything else. How ridiculous to think that life might not deserve and demand that I use all I’d been given; why have it, if not to put everything I had into using it? Can I be like my idols, my heroes, if I try? No, I can’t. What I can do is express what I see and how I see it, in this world and others. I can realize that the stories in my head are tuned in only to my antennae, and work like mad to get them written. I can be the version of me that I most want to be, take it seriously and have fun with it at the same time.
Or I can languish in the knowing that I am aware of my responsibility, and dream of a tomorrow where I fulfill it. Which is what I did for quite awhile after that. It was hard to write my first manuscript. It will be even harder to admit what I did with it, and my responsibility, for the next several years. But I will, next week.
Thanks for reading!