In the six years that I have written quasi-professionally, 2016 (by far) marks my least productive year. Though plenty of ideas swirl around in my head on a minute-by-minute basis, the actual act of putting pen to paper has often made me feel like Sisyphus. No, not the STD, but the Greek archetype who spent most of his fertile years trying to roll a big boulder up an even bigger hill.
After publishing my first novel, I was ready to immediately jump back into writing. Unlike what I have read about many writers who mourn the closure of their first books, I didn’t grieve over Lotus. I had been with her long enough, I had sat with her neurosis, conflict, humor, and impending pregnancy for many years. I was ready to move on. I was ready to explore the next part of her (or someone else’s) journey and it was going to be awesome and funny and gutwrentching and smart…all at once.
It also was going to be written, edited, formatted and published on August 15, 2016. It was all going to be so poetic. I was going to finally (and officially) be a real-real-real-real writer.
But you know how the story goes: Make plans and God laughs.
After months of trying to wrap up the first ten chapters of my manuscript, it finally came to me in a dream that the thousands of words on the screen were actually spelling out the message: THIS. IS. WACK.
I had been fighting it but I knew it was true. My internal voice, the part of my mind that wonders if Jesus and Buddha are friends, the voice that creates storylines from people around me in the grocery store, the voice that makes me wonder how to write stories that will make people cry, laugh, and think about the meaning of waterfalls, ice cream, and rainbows became muffled by life.
I would open my laptop, one of my kids would fall off of something. I would wake up early in the morning to write and my parents would call to warn me about the deadly hazards of arsenic in apple juice and the waffles that I feed my kids.
I would commit to writing around midnight, after the kids and my husband were sleep, only to wake up the next morning with a bowl of tortilla chips in my lap.
The only voice that remained was that of the naysayer. He, and he sounded a lot like Donald Trump, chided me on a daily basis for the act(s) of trying to write, not writing, sucking when I write, as well as for buying a box of chocolate chip cookies every week.
However, since Beyonce told me that ‘winners don’t give up on themselves’, my ego was determined to forge on. As God was my witness, I was going to meet my deadline. I spoke it. I wrote it down. I put it in my prayer box.
Then it happened.
One afternoon, after a few hours of l
ooking at my computer writing, I walked into my kitchen and discovered my half-naked toddler standing on the counter (next to his potty) with a turkey knife in his hand. There was neatly cut chocolate cupcake on the counter next to him, along with a slice of turkey deli meat, a cup of water, and a map of the United States. The refrigerator door was still open.
When our eyes connected, he looked equally terrified and satisfied to see me. His eyes quickly darted to the kitchen door. He knew in my gut that he was contemplating a kamikaze jump off the counter so he could make a run for it.
I wanted to be mad but I had so many questions. I couldn’t help but be impressed by his survival instincts and surprising level of agility.
I scanned the room to see how much damage had been done. The last thing I saw was the suitcase perched against the wall. Though he had been rolling it around the house for a few days, it wasn’t until that moment that I thought to look inside of it. Sure enough, it was filled with several pairs of pajamas. Where was he going?
This was the official start of my ‘stop’.
We know that there is a time to push in life.
Push doors open. Kick fences down. Push through rejection, push through doubt. Keep rolling that boulder until you get to the top of the hill.
But sometimes there comes a time to stop and be still.
This feeling is uncomfortable for most. Surely it feels like aspirational suicide for most. In an era that pushes for constant content creation or at least the perception of constant forward motion, stopping is not intuitive nor deeply embraced. Stopping is feared.
I feared it.
Nevertheless, as certain as I am in the universe conspiring in your favor, I believe it can bring you to a screeching stop for your benefit. The divine sign to stop and take stock of my life was right there, holding a turkey knife, staring me in the face. The challenge, as any woman who has experienced a compromised labor can tell you, is trusting when you are instructed to push and trusting when you are told to dig your heels in and wait.
I stopped writing because in that moment, it became crystal clear that the season to do so had come to an end.
Initially, I resented not being able to write. I envied people with greater success in writing. I longed for the Bohemian Dream of walking the streets of Paris with only my laptop, a beret, and a bottle of Bordeaux in my backpack.
But in order to achieve that dream I would have to give up my family, and no amount of French cigarettes or macaroons would make me do that.
So I had to accept that the dream had to change.
Time passed. My family was happy. My youngest child was no longer trying to run away from home. I began to work with teenagers. With time, the gloom of not writing was no longer there. I wondered if God had finally answered my prayers. Perhaps, it was time to just move on.
Yet, despite the opportunity and logic of doing so, I haven’t been able to.
Despite my anxieties regarding his robust personality, my youngest finally began school (part time). In many ways, this milestone presents a challenge for us both to rise to. He has to learn civility and I have to build a new dream that fits my family rather than making my family fit inside of it.
So I am back at square one. It’s a scary, yet familiar, place but somehow I completely trust that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.