I was writing a scene for my new project, and found myself in tears yesterday. It’s a glorious job, writing fiction. A truly enjoyable endeavor creating worlds and worlds on pages.
Today is my thirtieth birthday.
This morning, while the kids miraculously slept in, I sat in the blue chair with the big arms and thought about my twenties, all that it was and all that it wasn’t; all that I became and all that I shed. There are so many things that came to mind but one thing rose to the top as all else settled down at the bottom.
I guess I finally became friends with myself. I spent many years of my life joyful in my element but uncomfortable before the audience of the world, half wishing I was different and half wishing I could find a place where what I was was “normal.” As a child I was involved in music rather than sports, and that made me feel uncool and corralled into a group of kids who were somehow second or third tier. Although I was happy singing instead of running sprints, the second I found myself out of the practice room with the piano and in a crowd of other ten-year-olds, I was embarrassed and tried to hide that I sang with a group which I drove an hour to practice for twice a week (The Children’s Chorus of Maryland) because music wasn’t in vogue in the fourth grade.
In high school I was embarassed to identify as a Christian because church and faith were another category of things that felt uncool.
In college I wanted to be someone who loved to go out to parties, to dance, to drink, to thirst for adventure and lust for adrenaline, but I wasn’t. Turns out the thing I miss about college is going to class. The library. Writing workshops and Irish Lit classes. I could discuss Roddy Doyle all day long. I wore low top Chuck Taylor all stars almost every day of college, which I think is the first sign that I was beginning a pivotal shift. I liked the people in the English department building the best. I wanted to sit in those halls all day long. I could wear overalls in the English department and nobody would give me a sideways glance. My best friends from college were much cooler than me, but they started to encourage me to hang out in the library if I wanted to. Who cares? they would ask.
The day I graduated from college, my whole family packed my stuff into a couple cars and drove to my sister’s house a few hours away. An hour outside JMU I started to feel ill. By the time we arrived at Hannah’s, I was as hot as fire and felt sicker than I ever had in my life. We had plans for a big dinner, a party with cake and gifts, but my dad and Mark carried me inside to a bed and I fell asleep with my shoes on. I slept hard for six hours. We were certain I had been hit with the flu.
I woke up and heard voices in the living room, rolled over. My fever was gone and I felt absolutely fine. I stood up, looked in the mirror trying to decide if it had been a dream. Lighter than air I walked out to the living room where everyone was drinking and eating my cake.
I think it was my body’s expression of something that had happened inside me. It was the dramatic expulsion of the tension I had carried for that time of life, of trying to keep head up and gaze steady when my body really just wanted to hide away sometimes. I was never good at hiding away, being alone, taking time, listening, recuperating. Always trying to be one thing for them and one thing for me. Always trying to be normal, as if normal even exists.
I was twenty-two.
That is when I began to get to know myself. I started to think about what I liked, who I wanted to be around, what I wanted to do with my free time, what made me happy, what didn’t. That is when I really started to work on fiction.
Writing fiction, it turns out, is exactly what I was wired to do. The ongoing observation of the world, the intrigue with the lives of people around me. The jotting down of ideas and notes. The quiet space, fingers tapping away on the keys. The moments of clarity.
Stephen King says, and perhaps I’ve quoted him on this before, “Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all your managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.” (*On Writing* 78)
There is that too, that perserverance when it feels like a sitting-shit-shoveling, but even that sort of drudgery gives me a sense of solidarity with those doing the same thing all over this planet. And I do think this rule applies in anything for a which a person feels passion, but right now I’m talking about writing, which is the one with which I’m familiar.
My twenties included much more than writing fiction. I got married, had two children, made new friends, nursed that marriage in heart sickness and health, moved to a new city, traveled, explored, mourned, ached for myself and for many others who are close to me.
When I turned twenty I thought, “Here I come! Look out, I’m going to kick ass.” When I woke up this morning, thirty, I thought, “How nice the sun is out today and my children are sleeping past six-thirty. I think I’ll go downstairs and sit in quiet for a bit.” The pressure has alleviated, and myself and I are friends.