Monday, February 25, 2008

Gifts from the Sea

Anne Morrow Lindbergh's book always gives me comfort, inspiration, or something to mull over. I found her book years ago when I had small children and needed to find balance and yes, some commiseration. I felt Anne's need to get away in the first words of her book and felt less guilty about my own escapist thoughts.

When she looks at a channeled whelk shell, she sees a home -- abandoned, rented by a hermit crab, and then abandoned again. It makes her ask "Did he hope to find a better home, a better mode of living?" and she compares this to her own situation. "I too have run away, I realize, I have shed the shell of my life, for these few weeks of vacation."

Everyone needs to get away. It doesn't always require elaborate plans. We have two bathrooms in our home. My husband and I share one, the other is for guests now that our children have grown and moved away. Recently we replaced faucets and I bought new towels and shower curtain, decorated with a container of sea shells and a couple knick knacks to remind us that we're in Florida. For most of the year it stands empty.

This weekend a restlessness overcame me. I didn't realize at the time, but I had a need to escape, to move out of my usual behavior patterns. I paced the house, searching for something, a place to go, a change. And the bathroom became just the location. Just enough difference. A fragrant soak in a bubble bath. Relaxing, enjoying the alone time, feeling pampered in a slight change of scenery. It filled a need that I didn't realize I had.

Anne moves on with her perusal of the shell and comments on its small perfection right down to the finest detail. And then she comments "My shell is not like this.... How untidy.... Blurred with moss, knobby with barnacles, its shape is hardly recognizable any more. Surely, it had a shape once. It has a shape still in my mind. What is the shape of my life?"

Good question.

I too often feel like I'm living the wrong life. Moses wandered in the desert for 40 years. I have a feeling that I've been following his lead. My favorite author, Diana Gabaldon, tells why she wrote that first novel: Outlander. She wanted to see if she could write a novel. And, if she was going to try to write a novel, she would give it her best effort, write it to the best of her abilities.

It seems to me, while I am wandering, trying to figure out what life I should be living, I can focus on doing one thing at a time and doing it to the best of my abilities. It isn't a bad way to spend a life, even the wrong one.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Stop Looking at your butt and see the future....

Author Anne Lamott has a way of putting things into perspective with an earthy, resounding turn of phrase that hits readers between the eyes. Her column in Salon magazine as well as her list of successful books leave me breathless with the energy and emotion that her writing exudes.

Her book about writing "Bird by Bird" gave me permission to write a 'shitty' first draft. Her book "Traveling Mercies" left me sobbing and speechless and so much more human. And in a recent interview for her latest book "Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith" she commented:
In general, I think Grace (Eventually) is a less angry book. I like how I'm aging, except that my back hurts more often, my knees crack like twigs when I squat, and my memory fails more frequently, in more public and therefore humiliating ways. But I think I complain less. As my best friend said when she was dying, and I was obsessing about my butt, "You just don't have that kind of time."
Anne is the only author, hers are the only books, that are classified as 'Christian' and are sprinkled somewhat liberally with four letter words, anger, dislike, self-dissolusionment and pure honesty.

But back to her butt comment. Time has been bothering me. I can't believe 2007 has finally ended -- a tough year for many of us. But more astonishing, January has come and gone. I still have no plans for the rest of the year. I haven't scouted out a writing workshop to attend, I haven't planned any travel so I can write about it, no weekend getaways. And most important, no plan on how to get this novel of mine written before this time next year.

My life stretches forward defined by what hours I work at my part-time job. It seems like there should be more to my life than that. A few deadlines for writing projects are sprinkled in, too few. And nothing at all in my weekly planner about the novel or goals. Part of me is afraid to set goals or a writing schedule because that just means I will fail and have the paper to prove it.

Visualization seems a reasonable alternative. I've tried seeing myself as a successful writer -- maybe I need to see myself as a 'working' writer. One with butt in chair (it doesn't matter the size of the butt or the chair) and writing, writing, writing. Maybe that's my downfall. I keep dreaming about the results of my work, but not the process. As Coach Lee (whoever that is) says, "The journey is just as important as the destination. Take time to enjoy the process."

Well, now how do I do that without laying out a work schedule? How do I do that without setting myself up to fail? And is it just possible that I am not a writer? That it is not the goal of my life that I should be pursuing? If not, then what? These are rather frightening questions at this stage of my life, is it time to follow another path on my life journey?

Maybe it is time to dust off my copy of "Bird by Bird" and see what Anne has to say.