Recently, I pulled out my journal to see if I could remember when I started working on this new novel. I found the answer back in the July pages. The months before I’d been wrestling with the balance between what I felt were two distinct callings. One required availability, the other – writing – required isolation and focus. I couldn’t see how to make both of these callings work, so all through the month of June I am writing out an explanation to myself about what I think is the correct choice: availability. The writing must not be important in the long run, I say to myself. It’s always about people, it’s always about showing up. In June, there is a sense of relinquishment. I can remember the feeling of release, a certain peace. Writing would wait. Then in July, a succession of unexpected events. These were small things: conversations, decisions by friends, a gift from someone close, a paragraph in a book. These were sudden and illuminating, like matches being struck in dark corners: Oh, I see. By the end of that month, I had decided that I *must* write, even if it was just 250 words a day. I would inch my way along both trajectories. I told other people about my decision, committed myself, made it hard to back out. I made it to 10,000 words, 15,000, 20,000. At that point, the landscape began to shift. Decisions were made apart from me, obligations, relationships sifted, time opened up in a new way. There were more small things. Every book I picked up – some I’d bought years before and left on the shelf only to randomly select them again now – was the story of a woman coming into her truth. Every time I grabbed a magazine, it was a woman telling how she made the hard choice, how she chose her path and stuck with it even when it meant disappointing others. Friends who all along had been counseling “availability, availability” began to say “it’s time for something new.” I began to admit things in the journal I’d never allowed myself to say. Things I wanted but hadn’t given voice to. In the space of four months everything heaved and buckled, became new ground.
What’s interesting to me about all this is in hindsight, I’m not sure if the changes were inevitable and I was just awakening to them, or if the changes came in response to my decisions. When I look back, its almost as if this life had been lying in wait for me to choose it. Each step I’ve taken has been met with a surge of reassurance, clarity, and confirmation. But I sense that if I had not taken the steps…if I had stayed on the path I was already on, there would have been reassurance and confirmation there too. I’m almost certain of it. That scares me a little, to think I could have just gone on with what I knew and what felt comfortable, that life itself would have risen up and affirmed that choice too. What might I have missed had I not taken the small messages, the little match flares that were revealing another way? May Sarton suggests it:
“The gift turned inward, unable to be given, becomes a heavy burden, even sometimes a kind of poison. It is as though the flow of life were backed up.”
I have felt this stagnation, an underground current pulsing, not allowed to find release. When I think of so many women I know, I am struck by how their deep thoughtfulness, their tremendous strength and creativity is put to use holding relationships together, managing dysfunctional family members, being the emotional center of their homes or jobs or communities. I cannot imagine where we’d be without such women, but I am also struck with the inequity of it. What have we lost in terms of wisdom, art, culture, science, diplomacy, language, and much more by allowing ourselves to be available to everyone but our own selves?
It’s something to think about. Questions to ask ourselves in moments when we can be honest. Step back, look. What is pulsing underneath the surface? What longing hasn’t even been allowed the words to describe it? What would you do if there was no one who needed your daily involvement? There are seasons, certainly, when these longings and gifts have to take the background, but in my own life, they weren’t just in the background, they were in a tight little box labeled “probably never” or “probably too late.” What about yours? Are they somewhere they can be nurtured and watered even in a dormant season?
“And now we who are writing women and strange monsters
Still search our hearts to find the difficult answers,
Still hope that we may learn to lay our hands
More gently and more subtly on the burning sands.” ~ May Sarton
Sending love and courage to all my brave-hearted friends today.