I am an uninitiated writer.
This is progress because before last week, I could never call myself a writer without feeling all squirmy. Like I’d just lied in the church of the only god I could possibly be made to believe in (who continues to remain nameless).
The beginning of a story is really not the beginning. The story is already in progress, we’re just supposed to start paying attention now. This starts us assuming there’s a meaning to be read into the events and pre-event events that lead to the story’s conclusion (the place where we stop paying attention). That stop is a relief. The situation, or character, is well in hand, and we can rest assured. I think we all stand, in the occasional but brief lulls in our life, thinking that the credits must be about to roll. While we may not be indulging a death wish, we might simply think “this would be a good place to wrap.”
But I digress. Here’s where I started paying attention in this particular episode. Cue story beginning:
Occupied by and hip deep in an existential mess with no definite edges, I realized that the article I had promised to write three months ago was due. Tomorrow. The fake due date that I I’d written down in order to scare myself into starting the article with enough time for procrastination and fussiness turned out to be accidentally the real thing. Now with only 24 hours to go, I stayed on task as much as I could, “mewling and puking about the hopelessness of trying to put words down on paper” as Anne Lamott has so aptly described it. I had a deadline, so I didn’t have much time to fuss about what I wrote (although I made time because I’m dedicated). I barreled through it, got it done and I turned it in.
And, once again, I wondered what the hell was wrong with me.
Here I was, sighing about picking a topic, shrugging my way through a first draft, meh-ing over revisions, and still left utterly dissatisfied after the birth and delivery. My workdays had been filling up with more writing than ever before, a trend that not only seemed like it would continue, but that I was leaning into. If I hated it this much, why the hell was I doing this? If you have a voluntary task where hate the process and the outcome it produces, couldn’t you just, I don’t know, not?
I decided to talk to my Doctor-Professor-Friend who is a writer. She’s the real thing – initiated, doctorated, and everything. She is Officially For Real. I wanted her to read my final draft and tell me if it was crap. I kinda hated it and I wanted to know whether my hating it was a result of my inability to see anything I produce as good and therefore I should continue to ignore my urge to barf upon reading my own work (deep breath because this is a long sentence) OR if I should trust my critique of my work and recognize it really is bad and then … and then what? I didn’t even think ahead that far. I realize now I was assuming and hoping that it was the former and completely ignoring the possibility that it wasn’t. In retrospect, I think I was looking for permission, which is quite possibly the step right before initiation.
She told me, of course, that it was “lovely.” “Complex yet seamless,” and “professional yet accessible.” Then she proceeded to give me loads of mentor-flavor feedback for the soul as well as the skill. It was so delicious that I hardly had time to taste it because I ate it too fast. And it was genuine and honest, humble and clever. Just like her. I accepted her permission.
The Universe followed with a number of courses after that meal over the week. The cheese cart in the shower: “the top two things that stand in your way are not lack of talent or opportunity but laziness and impatience, and those are both things in your power to fix.” Dessert from Facebook: “I’ve never, in forty years of doing this, knocked off one single piece. Everything takes me forever. It’s all lurch, flail. I hope that is good news to you writers.” Coffee on my friend’s couch: “Maybe your first book came so easily and you’re realizing that it’s not always that easy, so now you have a cavernous disparity to overcome that is shocking.” And the after-dinner mint on the phone: “Writing is now real. Not the ego-fortification exercise of your first book which had a three-year head start to write itself inside you.”
At some point in the past 48 hours, I was once again metaphorically trying my “Kiss Me, I’m a Writer” hat on and instead of the usual squirm, a vision appeared in my mind’s eye. I was walking in a herd of people, like any scene in any movie about the doldrums of life as a corporate cog. I did not stand out in any way, but blended in with them in a most unspecial way, as the camera of my inner eye slowly zoomed out. We were all in gray lab coats and carrying briefcases, walking across a gray bridge against a gray sky. As bleak as that sounds, the mood was thrilling. I was looking around like a kid on her first day of playing grown-up in a real grown-up job and I realized: I am on my way to my initiation.
Or else we’re all waiting on line at the imaginary DMV.