My last blog post ended with the words "stride off confidently in the direction of your dreams." Isn't that a lovely thought? Wouldn't you think that someone who could write such a thought was just seconds away from, oh, I don't know, a modeling contract and a Nobel Prize?
I have been checking my mailbox daily, but so far, no triumphs or accolades. Unless "accolades" is French for "bills and catalogs."
I have been trying to stride off confidently in the direction of my dreams. So far, it has looked more like limping and wheezing in the general direction of my dreams. Hey, this is still progress.
First I had to figure out what the dreams were. I spent a lot of time thinking about the people I envied and what it was that they had that I wanted. I realized, thinking about it, that there was nothing inherently impossible about me achieving most of it.
I am not one of these New-Agey types with vision boards who believe that you need only to visualize your dreams and meditate on them in order for them to come true. I do hew firmly to the belief, sang by the great prophet Joe Jackson, that "you can't get what you want 'til you know what you want."
This is one of the things I want most: I want to be a writer. I want to write for a living. When I renew my passport next year, I want it to list "writer" as occupation, and I want it not to be a lie. I realize that there are certain things I need to do in order to make this dream a reality, not the least of which is to actually write. At the computer. To a file that is transmissible to other humans. Now, understand that I have been creating brilliant work for years, but it has all been in my head, which has not historically been a reliable place to store things. Occasionally I would bring my head somewhere close to a computer, and try to get it to disgorge its brilliance. Invariably there would be some defect in the computer that would cause my brilliant thoughts, once transcribed, to be, shall we say, less so. And by "less so," know that I mean "incoherent." So you can understand my reluctance.
But I've been forcing myself to write, in the conventional sense, a little bit every day. May I say that it's been excruciating? I do not feel at all writerly. I feel like someone who's suffered a terrible blow to the head and has to be taught how to tie her shoes and feed herself with a spoon by a kind and patient occupational therapist. Worse, I feel like someone who needs to be retaught the words "shoes" and "spoon" before she can learn to use them. Nor do I feel like a heroic patient, the kind about which Hallmark sponsors TV movies. I feel like the kind of patient who knocks over her tray table in a fit of pique and hurls her bedpan at orderlies.
It does not help in the least that I am forced to be not only the patient, but also the occupational therapist, and occasionally the orderly. I have this entire staff, in my head, taking me gently by the forearm each morning, leading me in my ratty bathrobe over to the computer, feigning patience with my halting steps and muttering.
Fortunately, there are people outside this psychotic little vision who are helping, too. I think of them as my candy stripers. A hospital doesn't have to have candy stripers. They're volunteers. Their job is to help out in the little ways, to bring cheer. Every time I get winded, sagging against the grab bar in my mental hallway, thinking I can't possibly make it another step, a candy striper pops up with a smile and a word of genuine encouragement. I don't know why it happens precisely when I need it to, but it does. You can call it God's grace if you want. I do.
This is what happens: I'll be sitting at the computer, thinking what a terrible piece of shit I am, how regretful God must be that He made me, how He's probably thinking He could have turned that Osama bin Laden around, but me--well, there's a hopeless case. I'll stare mutinously at the computer screen and its mocking, blinking cursor, just daring me to put words down. As if there aren't thousands, millions of better writers, real writers whose worst drafts but my best work to shame. If, the mean little voice in my head sneers, you can even call what you do "work."
And then, the miracle: just when I'm about to turn away from the keyboard for good, and drown my inadequacies in a nice breakfast of Chee-tos and vodka, a candy striper pops up. Not someone paid to be there and be nice to me, like my husband or my kids. Another writer, or a total stranger reading this blog, or, I swear, one day when I was close to giving up, an editor with an assignment. If you've ever had a kindly, smiling person gently squeeze your shoulder and give you a cup of cool water when you thought you couldn't make it another step, you know how this feels.
Then they're off, bounding away before you can even croak "thank you." And you look up after them, their effortless motion, and you think, maybe I can do this a little while longer. And you shuffle along believing, really believing, that if you only keep moving you will get where you meant to be going. On the good days, it feels like progress. And even on the bad days, the memory of someone else's belief in you is refreshment enough to keep you lurching forward.