Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Meaning of Life...or Whatever

On Tuesday, after I dropped Ben off for his first day of school, I had a clearly defined plan for how I was going to spend my two and a half hours--the first two and a half hours that were officially mineallmine with both of my children occupied with schooling.

For whatever reason, burritos are the one thing my children veto every time I suggest them, and they are otherwise spectacular eaters, so I acquiesce.  So, first order of business was to eat my modified burrito (chicken bowl with a tortilla on the side) in the sunshine on the sidewalk in front of the mall Chipotle.

Several days earlier, my friend, Jody, had posted a quotation on Facebook that read “We were made to be the things that he is: forgivers, redeemers, second-chance givers, truth-tellers, hope-bringers. And we were certainly, absolutely made to be creators.” (s. niequist)”
After a quick google, I discovered Shauna Niequist and her book BittersweetAfter reading a couple of the excerpts from her website, I immediately placed her two books on reserve at the library.  

I had waited to start the book because my evenings had been consumed with filling out beginning of the school year paperwork and watching reality TV (hey, my brain was fried). So, part two of my big I-have-time-to-do-whatever-I-want plan was to leisurely read my new book while enjoying my meal.

Really great plan, right?  Yeah, until I started reading and realized that literally every page was going to make me cry.  I did not apologize to the two gentlemen sitting at the table next to me, who were probably utterly grossed out by the tears and snot dripping down my face.  Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but almost--I kept getting that choking feeling in the back of my throat, and I tucked a napkin on the inside of my glasses to line the rim of my bottom eyelids in an effort to catch the tears before they fell in my bowl.  

There was a time in my life when I laughed at Scott people who cry in movies.  I have been told there is a block of ice where my heart should be.  By multiple people.  But there is something about becoming a mother that opened the flood gates for me, and now these public crying fits seem to be standard operating procedure, which my friend, Erica, has assured me is completely normal.  And I believe her because she wouldn’t lie to me.

So, as I placed check marks in the margins of the book over and over again, I broke one of the rules I made for my alone-but-not-lonely time--I got on my phone to order the books to own (because I didn't want to get arrested by the library police for writing in their book).  I decided when we signed Ben up for this two-days-a-week class, I would have three rules because I am terrible without rules.  Aside from having a high need to have a plan, I need boundaries--like an electric fence with a shock collar to keep me from deviating from the set plan.  So, I made these three rules:

  1. No internet.  Especially no Facebook.  I was not going to watch my time disappear while I browsed other people’s baby pictures and “Liked” Ryan Gosling memes.  No.  I have plenty of time to do that at night when I am catching up on SYTYCD and folding laundry.
  2. No cleaning/organizing.  My kids are at an age, where I can very easily be productive (moms of wee ones--the day will come, I promise!).  So, the laundry and the vacuuming and the cleaning pee off the toilets--all of that can wait until a time when they are jumping on the trampoline or playing Legos in their rooms.  I will not be productive during my five-whole-hours-a-week.
  3. Some writing every day.  And this--THIS is the big one.

I am a writer.  (See how nice that looks in print, right there for all the world to see?)  But for the last seven thirty-two years, I have done very little in the way of writing with a purpose.  Several months ago, I attended the Storyline conference with Donald Miller, and above anything else he said, the thing that stuck with me most was this: if you want to be a blogger, write blogs.  If you want to write books, write books.  (That’s the Leia paraphrase, of course, but I think he would be happy with my version.)

In that moment, my body reacted in the way my mind couldn’t--I got sweaty pits and goosebumps all at the same time.  Because here’s the deal--I want to write books.  I write blog posts because I need an outlet for all the things that spin through my head on a day-to-day basis.  Consequently, the immediate gratification of getting a message from someone that says anything from “That was great!” to “I so needed to hear this today!” is what makes me feel connected to the rest of humanity on those days when I feel like an island (in a bad way).

I don’t begrudge my children or the time I’ve spent being thebestmomintheworld so far.  In fact, I believe being a mom is the greatest gift God has ever given me and the greatest gift I have to give the world.  Mothering--nurturing, caring, training, loving--is the most natural thing I have ever done.  But I really, really believe that the second greatest gift God gave me was my ability to write, and it’s a gift that has been sitting dusty on a shelf for far too long.

I finally feel like I have reached a season when I can focus on writing without feeling like I am shorting my kids or husband in an unfair way.  Because that’s what this season is about for me: 1. Working on my marriage, 2. Raising human beings, and 3. Pursuing writing as a viable career.

I wish you could feel the pit in my stomach right now--the one that is pummeling my gut and screaming, “WHAT IF YOU FAIL?”  Well, then I fail, I guess, but this is the moment in my life when I am saying, I am going to try anyway.

Shauna Niequist outlines beautifully the struggles that ensue when you are trying to write a book in her chapter titled “Knees or Buns.”  She talks about how when she is eating at a restaurant with her three-year-old, she gives him the choice--knees or buns.  Anyone who has ever dined with children will get this reference right away--I, in fact, have said a variation of this thousands of times, something like, “You can’t stand in your chair.  Pick one--on your knees or on your bottom.”

She goes on to compare writing to the situation with her son.  She writes, 

“What I learn, over and over, is that writing isn’t hard, but sitting down in the chair is really, really hard.  So at this point, I’m working at a three-year-old level: knees or buns?  I can sit anywhere I like, but I have to sit down, and then the hardest part is over...Creativity isn’t easy, and it isn’t something you turn on like a light switch.  My inbox will tell you that the world is full of writers who don’t write, painters who don’t paint, dancers who don’t dance.  They want me to tell them something, ostensibly a secret something that will get them up and moving again, creating again.  My reply is always a disappointing one: I don’t know what to tell you.  Sit down, knees or buns.  But then, I tell them something else: do it for the feeling you’ll have when you are done.  Making art doesn’t have the instant payoff that most things in our modern lives do, but like all things that really matter, the big payoff is invisible and comes much later.”

So, here I am.  On my second day without children.  On my buns.  Because she’s right--writing isn’t hard, not when you know with every fiber of your being that this is what you MUST do.  And whatever the payoff is, I am going to just live with this right now--the idea that I have five hours every week when I am going to do EXACTLY what I was made to do.  That, in itself, is payoff enough.  For now.


  1. You inspire me. :-) So if I want to finally start MY writing career I've got about 4 more years to wait... *sigh* But maybe now is when I should jot down ideas so the screen and I don't give each other such blank stares. And if you remember the book I wanted to start with, I guess I'll have another test subject. :-)

    1. DO IT. Pick knees or buns every day even if it's just for fifteen minutes--scribble your thoughts on the back of whatever is closest and keep it for later. Because yes, the day will come, and you've got a story to tell, too.

  2. will you ever go back to that description about being on the deck of that boat in africa--god's armpit? that opening page is one i'll never forget, not just for what you wrote but for how it made me feel. it is altogether possible that i will always know and relate to you at least in part through my experience of that page.

    1. Susan, I have no idea how I will get back to Africa, but it will certainly happen. Also, you should know I've already written my acknowledgements page, and your name is there in BIG FAT CAPITAL LETTERS. In so many ways, this is all happening in very large part because of you. And I don't mean the slightest bit of flattery in that. It's gospel truth.

  3. Love this. Once again, you and I are on parallel mind tracks. I have been thinking about this very thing a lot - whether this is my season or not. I had hoped it would be. But I'm also finding that running a school is taking a lot more time than I thought it would. And I still have a baby at home. Still...I do have time to myself every day, even if it's just 30 minutes when everyone is having rest time in their rooms. I love your rules. I often sit down to write, then cheat by checking email or FB or deciding I need to fold clothes or unload the dishwasher. I did write a newspaper article about the school this week for the base paper...under a pseudonym...but it was still writing, right?? I'm very proud of you and hope to follow in your footsteps! I will have to pick up this book you mentioned. Have you read bird by bird? Like that too.

    1. Oh, yes. Anne Lamott is one of my favorites--I met her this spring when she was speaking in Tacoma. She answered my question (that I submitted on a 3x5 card and handed to her handlers with hundreds of other people in the room) in front of the crowd. I love her. And you're time is coming. For sure.

    2. What was the question? (And I'm failing at knees or buns today, btw.)

    3. I asked about a friend of mine who says his goal is to eradicate religion from the planet, about how I should go about having conversations with him. She answered it from an addict/fixer standpoint. I'm not an addict, but I am a bit of a fixer. Her answer was enlightening, and while some of it didn't really apply to my specific situation, I took away this: how many minutes do I have left in my life?

  4. I've said it before and I'll say it again...keep writing. and crying in public.

    love you. love this. keep writing.

    1. Yes, ma'am. I remember the very first message you ever sent me on FB--it went something along the lines of ICOMPLETELYUNDERSTANDTHEDRIVETOCREATE, and it was in that moment that I knew we were going to be so much more than FB friends. You inspired me and made me cry with that message, and you have a HUGE hand in why this ball keeps rolling. Love you, too.

  5. Hope you're writing up a storm. I like this post. Thanks for the encouragement (I'm gleaning from the pep talks you give yourself). :)