“Everything you can imagine is real.”Pablo Picasso
It’s 8:30 in the morning.
I have chosen a word of the year each January for almost a decade now. The word is always aspirational and I try to apply it to every aspect of my life. Some of the words I’ve selected in the past were Light, Heal, Braver. This year I had a harder time settling on a word. There were several contenders. I finally got quiet and thought about the things I want to change, and it turns out there’s quite a bit.
It’s not that I’m not happy, I am. I have incredible friends and family, I have meaningful work, a great partner, a perfect dog. And yet.
I woke up this morning with Mary Oliver on my mind. This is not unusual – mornings and Mary Oliver go together like mornings and coffee. MFEO.
The line in my head was this:
Maybe it’s something to do with turning fifty. It didn’t really freak me out much, even though I received message after message – only from men – wishing me a “Happy 25th birthday!’ or “Turning 30 again?” Dude. Not at gunpoint. I am thrilled with fifty. I so easily could not be here, you know? I mean, I’ve spent a fair amount of my life either overtly negotiating my way out of the world or settling for a life I could maybe be okay with leaving. It honestly never occurred to me that I’d be fifty, but here I am. Miracles abound. I’m so grateful.
My ex-husband – a very funny many – used to say to the people who worked for him, “I’m going to need you to recalibrate your sense of urgency.”
I think that’s what’s happened. I have a new-found sense of urgency.
The funny thing about that Mary Oliver poem is that it’s kind of about the opposite of urgency. It’s about being present and how perhaps there really isn’t anything more important that watching a grasshopper eat sugar out of the palm of your hand.
Nevertheless, I am sitting here in bed with unfortunate coffee (someone bought fat free half and half, which is aggressive and tastes like disappointment) watching the the sun rise while tiny snowflakes skitter about, and I feel an undeniable sense of urgency.
That used to look like hustle and a need to produce. Maybe that was less urgency and more desperation to prove my worth. This isn’t that. It’s actually the farthest thing from that.
Last year we lost nearly 400,000 Americans to something most of us never saw coming. Life is short and unimaginably fragile. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. In the words of Willam Goldman, anyone who tells you different is selling you something.
My word for this year is Create. I chose it for several reasons.
I am an artist who has been too busy to make art. I have been working ridiculously long days and then collapsing at the end of them too depleted to write or paint or cook. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with binge watching Schitts Creek (it’s actually magical and perfect. Ew, David.) but that can’t be IT. The other day I thought of something I once heard Maya Angelou say,
You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
I always say that Scout and Shane are both like car batteries. We go on a five mile hike and they have more energy at the end of it than they did at the beginning. It’s appalling, frankly. I have been feeling like my creative battery is dead, but perhaps that’s because I’ve been letting it sit, dormant.
I was scrolling through Facebook Memories yesterday and I came across a post of Matt’s from 2015 about my essay, He Wrote it Down. It was interesting and nostalgic to see him writing about me before we were friends. Also in Facebook memories were a ton of posts about today – which was my book launch day.
Matt’s away on vacation, but he called me anyway and immediately, and lovingly, pushed back on the notion that I haven’t done anything in the past three years. He was like, “You mean other than have your life shattered and then rebuild it?”
Okay. So I’ve been busy.
But he also knows what I mean.
I chose create as my word because I need to write. I need to. I have a chapter completed. I love it, but I don’t entirely know what it is, yet. I don’t know what the book around it looks like. Matt has informed me he will murder me if I publish it as a blog post, so I will not. It feels frustrating to let it be a draft while I drift, a rudderless writer. But I’m doing the thing where I’m hoping I can think my way into writing when really I need to write my way into knowing.
I also chose the word create because it is widely applicable. I want to create the life I want. Professionally, personally, spiritually, creatively. I have agency over all of that, and I forget that. I let myself feel stuck or powerless, and I am neither.
My life can be as small as I choose. Did you see the movie Contact? There’s a great line at the end when a kid asks Jodie Foster’s character if she believes there’s extraterrestrial life and she replies
“The universe is a pretty big place. It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it’s just us… seems like an awful waste of space.”
I think I can create something bigger than I’ve allowed myself dream of before. I published my book She Wrote it Down; How a Secret-keeper Became a Storyteller three years ago, today. Due to the circumstances of my life at the time, I don’t think I did that book justice. I also consider it a raging success. I know it helped people, meant something to people. I’m proud of it.
I learned some really valuable things from that experience. I think about those lessons a lot. The one lesson that I should be keeping front and center in my mind is the one I most frequently forget, though. In January of 2017, I said, ‘I am writing a book this year.’ In January of 2018, I published it.
I am writing a book this year. I will finish it this year. I will not die saying, “I should have, could have written a second book, or I tried to write a book.” As Yoda would say, there is no try.
I will write a book this year. I will get back to the practice of writing, today – because tomorrow is not guaranteed.
Time to create.