i was at a party on monday night with a bunch of people i don't know terribly well, but know enough to know that we're mostly all at different points in our lives. not all of us, so much as, all of them, and then me, on the other side of some invisible line.
and one of the girls was asking about dating in new york city, which if i know anything at this point in my life it is that 1. dating here is absolutely unforgiving and hard and new york may very well be the worst place to meet anyone. ever. and 2. the experience of dating here is a perpetual case of heartache--mostly mild, but sometimes not.
over the last few years i've gotten really good at crafting stock answers to questions i don't want to answer. like what do you do for a living or what do you want to do with your life or are you seeing anyone. i answer obliquely or flippantly or, upon occasion, with a question that is just disarming and (relatively) charming enough that the person laughs and we move on to another topic.
on monday night someone asked about a man. and i let out a long breath and sort of chuckled. and i had no words. because sometimes the truth is too sharp to gloss over. and before my wise-ass mouth could catch up to my mind, i found myself saying, but you know, not everyone gets to have this experience. and maybe it's a bit lucky that i do.
and how shocked i was by those words. because where did they come from? that was my thought--i had that thought?
but out they came. and they felt really true. and really good.
but like a peripheral truth. sitting just on the edge of myself. and if only i could reach out, wrangle it, pull it in closer.
there's a man named brian doyle who is one of my very favorite writers. and once upon a time he wrote a nearly perfect essay on what it is to be a writer. and i've underlined and dog-eared and highlighted the whole of it. and i go back again and again (and again) to find answers to questions that have both nothing and everything to do with writing.
so i pulled it out sometime just after monday night searching for what follows:
I was visiting a class of fourth graders recently, and going on at tiresome length, as is apparently my habit, about Robert Louis Stevenson, and how great he was, and how he wrote timeless and vigorous stuff in every genre, novels and poetry and essays and travelogues and letters, like a pitcher who could throw the best curve and the best slider and the best change up and the best head-high heater, and a girl in the third row raised her hand to ask an honest question:
"If Stevenson is the best ever, and you say you'll never be as good as him, why do you write?"
She had me there for a moment--what do I say? Catharsis? Or benign neurosis? Or prayer? ...
My job--my itch, urge, dream, hobby, entertainment, prayer--is to tell stories on paper, to try to choose and tell stories that both inform and move their readers, and that is what I do to shoulder the universe forward two inches. I was given the urge, and a little of the requisite skill, and I have to do it. It's what I do, and what I love to do, and no once else can do it quite like I do.
Better, perhaps--but not with my peculiar flavor and music, and somehow, in a way I do not wholly understand, that is important, and in a very real sense miraculous, and necessary."
i believe that of writing. and i believe that of life. which i think is what i meant when on monday night i said, not everyone gets to have this experience.
i wouldn't wish my life on anyone. as lucky and charmed and impossibly blessed and undeservingly fortunate as i have been, i would not wish my life on anyone. because there were whole stretches of time in which i thought i'd been swallowed whole by sadness. and i was. years of my life i can't remember. whole years. just the other night i was out with a friend i hadn't seen in five years and he was talking about the last time we'd been together and my recollection was so vague and so dark that all i could do was turn to him and say, i can't recall. and the thing is, i have an exceptional memory. that's my thing. so to not remember is unnerving and terrifying and says more about a very sad and very lonely stretch of time than the small words i might choose to use ever could.
but here's the thing, and this is a relatively new thought for me, i wouldn't trade my life for anyone else's. because not everyone gets to have this experience. and maybe it's lucky that i do. and others may live their lives "better--but not with my peculiar flavor and music." this is my lot and i'll be damned if i don't figure it out. and frankly i'd like to see how it all plays out. which is to say, i'm invested in the story. i'm invested in the story of my own life. which, i think, is not a bad place to be at twenty-seven.
i used to think the not knowing was the worst bit. the great gaping unknown--an endlessly terrifying thing. but i'm starting to realize it's actually quite thrilling. it's actually, absolutely, the best bit. there is so much to look forward to, so much still to do. i have yet to live that night on which i'll meet the man i marry. yet to get my first piece published. yet to give birth or buy a house or figure out non-oblique answers to all those damn questions. there are so many firsts still ahead of me. and what a blessing--what a particularly exciting thing about standing on this side of that invisible line.
what i'm just now coming to realize is that the difference between the terror and the thrill--that razor-edge that separates the two, is faith.
i remember sending up a particularly vociferous prayer towards the start of the year, which wasn't so much a prayer as a demand, what do you want from me? what do you want from me? six words i said again and again. six words i angrily flung upward. and the answer came back immediate and clear: more faith.
which at the time i thought meant more patience, and patience has never been my virtue.
but now, these many months later, i don't think it is patience. it's not about more patience or less patience. it's about a seed of self-belief. and how that seed is actually a divine thing. it's about embracing the bits that don't make any sense. trusting that the story is in fact made by the departures and aberrations. it's about wonder and curiosity. about moving forward and upward even if the movement is a sort of graceless thrashing about. it's about clawing and clamoring and dirt beneath the fingernails. it's about saying i don't know. and i don't know. and i don't know, again. because one day i will. and if one believes that in the end it'll all work out--even and most especially in the face of overwhelming doubt--then those moments of discomfort and unease and fear are made sweet and holy and wholly lovely by their impermanence.
that really is the answer, isn't it?