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Sunday, February 3, 2008

When You're Too Busy Planning, You're Not Living Life

My purging is complete. Now it is time for some reflection... Two years ago, I went back to work again as a full time reading and language arts teacher for all the 4th graders of West Amwell School. I had been home on an 8 year maternity leave - yes, I said 8 years. I had a plan. I always had this plan - I would be a writer. Originally my plan was to teach for three years, learn what books needed to be written for elementary school kids and write them - simple, right?

But we all know how "...way leads on to way..." and before I knew it, 8 years had vanished. Then I left and had a baby. Then another baby. One year bled into another and before I knew it, another 8 years had flown by - again with a plan - to be a writer.

Not much writing happened during those years - those years of planning and not doing. Oh sure, I took a class for a few years on being a children's writer. And then I took a class on screenwriting in NYC for another two years. And sure I wrote my assignments, but I wasn't really living life as a writer. I was still planning to be one.

I wrote a lot of poetry in those days too. Actually, poetry was my first love as a writer. But I digress - So I went back to work as a teacher. I was teaching the great writers and not being one.

I was depressed.

I loved my students, don't get me wrong, and teaching was nice, but... I had no life and I wasn't writing at all. So when the position ended - the teacher I replaced while on maternity leave came back - life said 'no' to teaching and for the first time, I decided to listen to the universe and walk through whatever doors opened to me. Without question. Just walk through and see where it took me.

I also decided right then and there that I was no longer going to knock on closed doors because when a door is closed, universally speaking, it usually means, no one is home. So I started listening, really listening. The first thing I heard over and over was SCBWI, join SCBWI. So I did. I met a great friend there; Leeza. Then I tried to join a writer's group, but all were filled, or disbanded, or left no new information. So I asked Kathy Temean, RA of NJ's SCBWI what I should do. She said start your own. So I did. And the Hunterdon County Children's Writer's Group was formed. Sixty people showed up to our first meeting. Since then it has grown to a really unique group for children's writers. We have about 40 active members, and seven small groups, where we have all learned to critique without criticizing.

And as a result of listening to the universe, walking through its opened doors, and ignoring the closed ones, I have grown and learned so much.

I guess that's why this last bout of writer's laryngitis really hit me hard. It wasn't writer's block. To me writer's block is not knowing what to write next. I know what comes next in my story. It was laryngitis. I suddenly lost my voice. So I had to find a cure.

I cleaned. I purged. I went out to dinner with my extended family and celebrated our birthdays. I laughed. I lit candles. I meditated. I had plenty of sleep. I drank plenty of water.

But then today, thinking about this next posting and wondering what to write about, I decided to read my old poems. And I realized, well actually I realized a few things, some poems I used to think were really good, actually were quite bad. You might think this would be a downer. But it wasn't. Because through recognizing how trite some of them were, I realized I had grown.

I've walked through doors and listened to the universe, and met the people I need to know and because of it I've grown. I no longer PLAN on being a writer. I know I AM a writer.

One poem stood out to me though, and really illustrated this growth. I feel so far away from those words, those feelings right now and I am glad.

This might be a long entry and I try to keep them short - believe it or not - but here is that poem...

Unrecognizable, Even to Myself

Like a war veteran who still feels his amputated arm, I cling to a life, to the person, I once was, the person I wanted to be.

I search my face in the mirror, trying to find some part that I can recognize,
But I haven’t found it yet.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I value the people and things in my life; my family, my health, the roof over my head. I am not ungrateful,

Just lost.

I remember when I was younger dreaming of the life I would live when I grew up; daughters, a husband, perhaps an old farmhouse with horses and a dog. I would be a poet, a writer. My life would be simple and quiet, unfettered with obligatory friends and things to do. I would remain timeless in my beauty and thin - as I once was. I would be happy. The smell of wood burning in our fireplace. Unity of the family I had created with a soul mate of a husband; love, quiet, reassuring love, equal love, happy, fulfilling love.

I guess I am not so far, far away from that original painting in my mind; a Normal Rockwell oil painting of time frozen on a canvas with happy, content faces, living a simple life, in a simple time. Certain pieces of the portrait exist; a husband, daughters, dogs, a home, although not an old farmhouse and we don’t have horses. Still things are not as they seem, as they were in the painting of my life.

The quiet. The happiness. The very rare unfettered choices. The simplicity. The beauty and health of youth. The quiet, equal love. These are not here. The living life simply as a writer, alone time, time to write, alone, in quiet solitude, in an old converted barn, with the smell of wet wood and dust, sipping coffee, or maybe tea, with my dog asleep on the floor next to me, waiting

and watching as pages fly and fingers ache with the typing of words strung together like pearls on a graceful strand.

This life lives on only in my memory; the memory of a life not lived.

Instead, societal norms press my moves, marking my decisions, tying a noose around my neck.

Instead a paying job, I now seek, to fulfill my bank account instead of my soul, too weak to fight for what is right now, to write now no more.

Instead, I am a discontented, respected member of society, working for a living, at an honest pay, doing an honest job.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I, I took the one
more traveled by
And that HAS made all the difference.

It has tarnished my canvas, filtered the light, shifted the shades, discolored as they fade.

What is a grown-up to do with childish dreams and real bills to pay? How else can I do what I want and not what I must?

I teach children about the great writers instead of being one. I observe a symphony of sight and sound on the silver screen with my husband and children and tears are shed, not for the sentiment of the movie, but for the ones I will never write, see on the screen, for the awe that is inside of me, and remains to be seen.

Now I have papers to grade, and lessons to prepare, and writing is a not so distant dream of dreams I once had...
when I was young.

Young and unfettered from demands of grown-ups in a grown-up world. No time for dreaming, or writing. I might have to leave that for those who found there way in that yellow wood on that overgrown path, no traveler tramped.

I will have to leave that forked path perhaps for another day. When? Who knows now. Life passes us by as we make our plans of mortal man, immortal perhaps for others. Not I.

I took the other road. For not many understand the life of a writer, who sits alone and writes about the life you live, not for money, not for fame, not because anyone is knocking on her door asking her to... just because she has to. How can I justify this life now, now that there are mouths to feed, and backs to clothe, and a husband to help carry the load? How can I justify a life of writing for no one but myself?

I can not.

Not anymore.

And so I work, work for hire, work for pay, work so society can be proud of me.

Fettered, yes.
Chained, hampered, held back... you bet.

On my usual drive to work the other day, I drove past a field of sunflowers, bright and yellow. Their dark, undistinguishable faces trying to capture the sun. At first I was struck by the beauty in their uniformity, their neat rows and tidy lines. But then I noticed one flower grew taller and surer than the rest, as if reaching, reaching to be something more, something different, forging her way in a sea of sameness. One flower reached for the sun on a tepid August day.

She did not stop to ask if she had the right.

13 comments:

Aine said...

Ah, another mid-lifer. My husband and I have been discussing these issues a lot lately.

I'm doing the 8 year maternity leave, too. LOL! And now that our youngest is in school, it's time for me to "do what I want" (translated "return to my career").

Part of me loves this time of introspection-- it's nice to revisit my "self" and discover new goals. But, it's also difficult to find goals that are attainable while meeting the obligations of family.

I'm glad that I popped over to visit your blog. I'll be back!

Sheri said...

Aine,
Welcome! I've been to yours and Jason's blog too.

I really feel for you, because as you've read, I've been there. All I can say is when I turned 39 I had a sudden epiphany - I am a writer and I cannot hide it any longer - I need to find jobs in this career.

Hundreds of resumes later I discovered a pretty cool freelance job - real estate copy writer. While it doesn't pay a fair amount of bills, it does allow me to live life as a writer, keep my kids first, and continue to work on my novel. My job essentially is to view the houses newly listed, and then write a sales blurb about them. I am paid per copy and gas.

While you are now facing that fork in the road, and if writing is the way you want to go, think about all the jobs out there that need to hire good writers and pursue them with a vengeance.

Good luck! See you in the blog world soon!

PJ Hoover said...

I love your post! I never did the eight year maternity leave but have been seriously thinking about pursuing writing (and mommying) full time. Big decisions!

ChristineEldin said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog!!
You are gross enough to call a friend, so I will link you as 'Worm.'
hahahaah!!

I haven't read your post yet because we're on our way out, but I'll be back....
Oh yeah.
;-)

jason evans said...

I have to trust that all journeys are beautiful. The reflections on yours can only make the path feel stronger.

Sheri said...

PJ - Whenever you're at cross roads, it is a difficult thing. It was hard giving up a teaching position with a steady income and benefits, but if I had to do it all over again, I would do it the same.

I was a closeted writer, but now I'm out!

Christine - unfortunately, I have to say "worm" suits me. I am so grossed out by them! And I hope you do come back!

Sheri said...

Jason,
I agree! The journey has made me realize how special all our talents are and to never take them for granted. As a result, I know I will never do that again.

ChristineEldin said...

Now I had time to read your thoughtful post.
Are we all going through this at the same time?!!!
I have to follow my husband around. There's a lot of backstory with that, but basically I wanted to be a stay at home mom until my kids went to school. So when they did, and DH was still traveling, I fell into depression, ate a lot, had marital problems....the whole nine yards.
I wrote on another blog that I finally realized that I didn't truly want a career anymore. All my friends with careers weren't happy/fulfilled. I wanted to be creative.
So, like you, I joined SCBWI and started writing PBs. Then I thought I'd like to write an MG, and LO I found my calling! I love it!
I'm so happy to be sharing blogs now. Can't wait to see more of your writings!!!
:-)

Sheri said...

Christine,
We are living parallel lives.(insert theme music from The Twilight Zone.) Your story is so similar to mine. Money pressures and a "You said you would," prompted me back to work. Sure, the extra income was great, but I was miserable, just like you, and the strain was felt everywhere.

I am so happy, finally, to admit out loud my true calling - writing MG novels too! I thought I was a PB writer, but no. I am not. I mean I'm OK at it, but I don't want limited space to write in. I guess if I was a painter, I would paint on those HUGE canvases... The ones, no one could actually fit in their home, unless they took the roof off their house.

But this life is hard too. It's just the kind of 'hard' I can live with. I mean, here I am still waiting on a freelance check for work I did Jan 7, and they've made no excuses, as usual, for why it is late. Ah, the life of a freelancer - same old news. And true, today I cashed in our huge jar of change just so I could have some cash in my pocket, but all in all, this is what I HAVE to do. We have no choice, right!?

So glad I found you in this blogger's world.

Do you belong to NJ SCBWI? If so, I am going to the Feb 24th conference...

♥♥♥ A- Licious ♥♥♥ said...

wow..........


i think this was one of your best posts yet...

the poem was outstanding...

and your epiphany is couragous and breathtaking...

great read ~ i always learn something from you....awesome!

xoxoox a xoxoxoxox

Sheri said...

Amy,
Thank you so much. I am cyber-blushing!

ChristineEldin said...

Hi Sheri,
I live in Maryland (when we're in the States)
I haven't been to a conference in two years. I signed up for one last July, but DH was traveling and I became flustered with babysitting issues, got lost on my way, it was raining and ended up missing the whole darn thing. Still had to pay the babysitter.

I'm hoping to go to NY next year. Really really hoping. It's driving distance (or train).

NJ is close!!!

Are you doing anything with your PBs?
I have one that I think is close to being good. I am putting a lot of effort into it. The others I'm just considering writing practice and I'm leaving them.

Sheri said...

A bunch of my writer/illustrator friends are going to the NY one this year. I couldn't afford it. It is a huge chunk of change. I am saving up to go to the Bologna one next year!

I have a polished PB I am shopping at the end of Feb at the NJ conference. And a few others in various stages. But MG novels are really my thing. I have been working on my novel on and off for about 9 months now. I am on the 6th version. I have to say version and not draft because none of the drafts actually got to that last word of that last sentence of the last paragraph on that last page. but I know this version will. I feel very good about where I am in it, where it is going, the voice etc...

How about you? You do mainly MG or PB?

“Personal limitation exists only in our ideas of who we are. Give up all notions of who you are and your limitations will vanish.”

- Anonymous