Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reading Maps

Yesterday, I spent some time in doodle therapy, thinking about what's taken me so long to finish and submit a novel. I've been writing since…well, since I could write, but I've never made one honest attempt at making a living as a writer. Actually, I've never even made one dishonest attempt. I've started dozens of novels, but until recently, I'd never finished one. I'd get within pages of finishing and always just abandon the project, ceasing any writing for sometimes a year or more.

It's never occurred to me to wonder why I have no follow through because, I think, the answer was always so patently clear that I didn't feel that I needed to think about it. The answer was simply that I would never be a writer. Of course, that's circular reasoning. I will never be a writer because I will never be a writer. It's the psychology of the thinking that I've finally begun to contemplate.

Why do I assume that I'll never be a writer?

So I began to doodle. First, I doodled my life as a writer…what it would be like. There's a lovely palace with a rose-clad tower and an open courtyard, a large, tidy vegetable garden and a topiary garden, honeybees and a friendly sunshine, bushes and trees bearing fruit. An idyllic place. Although, naturally, there must be a lot of work involved in the maintenance of such a place. But it's work that I love. Pruning hedges and digging in the black dirt around tomato plants and strawberries.

At the bottom, I doodled my life as it is. Not unpleasant. Idyllic in its own way. Fields of security and contentment, a safe fence keeping out dangers, a calm pool where I can reflect and rest. I could be satisfied for ever without becoming a writer, remaining confined in the world as I know it. However, there are hidden risks here in the safety too. The cow and the sheep never move. A shutter fell off the little cottage. Rolling up those hay bales, beautiful pillows that they are, is hard work and not what I want to do with my time.

From the cottage to the palace, I scribbled a curvy path, wondering what it was that kept me from making the journey from one end of the page to the other. I knew for certain about the forest, and so I added it first. Self-doubt. That's a tree in there. I'm not sure where it comes from. I've had a pretty good run. No one's ever told me that I couldn't or shouldn't be a writer. Quite the contrary. I've had lots of encouragement. But self-doubt seems to be the tree in greatest abundance. Then, there's the unknown. What will happen if I try? I know what will happen if I don't. Nothing. Nothing ventured, nothing lost. There's fear in there, a black, ragged tree that stoops over the path, menacingly waving its pointed limbs. Confusion and lack of focus as well. Just trying to imagine what might happen, what prevents me, what to do causes my head to clutter with dead leaves and fallen limbs.

But then if I trudge through, I gain courage and confidence; though I imagine I'll have nightmares about the forest forever. I think I'm in the forest now.

After the forest, I had to think a little harder, and the next point on the map was further back, just across the road from my little cottage. I built a high wall and put the Eiffel Tower in it and tiny tourists enjoying the experience. Two lounged on a picnic blanket, one painted it at his easel, a clown did somersaults, and two more people sat at a small table and toasted over a glass of wine. What is this little fantasy world? Envy. I'm not free of it. I keep it to myself, but I certainly feel it, and sometimes I convince myself that everyone I know is busy fulfilling their dreams but me. Of course, I imagine everyone feels that way sometimes though no one likes to cop to it. But that's not the only pitfall in this wonderland across the street. I peek over and compare myself to others there. I tell myself, for instance, "Of course, she gets to go, she's so much more clever than I am." There are hundreds of skills that other people have that I do not, and I could sit around all day and spend valuable writing time comparing and contrasting. An utter waste of my time and what effort I do have. And then again, maybe envy and unfair comparisons should be signs to me of where I need to focus my own efforts.

Beyond the forest, jagged, pointed mountains peak. Fatigue. Different fears. (What if I can't make it to the top? What if I slide back down? What if a rock hits me on the head and I get a concussion and forget how to write?) More self-doubt. Lack of inspiration to carry me all the way. (What if I run out of ideas?) What a cold and scary place, but wouldn't I gain insight from those heights? A new vista? Wouldn't those new vistas give me greater wisdom? Wouldn't wisdom and new heights give me more confidence? More ideas?

Finally, having passed through the mountains, weary and no doubt shocked, as I hadn't intended to go so far, I see the palace, but I also see a tidal wave storming towards me. I suppose its insecurity. I'm sure everyone feels it, even when they succeed. Perhaps especially when they succeed. But the wave is also passion and vitality, imagination and freedom.

Honestly, even after all that, I still don't know where these dangers begin. But then, beyond saying, "Yes, the walnut tree comes from a walnut," it's just as hard to say exactly which crow or squirrel deposited the nut just so. Beyond saying, "Yes, of course, the wave comes from the sea," it's impossible to say exactly which curve of the shore created the wave, which disturbance of water molecules. Instead of trying to figure out where my fears come from, maybe the best approach is to use the map to remind myself that overcoming every fear has a reward, even if its not the one that I'd hoped to gain. Every little step takes me one little step closer to where I want to be, and no steps take me nowhere at all.


  1. beautifully written and very brave...

  2. someone once told me "your recklessness is bravery"

    just a thought...


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A Mirror, A Summer, A Street by Autumn Crisp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.