Incomplete

Occasionally, my husband will bug me with: ‘So where is your best selling novel?  Why haven’t you written it yet so we can live a life of luxury and I don’t have to work anymore?’

I guess some people might find this obnoxious, but I find it funny (it’s partly down to tone).  I also like it because it reminds me of my life dream.

I had several years of childhood existential angst where people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I never had answer.  What did I want to be?  (Note to adults: don’t ask kids this.  They don’t know.  And if they are sure they want to be a sparkle princess firewoman, they’ll tell you.)  Then in 6th grade I did a story writing unit and on the bottom my teacher scrawled ‘This is great!  You should be a writer.’

Thanks to Mrs. Garwood, suddenly everything made sense.  Hadn’t I been scribbling and composing stories since before I could write?  I even had some proto-fan fiction drama in a notebook: a hilarious crossover between The Legend of Zelda and The Little Mermaid.  I don’t know how offhand that comment was, but it changed my life.

I devoted my life to becoming a writer.  Well, kind of.  I was never a tortured artist who was consumed by her art, but I did everything I could to be a better writer–I penned my first (terrible) novel at 15, and wrote one complete sequel and half of another.  I took the creative writing electives at high school and majored in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing in college, damned be the expense and impracticality.  I kept filling up notebooks with further novel attempts, planning out a family saga in four parts–but I never finished the first.

It turns out that writing is pretty easy.  Finishing a piece of writing is hard.  Figuring out what makes me finish something is harder still.  After about five years post-college dithering with one novel, I discovered that fan fiction was an actual thing.  No, I was not weird for spinning further stories about my favorite books–or if I was, I was in very good company on the internet.  Inspired by the fact that I wasn’t alone and a renewed spark of inspiration for the Narnia books which had fired my imagination so much as a kid, I churned out a good half dozen multi-chapter and short stories in the space of three months.

I also met my a writing partner, someone who was as caught up as me.  We started writing fan fiction together, and I abandoned my serious literary attempts to write about fully copyrighted characters.  We mused often about how we would go somewhere with our stories, but at the same time, we were having so much fun we didn’t ever want to finish.  We did some good work and I honed and thought about my writing skills, but I never seemed to finish much of anything.

Yet all through these years since I had been told I should be a writer, I never doubted that I would be.  I would write, no matter what.  Even if I wasn’t producing, I knew that one day I would, and that was enough.  After all, I spent every night writing for two plus hours as my writing partner and I spun stories for ourselves.  There couldn’t be more dedication.

Then things started to change.  I met my husband and started building the dream I didn’t think would come true–getting married and starting a family.  My writing partner had a kid, then I did.  We didn’t have as much time for writing, and then the fights we had been having from such an intense friendship and creative partnership became too much to get past.  I got a job teaching, and marking and planning took up a lot of my time outside work.  I did manage to write a play and even get it performed at a small am-dram company, but lately, I struggle.  Instead of the absolute certainty that one day I will write a best-selling novel, I start to wonder sometimes: do I have to?  I’m already so happy.

This line of thought scares me.  I always swore I wouldn’t be the type of person who gave up on their dream, yet here I am, sometimes on the verge of doing so.  It is hard to fit in writing when I have one kid–very soon to be two, and a job that is full time and then some.  It’s easier to mooch around on Facebook and BuzzFeed at night instead of plodding through typing to find my inspiration. But actually finishing is hard, and I’m teetering on an edge, given my present feelings and my past history.  I always thought that without writing and achieving my goal to be a published author I would feel incomplete.  What’s scary is to realize that incompleteness wouldn’t be a gaping hole but more of a niggle that I could live with.

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Source: Incomplete

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But No Cigar

Yesterday I wrote about things in my life which worked out exactly as I had planned.  MR is a person who seems to always land on his feet, and he says this is not because he’s especially lucky, he just knows how to seize opportunities.  I think I’ve done the same at certain points.  Sometimes, though, with all the will in the world, things don’t work out exactly as I planned, and that is certainly true for settling into my marriage.

Everything began perfectly.  I’ve detailed the story often enough here, but it still amazes me, because when I hit 30 and had been on exactly 3 dates in 8 years, I thought one of my life dreams, having a family, was never going to happen.  As 30 clicked over to 31, and then 32, I started to really panic.  Time was running out.  I had to kiss a few frogs before I found the One, didn’t I?  And I wasn’t even catching frogs.  Then if I did find a guy, we’d probably date for a couple of years before getting married, and then want to be married a couple of years…basically my logic turned into panic along these lines:

Then my friend introduced me to MR and we were exchanging emails before we met as though we were already a couple.  When we met in person several months later in August, it was already a fait accompli.  Then he went about some serious day seizing and surprised both himself and me by proposing at Christmas.

Suddenly my life was falling into place.  Perhaps that’s one of the ways he’s the right person for me, because he goes after the things he wants in the same way.  We started planning a wedding, a big wedding with a 14th century Guild Hall as a venue and a phalanx of bridesmaids and a Big White Dress.

Then things started to crumble a little bit.  MR’s family, especially his mother, is an efficient person, and this is no fault.  Also, this was the first wedding of her 3 children so naturally she wanted to be involved.  However, I as the bride was across the Atlantic, so the efficient planning meant sometimes cutting out the bride, and that was just the beginning of transatlantic difficulties.  I thought when we decided to get married in England that I would have a small cluster of guests.  Not a lot, because a trip to England isn’t cheap, but I thought a handful of people would turn up.  My bridesmaids did, and I was so grateful to them for making that happen even when they didn’t have tons of available funds.  And I did have two friends make the effort to come.  But none of my extended family could come, friends who I had counted on because they said they would.  In the lead up to the wedding this made me feel a bit lonely, particularly because of the immigration circumstances.

By far the most difficult thing was trying to sort out immigration. We were getting married in England because we wanted to live in New York, but the US Department of Immigration had other ideas.  If we wanted to get married in England, MR would have to wait 9 months for his paperwork to be processed before he could even enter the US.  If he tried before then, even to visit, the border guards could send him home because they could say he wasn’t trying to visit but sneak in.  We could give up our big wedding in favor of a quickie courthouse wedding, but even that would require paperwork and months of waiting if we did everything on the up and up.

I thought when we got engaged that I would have everything–a job I loved in a home city that was a part of me,  and newly, a man I loved who I was going to start a life with.  Immigration law quickly squashed that have it all feeling, and I had some decisions to make.  So I decided–I had been a romantic my whole life, and I wasn’t about to give up on that ideal.  I waited so long for MR, I wasn’t going to wait anymore.

I miss NYC terribly.  It’s still my home.  I miss my friends, and I miss my job.  I worked for a stint at a British school, and part of the reason it didn’t go so well was because it wasn’t the job I had loved for so long.  I’m only just now starting to branch out and make friends, a year and a half after arriving here.

But I don’t just have a husband, I have a family.  If I had agreed to wait those 9 months, I wouldn’t have my daughter next to me as I type this.  We would still be waiting to start a family.  And sometimes I wonder–teaching was always the backup career.  It turned out so wonderful that I really started to devote myself to it, but I had wanted to be a writer since I was 12 years old.  I mentioned yesterday I was afraid that writing wouldn’t work out, and the story above is why.  But then I think–even though this isn’t the ideal I set out for myself, it’s still a pretty great life.  And while I may miss home, that doesn’t mean I regret going for this life.  So maybe it’s time to grab a little courage and give my final dream a try.  Carpe diem…carpe horas.

The finish line

I am not by nature a finisher.

This is a trait of mine that has always annoyed me.  I’m not really troubled by my procrastination, because I’m always able to get my work done, even if it means an all nighter on occasion, and my grades or job has never suffered for it.  On reflection though, it’s probably part of the same thing.

There’s something in me that hates finishing a project.  I’ll start almost anything with gusto, but those last little bits of a project irritate me, and I leave them unfinished.  I have a thousand examples of this, most notably my undergraduate English thesis.  It was a 75 page opus comparing depictions of childhood in the writings of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.  My thesis advisor kept suggesting ideas to add, and I dutifully added all of them.  I read critical article after critical article, and read through Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Huck Finn, and Tom Sawyer.  I structured a thoughtful comparative analysis and drew conclusions about the American spirit of adventure and stuff.  And then I never proofread the essay.  It’s sitting there in the library of Hartwick College with (citation needed) in some places, instead of the actual article I was talking about, and probably more than a few typos.

This is me all over.  I’ll undertake these huge, complicated projects, and never complete them.  I really enjoy handicrafts, including counted cross stitch.  In my lifetime I’ve undertaken several tapestry-like cross stitch projects only to abandon them, uncompleted.

I recently experienced something of a victory though.  I decided I was going to make Christmas presents this year for my sister and sister-in-law.  For my sister I did a table runner in lace crochet and edged napkins to match, and for my sister-in-law I embroidered a cushion.  I was frantically sewing the cushion on Christmas eve, but all were completed and well received.

This has left me with a flush of pride.  I finished something, and it went over really well.  My sister is emphatic that I need to start an Etsy store, and I started daydreaming about it.  It makes perfect sense–I do this stuff anyway, and MR is not one for superfluous decoration, so the stuff I make wouldn’t find a home in our house.  (Sidenote: I realize I could battle him on this one and force him to have some doilies, but we’ve been doing pretty well making our decorative tastes meet when it comes to our new house, so I see no need to rock the boat.  Besides, there are really only so many doilies a person can have lying around.)  I could do something I do for fun and get paid for it.  Boxing Day morning I lay in bed daydreaming of taking orders and finishing them off, and charging tidy sums for said projects because so much work goes into them, which would be very nice as we could certainly use the money.

When MR woke up, I told him of my plan, he frowned and grew thoughtful.  Then he told me I shouldn’t do it.  I was surprised, because a common theme among us lately is how without me working, we could really use a little more money.  Not a lot, just  a bit more to make us more comfortable.  He said he worried how I would handle multiple orders–which is a good point.  But more than that, he said he noticed that working on those Christmas presents had really taken me away from my writing, and that he doesn’t want to see that become a pipe dream.

There is a lot of truth to this.  I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I certainly have a lot of projects begun, but I have very few finished ones. Very few indeed–I have one complete novel draft, a handful of short stories (all written for assignments), and a few fan fictions.  There’s a novel I had an idea for when I was 15 that is as yet incomplete.  I did National Novel Writing Month one year and got the aforementioned novel draft, which is frankly terrible and needs a major overhaul.  I did it again and wrote 50,000 words, but didn’t come close to finishing the story.  I did it this year and I didn’t finish.

But I finished those napkins, and that table runner, and that pillow.  And the fact remains that while crocheting and embroidery take some skill and time, they don’t require a lot of brain power.  I can sit there stitching and watching endless hours of junk tv.  Writing is a much, much harder creative task, and maybe there’s some truth in the fact that I’m avoiding it.  Because I think I won’t finish.  Because I’m scared that if I do finish, I’ll fail.  So it’s easier to imagine myself an Etsy queen than to face the beast of fear and wrestle with my creativity.  The fact remains, however, that for years I have called myself a writer.  I have shaped my schooling around being a writer.  As a kid I never said I wanted to crochet for a living.  I wanted to write.

I’m lucky that my husband takes me seriously when I say I want to write.  I used to think that a lot of people didn’t believe how serious I was about writing.  I don’t really blame them–there are a lot of people out there who say they’re writers, but never seem to produce any writing.  I could all too easily be classed as one of them.  But at a critical moment when I’m thinking of hiding he says no, I need to go for my dream.  He helps me make plans for how to market myself when my book is done.  Part of his Christmas present to me is a website for my writing, in all its forms.

It’s easy to get sidetracked from your dreams, and I think that’s really what leads to them never happening.  Fear that it’s too hard or that we’re not good enough plague us at every turn, and it’s all too easy to find an excuse to turn away, say we’re too busy, say that something else came up, misquote John Lennon and say “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”  That’s true–life surprises us.  But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make plans.  Dreams take more than ideas.  Just because you envision yourself as something doesn’t mean you are that–it takes work to get there.  Lots of hard work, and lots of little details to see to before crossing the finish line.  That’s what makes any creative endeavor a marathon.  If I get my act in gear, then maybe I can be as prolific as the writers I analyzed.