I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t know how to behave when I’m not on deadline. For the past 18 months, I have been under nearly constant pressure to write one novel or another, and then suddenly, come May, I…wasn’t. It feels a bit like that scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy is up in the house, flying around and screaming, and then the house lands with a gentle thud, and all Dorothy says is, “Oh.”
To be truthful, I’m supposed to be writing a short story for an anthology. But there’s something about having to write an entire story in only 20 pages or less fills me with cold, slick fear. It’s a challenge for me. I’m not usually known for being concise. 🙂 Fortunately, Holly Black and David Levithan have given me some excellent pointers, and I am eternally grateful for knowing such smart writers. I’m still not writing the story yet, just in case you were wondering. Come June, a time when I am so busy I won’t have time to do much more than look perpetually startled, I’ll feel the pressure and start, I suppose. I thought I’d outgrow that tendency to write the term paper the night before it’s do. Apparently not.
So what have I done with myself lately? Visited Target. (Towels, on sale.) Went with my kid’s first grade class on trips to Central Park Zoo and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and managed not to lose any of the children assigned to me. Purged the closets. Framed and hung Josh’s fabu art work. Saw friends. Drank coffee. Downloaded from iTunes. Read. Is that it? Seems like there should be more.
I had a great serendipity day with Josh this week. I took him in to the city for a dentist appt. It was one of those beautiful, sunny NYC days–blue skies and 70 degrees. We brought the digital camera and Josh took tons of pictures of squirrels doing their Noble Squirrel poses. He took 296 pix by my last count. (Not all of squirrels, thankfully.) A lot of them are really amazing (sorry, Mom brag moment). We laughed and ate ice cream and watched this guy do a magic show in Washington Square Park complete with fire juggling. Then Josh played chess with one of the pros who are always hanging out at the little chess tables. We ate dinner and wandered around by Carmine Street and talked to a guy who was passing out postcards for this cool-sounding documentary called “Roadtrip Nation” that’s debuting on PBS on May 22nd. It’s described on the postcard as a show about students “who hit the road to interview individuals who defined their own paths in life.” The postcard says this: “Define your own road in life instead of traveling down someone else’s. Listen to yourself. Your road is the Open Road. Find it.”
I liked that. Usually, that would be the cynical marketing slogan for a soft drink, but here, I think it’s sincere. I liked it because I often struggle with that, because I have often felt that I didn’t fit in. And I don’t mean that in a snarky, too-cool-for-school, stand alone (adopt sardonic tone) “Dude, I’m an anarchist.” (Although I have on occasion rolled my eyes and crossed my arms in just such a stance…) No, I mean more of an earnest, searching, wistful feel. A “Wow, you guys look like you got the manual and know EXACTLY what you’re supposed to be doing and know that it’s all going to be okay, but, um, I’m just trying to figure this thing out as I go along, and frankly, I screw up. A lot.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about identity and individuality lately in conjunction with my current manuscript. Maybe it’s because we live in such an image-conscious society, a society that seems to buy and sell happiness as a necessary consumer good. And who can possibly be all that you can be all the damn time? That’s exhausting. To me, anyway. Maybe it’s because it seems like we’re being asked more and more to narrowly define ourselves by a series of checks in boxes from Column A and Column B, and what happens if you can’t neatly check off any of those boxes? What happens if you’re an outside the box kind of person? And is anybody really an inside the box person?
Maybe that’s why I often feel uncomfortable when I’m asked to speak at a conference or teach what I do. I look out at that sea of people and want to say softly into the mic: “People, I don’t have a freakin’ clue. I just write what I can’t seem to hold back anymore. And then I look at it and try to make it as true as I possibly can. Thanks. And enjoy the cheese danish.”
I guess, for now, I’m just trying to find a way to live more fully inside of myself. To know that it’s okay not to be who I am, which, it turns out, is pretty messy a lot of the time. Yeah. Individuality. What a great concept. I’m looking forward to seeing that show.
I hope today you will do one or two things that feel true to who you are. Make some art. Write a poem. Dance in your underwear. Spend the time at your cousin’s wedding imagining that you are a Kung Fu Guitar God Makeup Artist about to bust a move down the aisle. (Oh. Sorry. My fantasy. Ignore that.) Feel sad if you need to. Eat cereal for dinner. Leave the boxes unchecked. The world will survive.