What kind of life
I’ve been back at work at the hospital now for a few weeks, after a lovely summer of travel and writing and more travel and thinking, thinking all of the time. It was a good few months. One might even call them magical, in their quiet wondrous way.
And now I am back in the life I lived before, and it is lovely and warm and familiar and still, something is different. Like I’ve slipped back into a well-worn sweater and found, suddenly, that it is just a smidge too tight. Like there was a moment–somewhere flying over the Rockies, somewhere driving up along the Dempster, somewhere sitting on a northern Ontario lake–where I said goodbye to things without realizing it, where I passed from one period of life to another without any angst or grief. You cry and rage and long for change and nothing happens until that moment when everything does.
Except that of course it doesn’t happen this way. Change has happened gradually–a period of reckoning with one’s old self and demons, a new job, new writing projects to get excited about. Things slowly unfolding over the course of a year. It only feels, now, like the change was instant.
I think I went traveling this summer to get back in touch with that part of myself that felt so stifled, that part of myself that knew how to dream and look beyond and believe in big things. The part, yes, that could look at the world and say: try your best, be good, and trust that everything will be okay. Some things will not be okay, of course, but you can withstand that. You can survive.
And now I’m there again, and I look around at my beloved little apartment and this job where I like everyone that I work with and still find interesting, now that all of the anguish is gone, and still I think: I want my life to be bigger.
More than that: I am ready for my life to be bigger. What that means, I still don’t know. I suspect that it means, at least in part, that I need to move on from this beloved little apartment. It is too easy now to spend an entire weekend indoors, reading books and not talking to anybody. It is too easy to think: I’m not a loner, I’m just independent! And I need to get myself out of that space. Whether that will happen soon or later, who knows? But it’s nice to feel that I’m ready.
Yesterday I saw this great map by Rebecca Solnit, and while perusing I saw Joan Didion’s name and remembered: Didion lives in New York. Once upon a time, I wanted to live in New York. I wanted to be a glamourous writer, I wanted to travel the world, I wanted to spend my days writing stories and novels and essays and talking about them and just doing All of The Things. I wanted Susan Sontag’s “every kind of life”.
I still want all of those things. But the bricks-and-mortar fact of my life means something different. I want to move, yes, but that means I’ll need to make more money, which means a different hospital (or other) job somewhere, in addition to my wonderful space at the FOLD. It means, quite possibly, that I’ll go back to working 60+ hours a week again. Maybe. Or maybe not.
Where do you make space for the old dreams that you still have and want when other dreams come up to show their faces? How do I write in a life that’s so full of other things, when the alternative–a life where I have time to write, yes, but still feel that something needs to change–is pushing you forward?
I know the answer, of course. You just make space. You write in the mornings, or you write late at night, or you scribble something down on your work computer when no one else is looking. If what you want is a different apartment, Amanda, and it’s going to cost more money, which means more jobs, which means less writing time–if that’s really something that you want, then you just do it.
Is it possible to carry all of these things at the same time? The desire to fly around the world and do a writing retreat or maybe a residency somewhere else and also the growing desire to go back to school and do Something Else in addition to this, the wanting of a bohemian life still while also wanting a family and all of those things, the wanting of a larger space, a nicer space, with beautiful expensive things that are, well, expensive? I don’t want to be an administrative assistant forever as a way to pay the bills. What kind of life is it possible to reach for? What kind of life is it possible to choose?
Night before last, I went to a joint book launch for Jen Sookfong Lee and Hal Niedzviecki, and while I was there I caught up with the lovely ECW crew. We talked about the things that I’ve been working on and at one point the super fantabulous, one-and-only Jen Knoch said, “Sounds like you’ve been living a rich creative life.”
And I have, haven’t I? Despite the fact that so much of the last 3-4 years has felt like me alone in my apartment for days on end. I’ve written two–almost three–new novels, I have a collection of short stories that I’ve pulled together, I have plans for a new book of essays. Sometimes I forget that that is a lot. It is easy to forget that that is a lot when I’m only publishing one or two pieces a year, when the public side of one’s writing life doesn’t match the volume of your words down on the page.
Still–I feel like I need to invite the big changes in. Bring myself to a living space, for example, where maybe the temptation to hole myself up and away isn’t so easy. Delve into working again (while being mindful of self) and be busy. And then, just listen to what the rest of the world holds. The letting go, the travel, the stolen bag at WOTS and letting go all over again.
A year’s worth of lessons. And from here, who knows…