Day 4: Wonder.
How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?
My first instinct when I read this question was to hang my head in shame, because on first reflection, I don’t think I cultivated much of a sense of wonder in my life at all in 2010.
2010 (and I apologize if anyone’s getting sick of this theme, but what can I say? It was the year …) was all about work. Work, and not having any money, so forever having the sense that I wasn’t working hard enough, that I just needed to work harder and everything would be okay. The year started off in tremendously exciting fashion with a mini European tour (hello, LondonParisMadridAmsterdam!) and a tentative contract with an agent. To quote from Lucy Maud, it was a huge step along my Alpine Path. Imagine this: I went to Amsterdam on business! Writing business! To speak to someone in the industry! Someone who was in the know and thought that my work had potential!
It was a wonderful start to the year.
And then I went home, and started working on those revisions, and then I finished up my contract job in February, lost income, started working sleepover shifts with a terminally ill girl in order to supplement some of that lost income, took on more proofreading to supplement the income, submitted my revisions to my agent, got asked to do more revisions, went back and did more revisions, edited a thesis for a PhD student, took on more sleepovers, started dog walking full time in order to have money to eat, took on more proofreading, worked an awful lot of overtime, resubmitted the revisions, got asked to do MORE revisions, went on a wholly unexpected trip to Greece in July (for free! I have the most wonderful friends in THE WORLD!), hit a depression like nothing I’ve ever experienced around my birthday, realized I’d have to leave the UK, resubmitted my manuscript in August, got asked to do YET ANOTHER round of revisions at the beginning of September, gave my notice for my flat and my job at the beginning of September, ran out of money for food at around the same time and lost ten pounds, spent October clearing things up and getting rid of everything in my house, got paid, had a lovely goodbye dinner with friends from work and then another goodbye dinner with all of my Scotland loved ones at The Espy, spent some time in St. Andrews with Jersey Jess, finished the revisions on the novel yet again, FINALLY had my agent say “yes, we’re ready to go”, submitted the novel to seven Canadian publishers the day before I flew back home, spent three nail-biting weeks at my parents’ place waiting for news, and then had all seven publishers ever so gently tell me: no.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that the news isn’t all that bad; that we’re revising again with the aim of resubmitting in the middle of February. I had a lovely conversation with an editor at Harpercollins, and she seems quite keen on the book, if I can bring all of these revisions up to snuff. So in that sense, there’s a HUGE opportunity for wonder waiting for me now, just underneath the surface of everything. I guess you could say that opportunity has been waiting — has been present, has been there — throughout the entirety of last year, even in the midst of the difficulties. And of course I’d be an idiot if I said I hadn’t expected the amount of work that aiming for publication would entail. Of course it requires work. Of course it’s all about revising, and re-writing, and getting things as perfect as they can be. I signed up for that long ago.
I have a friend who is a fairly well known Scottish fiddler — she’s been performing for years, and up until recently was the director of the traditional fiddle program at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. She’s in Oslo now, doing a Masters degree in Norwegian fiddle. She’s amazing. (You can read more about her here, and get the scoop on her latest adventures here.) Anyway, for a time we were neighbours in Portobello, and we used to go for runs along the water. She talked a lot about how what mattered most to her in the world, even moreso than her music, was having a well balanced life — one that combined a love for music and a love for relationships and friends and home all in one. And I think, perhaps, that that might have been where I missed out on wonder in 2010 — or, more accurately, where I failed to actively cultivate wonder in my life. I tend to get tunnel vision when I have a goal in mind. When I flew back from Amsterdam at the beginning of last year, revision plan for the novel firmly in place, I was ready to drop everything else in my life and concentrate on the book. (The fact that my finances were precarious and pretty much didn’t allow for anything else OTHER than going to work and staying at home helped this out quite a bit.) I am not good, in this sense, at cultivating a well-balanced life. It’s all or nothing with the writing. When I was finishing the first draft of this novel, back in the latter half of 2009, I literally did not do anything else apart from work on the manuscript and go (grudgingly) to my day job. I set Saturdays aside as a day in which I didn’t leave the house — I’d wake up at 7, be writing by 8, and I wouldn’t close my computer down until 6pm. And this didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t feel the need to be social, and it didn’t really bother me if I returned to my apartment on Friday night and didn’t physically go outside until Monday morning. What matter the outside world when there was a novel to be written?
Well. It’s a year and a half later, now, and I’m still revising the flipping thing. And like I said, this is what I signed up for. But perhaps, thinking of all of this in relation to 2011, there should be space this year for wonder about a well-balanced life.
You see, it’s also relatively easy, looking at the above, to find the pockets of wonder that did exist in 2010. There was a moment in Paris, when Elissa was at the Louvre (I had already been some years prior, and couldn’t afford the entry fee this time around), when I was sitting in a café and drafting out plans for my next novel. When I realized that I was living exactly the kind of life that I’d been dreaming about for years. Living in a different country. Travelling. Pen and notebook in hand in an entirely different environment. In the summer, when I went to Greece, I had the same feeling. And there were moments in Edinburgh, holed up in my little apartment and writing away, when I felt deliriously happy. Solitude can be delicious, and if nothing else, 2010 taught me that.
But now I’m back in Canada, living with my parents, out in the middle of rural southwestern Ontario sans vehicle. Completely, utterly, one hundred percent broke. I spend my days writing and walking the dog and dodging all of the creditors who come a-calling, every morning without fail. And because this life is so different from the one that I was living only a scant few months ago, so quiet, so … still (because the solitude of Scotland was still busy, you understand) … my first thought is that there’s no opportunity here for wonder, either. The middle of nowhere? Sleeping in your youngest sister’s room (because even she has a more exciting life now, off at university to become a nurse, scalpel in hand), snug beneath her Hannah Montana blanket because all of your possessions are boxed up in the basement? Dependent on your parents to feed you and clothe you and drive you everywhere? Some days, I feel like I’ve failed at being an adult. As though some burly men in suits came into my life one night while I was sleeping and took away my ability to navigate the world. Nothing left for you but to move back in with the folks, ma’am.
But. But. Do you know how quiet it is, out here? Do you know how big the stars?
Do you know what it’s like to wake up in the morning and have a dog greet you like you’re the greatest thing in the world? A dog whose love is unconditional, a dog in whose big brown eyes I see the love of the God whose hand is guiding my life, even still?
Do you know how lovely it is to sit, and rest, and walk along a country road, the air crisp with cold and snow? How lovely to suddenly understand that it’s okay, that things will work out, that there are people all over the world who love me and wish me well and have faith that things will work out just fine?
That it’s okay to take a month, or two months, and just do nothing. (You’ve spent the past three years doing wild amounts of something, Amanda. Slow the heck down. The writer in you will thank you for it, later.)
That it’s okay to not know where life’s going to take you next. That in fact, given your chosen profession, it’s probably all for the best.
That it’s okay to take the scary step and say: I don’t want an office job, I don’t want that routine, I want to create a life for myself that goes beyond thirty-five hours a week.
That it’s okay to lean on your parents for a while. Plenty of people do it. Heck — Justin Halpern got a book deal out of it.
That it’s just … okay to be you, and to flounder, and to have your world shift from a three year plan to a month-to-month plan, and see what happens.
If nothing else, I think that will be the defining thread of wonder in 2011: that it’s wondrous to watch your life fall away from the expected and careen into the realm of I don’t know.
Because really, when it comes down to it — we don’t know, do we?