Thursday, January 10, 2013

Chapter 1: The Parable of the Thirty-Something

 What happens when you're fast approaching your thirtieth birthday and you realize that all of your friends' Facebook statuses are much more interesting than yours? When you feel like your life has all the excitement of an infomercial? When despite what people tell you about how important and meaningful your work is, it still doesn't feel like enough? 
I guess you have a couple of options available to you. You could sell all of your possessions and go trekking around the world, unhindered, free as a bird, in search of the meaning and adventure you crave. Believe me, I've thought of that. And it wouldn't be too hard to do seeing that at the moment all of my earthly possessions are packed neatly into my parent's garage. But I suppose that would be considered “irrational” since my husband and I are days away from closing on our first home. Bummer! (I wonder if he knows that a part of me is secretly hoping it won't go through!)

Then there's option two. Try to make sense of this crazy life and how I made it through these first thirty years and wound up where I am right now – with my uninteresting facebook statuses and enough wanderlust to fill hundreds of garages. Well, the only way I know to even attempt to make sense of anything is by writing it. By taking enough time to put it down on paper so that I can see my life or problem or writing subject as concretely as I can see the words on the page. Writing is how I process things, and I think it's always been that way, even though I didn't figure it out until I was twenty five. 
See, I never woke up one day and said, “I want to be a writer.” Instead, writing found me. In elementary school I wrote love stories with my Golden Retriever and Irish Wolfhound as the protagonists. In high school, I penned poetic verse about faith and friendship. In college, I mostly poured out papers about theatre history and religious thought. However, on more than one occasion a short story came to me, seemingly out of the blue, and it was all I could do to get the words down fast enough. And yet, if you would have asked me if I considered myself a writer, I would have emphatically told you no. 
It wasn't until the excruciatingly hot, exhaustingly long, exceedingly boring days of my summer in Madrid, that I would have told you yes. It was then that I really started trying to make sense of my life. I was twenty-five and living in a foreign land – far from home, far from family, far from my regular summer world of barbecues, swimming pools and Fourth of July parties.
My life up to this point had been a whirlwind of activity. In fact, in the months prior I could barely keep up with my teaching schedule. Hustling around by bus and metro, covering nearly every inch of Madrid as I visited companies, schools and homes, teaching English to children and business execs alike. Between travel, lesson planning, teaching, and mapping out my day, I kept myself busy from early morning until night. Then suddenly, summer arrived, and it all stopped. There was literally nothing to do.
The madrileños and anyone else with sense or money or both had packed up and escaped to the seaside. But I had nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no reason to leave the confines of my roasting apartment to brave the even hotter streets. I was alone with myself. Alone with my thoughts. And if you've never been there, it's a scary place to be.
Every hope, insecurity, dream, frustration, confusion and doubt that I had came to the surface. And for the first time in my young life, I had no activity, no work, no television or internet connection to distract myself. And with nothing to hide behind, I suddenly found myself trying to make meaning out of the last twenty five years of my life. So I pulled out my outdated laptop, and I started to write.

What appeared on the screen were short essay-type pieces and bits of flash fiction that spoke to everything I was learning or trying to figure out about myself and the unfamiliar world in which I lived. I spent hours a day wrestling with the words, giving form to my thoughts. In the process I realized that I had forgotten how much I loved to write. I remembered back to grade school when my two-page creative writing assignments easily turned into twelve or thirteen. (Back then I thought that my teacher's wide-eyed response to my stapled masterpieces reflected her joy at having such a prolific writer in her midst. Now I know it was much more likely a look of dread as she saw her grading time increase exponentially!) At any rate, coming back to writing was like re-discovering a lost friend.
I shared my works with close friends and family members, but that was as far as it got. My writing was more about helping me to process things than it was about getting my ideas out to a large audience. It wasn't until a few years later that I decided I wanted to take my writing to the next level. I was reading a magazine produced by my church when I saw a small advertisement seeking writers. I answered the call, and to my surprise, my first article was accepted. Over the course of that year and the next, I submitted articles by the dozens.
In the process, I learned the styles and niches of the publications I was writing for. I also learned that some of what I wanted to say could never be boiled down to a thousand word limit, much less fit any particular “niche.” But still, I needed to say it. And that's where this book came from.
Let me be clear that I never set out to write a book. Instead, this book started writing me. It began as a bunch of jumbled thoughts arising from past memories, present realizations and preoccupations with the future. There were notes jotted in the margins of church programs. Documents saved on my computer with nothing more than a sentence across the top. But all of it was about experience and identity; love and pain; and how despite our best efforts, we all too often get things messed up.
Yes, this book is about life. Life – which is so vivid, so multidimensional, so meaningful and insightful that I couldn't contain it all. That's what led me to write in the first place, (well, that and my unexciting Facebook statuses), and that's what makes me continue writing.
So what is this that I've written exactly? To be honest, I don't know. Maybe it's not even a book. It's part memoir, part living-breathing journal, part creative brainstorm, part I don't know what. Simply put, it's an adventure – and I hope you'll take it with me. I also hope it will mean something to you. I know it has to me.
You may find what I have to say imperfect, incomplete or incongruous with your experience; in fact, I expect that that will be the case or you'd have written this book instead of me. Please understand that this is merely my best attempt to make some sense of this amazing gift of life that God has given us. If nothing else, I hope this book will be an invitation for you to do the same.

No comments:

Post a Comment