Reflecting on Next Steps

I used to look at my married friends and want to ask: What part of yourself did you give up when you got married? I know that sounds horrible, but for my artist friends who spent their twenties becoming artists, and then married in their late twenties or early thirties, it didn’t seem like such a naive thing to wonder. I felt certain these friends must have sacrificed something they’d worked hard to actualize as artists, in “trade” for the benefit sharing their lives with someone. The way I saw it, I’d spent my twenties leaving one career (teaching) and embracing another (writing). By some accounts, I did this in a rather extreme, time-warp way by putting my life on the road for three years, then going full-bore into a self-funded book tour and fully self-employed work as a writer.

When I finally came up for air, I was in my mid-thirties, still single, and a goddamn survivor of a lot of rejection and heartbreak. I was also the writer I’d hoped to become…not necessarily in terms of skill or renown, but certainly in terms of devotion, discipline, and balance. I knew what it took to do my best work. I knew what it took to overcome challenge. I knew, in short, how to live the writing life. More than anything I’ve ever done in my life, I’m most privately proud of that. In my heart, I don’t see how I could have behaved any other way than I did (the thought of not writing, of not leaping, in fact terrified me more than any of the failures and challenges I dealt with during those three years).

Very suddenly, and still in my mid-thirties, so much has changed: I no longer want to sleep on friends’ couches to save a few bucks (friend’s spare bedrooms–yes). I’d rather pay for the hotel. I’m no longer willing to drive a car that could leave me stranded at any minute (although THE CLAW mightily did her best). I don’t buy many shoes, but when I do they’re not cheap. Same for my computer(s) and desk chairs. I also don’t shop at grocery outlets for expired food. If i want something organic, I buy it. I also don’t skip my friends’ registries and offer just a deeply heartfelt card anymore–I bite the bullet, write the heartfelt card, and send the expensive gift along with it. And you know what? I feel good about all that, even if I’m still trying to figure out how the hell to pay for it all. It’s as though establishing the writing life and finishing the book tour finally enabled me to exhale and look down at my own feet, instead of breathlessly focusing on the distant horizon. What did I see? I saw that I was standing on a foundation, one I’d built with help and love from family, friends, and teachers.

Eight months later, I got engaged, bought my first “real car,” and started spending money like someone with…well…a career. I still “live with less” compared to the average thirty-something middle-class first-world citizen, I bet (284 square feet of living space, for starters; no “data” plan for seconds…) but for me these most recent changes feel like big steps. So, what would my married friends say that they gave up? I’ve only had the chance to ask one so far, and she said she didn’t give up anything and, in fact, she gained a best friend. That sounded about right to me, and it’s certainly what I feel so far in this “new life.” Another friend called the week after my engagement and asked, “But wasn’t there any teensy part of you that was scared to say ‘Yes’? That had doubts?” My answer came immediately and wholeheartedly: “No.”

All of which is to say, perhaps the thing I thought might mean a loss or a trade in terms of my autonomy as a writer is, in fact, just a shift. If I look down at my feet, I’m still on that foundation. But it’s getting wider and I’m working on the first floor now. The most noticeable change I can see? I’m not pounding nails alone. When I think about building a second story or even a third, I don’t feel fatigued, I feel…inspired. Supported. Assured. I’ve got my Number One at my side, and while some days that means putting the writing work aside to put his needs first, that makes me a better person and brings me a different kind of joy. Other days, it means writing from the desk with a warmer heart than I ever knew I could have…and what better way to strengthen the writing life–to imagine characters as wholly, realistically, and vividly as possible–than with a heart that knows deep love?

Feeling grateful.

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