I’m a great believer in having big hairy arsed ambitions.
Late last December I created goals for the year ahead. On the agenda for 2017: become a professional writer. To my mind, what that meant, no matter how else I made money, was that this year, I was going to significantly break into the freelance publishing world.
It was a thrilling ambition. Something I’ve waited a lifetime to achieve.
And, sure, I’ve had some moderate success.
But not like I imagined.
Not as I’d hoped.
Most other years, I feel like I’m in control of my life and my time, and if something doesn’t happen for me, it’s often because I didn’t give it enough focus or energy. But this year has been different.
My mother-in-law has been ill. No, scratch that, she’s been dying. I’ve written about it elsewhere, but to catch you up on the story, Lena has brain tumors. Has had them for nine years now, which is about all the time I’ve known her. She had three lots of surgery for them and come through each one fine. But last autumn her health declined significantly.
Honestly, the medical staff expected her to go in January. But she seems to want to hold onto whatever slice of life she can. And, although bed-ridden, and increasingly frail, has now defied about five “this is it” moments.
With each such call, Steve, my partner, and I pack a bag get on the M4 motorway to drive for anything between two and a half and four hours to travel between our home and Bridgend, Wales. As I travel, I’m scanning my calendar, looking at all the planning I’ve done for the days and weeks ahead. Wondering what can stay, and what needs to go.
Over the course of this year, and even before it started, pretty much everything that’s ever been important to me has been held back or canceled at least once. In fairness, although it’s nowhere near where I wanted it to be at this stage, I’ve stayed able to work on chunks of my book. Even if I haven’t had the mental silence I think it needs, continuing to work on it has been a form of therapy; a way to signal to myself that it’s still important. That I and my ambition still matter.
But all my essay writing has taken a back seat.
Some days I get it: I’m living through a family death and that takes its own shape and time. Other days I kick against it: I want it to be over already. I want to be in charge of my own calendar again. I want routine. Structure. Normality. I want to be able to plan and achieve and feel like I’m making some meaningful contribution to the world.
Dani Shapiro talks about how, as a writer, she’s either in the cave or not. I long to be in the cave.
But right now that feels impossible.
Let go, let God.
I first heard this years ago, reading stuff about the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve-Steps. I’ve never done a formal addiction program, but, as an addictive personality, I’ve had to learn through the years about giving stuff over. Accepting that, even with my big goals and enthusiastic strategies for getting them done, I don’t control things.
Just the other day, browsing through an old journal while writing a bit of my book, I came across some entries from another life time, at which point I was also being challenged to let go.
I was single, and a man to whom I’d been attracted for some time asked me out. It took me a while to pluck up the courage to have a beer with him. But when I did, we hit it off well and quickly. More dates followed. We stayed up together on several occasions into the wee small hours, kissing, drinking coffee and talking. We had similar tastes in music. I’d just found a jazz artist that he’d followed for years. He was a big fan of a guitarist with whom I’d gone to school. The coincidences seemed heaven-made.
He was the first guy with whom I’d been able to talk about anything and feel understood. At that point, I was recovering from what had been a wounding divorce and was in therapy. He too had recently separated from his wife and was doing group work. So we both had a vocabulary for emotion and could use it.
“Can’t believe how fast I’m falling,” he said to me one night on the phone.
“Nor me,” I said. And it was true. Life, for so long as I was with him, felt like I was watching the New Year firework display from the top of the London Eye.
He’d got us tickets for a concert of a musician we both loved in six week’s time. We were becoming an item. I geared myself, then, to imagine that we’d sleep together sooner or later. I thought of it often. I felt connected with him at a soul level. Like, I’d just be thinking of him and the phone would go and there he’d be. The magnetism was holding. And although it was way too early to be sure, I dared to consider he was the one I’d been waiting for.
But then he didn’t call for a couple of weeks.
By the time he did call, admitting that he’d been in contact with his ex- and that things weren’t finished there, I sensed it was over.
But I didn’t want it to me over. We were good together. We were it.
Then he sent me an email, explaining that, in therapy, he’d talked about us and had decided he wasn’t yet ready to commit. Which was honest. But heartbreaking.
“So, it’s let go and let God, as they say in my community,” he wrote, “and who am I to argue with that?”
Fuck God, I wanted to write. And fuck letting go.
But I had to let go. Because, after a while, holding on to some hope of something I could see was never meant to be was too, too painful.
And I’m here again too.
In a different way. And at a different point in my life.
I had plans. I loved my plans. I wanted my plans to come to life.
But right now, plans have to take a back seat. And once again I find the words let go and let God comforting. Perspective giving.
There will be a time when I can get back on the case of pitching essays, getting them accepted, writing them, putting my work out there more.
Now’s not it.