We’ve been talking a lot about what we want to do—on every level from being a sixth grader with classmates who are moving faster or acting mean to being the youngest and still wanting to play with toys, and as business owners looking down a new year, or as spouses still wanting to spark, and then at the simplest level of self. What makes you happy? What’s missing? If you could create any scenario, what would it be? I’ll admit these are things that I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. I have always felt like I didn’t want things as much as other people. I have had teeth-gnashing envy of people who know what they want. I want that.
“All we are not stares back at what we are.”
― W.H. Auden
I have not been writing, going so far as to say to Sean the other night, “I no longer want to do it. There are no words. Nothing. It’s gone and that’s fine.” He tried to cajole me out of the decision, when that didn’t work he tried tough love, after that he reminisced about the times when I have poured myself into writing—”You love it. It lights you up and that isn’t selfish, all of us benefit from that euphoria.”
One night, while not writing, I scrolled lightly through Facebook. I wanted a glow, a gentle joy draft from people posting happy things that would remind me that more than hating one another, we are all plugging along in life trying to create littles nests of happiness and peace.
The third update that rendered in my thread was from Brittany, a woman who awes me with her honesty, strength, and, perhaps most poignantly, her candor with the struggle to hold on to the truth of her self-worth and talent. Her post was announcing her second book. The raw truth is that my first reaction was piercing jealousy and defeat. A manuscript sits at my bedside, the back page covered with doodles from the girls because they don’t realize what it is and I have not cared for it. Notes from the few people I’ve allowed to read it fade in the margins. Another book draft is on my laptop, and in a folder the chapter outlines Sean and I drafted for still another book. Starts with no ending, a constant hum of you didn’t and you can’t in my ear.
I blinked, telling myself that I opened the door and my attention to what others are doing with their lives by visiting Facebook. I drew a deep breath and read her post:
“Seven years ago we lost our house, were on assistance, and I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, let alone realized I had a choice.
Last year I became a NYT Bestseller. Today this happened. (book announcement)
I am so proud of the woman I’ve become. And so damn excited.”
I surprised myself when my roiling insides shifted away from inadequacy. The weight of envy didn’t come, neither did spite or fury. I sat there staring at the screen as I realized that comparison really is the thief of joy. I looked at Brittany’s profile and I though of all the times that I’ve read her words and cheered her on and the times that she has sought out mine and told me what they mean to her. The days go by and with them the potential of doing something does not disappear. No need to panic, Manda, you can decide you want it anytime.
We all have it in us, we can want something or pass on something. There is no shelf life on can. Lindsey, another writing kindred, has said she is not sure what the future holds for her, but that she is open to allowing her heart to lead. Allison has seized opportunities and changed course, following, sometimes with trepidation, her gut. Elizabeth Gilbert is encouraging us to believe in Big Magic, Jenny Lawson wants us all to know we can be Furiously Happy sometimes.
There is room for all of it, even our doubt. What I need to give less room is believing that I can’t. The other day I had a purple streak added to my hair. Am I trying to say something with it? Is it a mid life crisis? A fad?
Nope, it’s a big old shock of “I can”!
I hope you find your can.
Yes, yes, and yes. Don’t you dare ever stop writing. xox
I don’t think I can. Ha! Beginning to think I’m more like a garden plot, sometimes I need a winter of sorts to let the soil rest.
I’m glad you’re back. I love your words, how candid and honest you are. How you leave room for doubt. It soothes me in my own cannots. And opens up the possibility for can.
I don’t think I can adequately articulate how much your comment means to me. Thank you, Nadine.
I’m so glad you found your “Because I can” and that it came from an honest awareness within. A lot of us don’t have that realization until we suffer extreme loss/pain/heartache. There is something about looking back at the coals and seeing that you actually did walk through them and came out okay.
Gives you strength to say “So? What is the worst that can happen?”
btw, my latest “I can” is starting college at age 53, who knows what I’ll be?
Thank you! I think I stopped just short of a tantrum in my conversation(s) with Sean. And college? That seriously rocks! You do!
I love the streak and love your can. (And selfishly, I love the way your words seem to dig into my own gut and make me feel around for my own ‘can’ again.)
Every time something I write scratches an itch for someone else it’s like a little crack inside of me gets filled up an impenetrable glue. xo
I am so happy you are back. This is a beautiful testament to being joyful for others as well as ourselves and for taking responsibility for our own lives. I have a million reasons I don’t write but none of them get words on the page. Thank you for this lovely reality check.
I hope you know how much your words mean to us when they appear.
I love this, Amanda. “There is no shelf life on can.” I really needed to read that this month, a time when there is so much going on, much of it beyond my control, and things important to me personally need to simmer on the back burner to make way for others. It’s hard to remember that I can always go back, and will. Thank you for returning to this space–I’ve missed your words.
You mean the world to me, Kristen.
” . . . comparison really is the thief of joy.” So so so true. And yet, very hard to remember as we scroll, isn’t it? I am sometimes frustrated with myself for still doing “this” whatever the this is— blog posts, essays, nothing in book form. I’m never sure if I should force myself, or keep on keeping on with what I life for now. I have ideas for books, but I know getting either idea done will require not blogging or writing essays for a big chunk of time (years?) and I don’t know if I want to step away. Well, I guess I know that I don’t want to step away if I’m being honest–otherwise I would have done so. On the flip side, I watch people promote the same book or same concept from a book over and over and over again and I feel a certain relief that I’m not feeling the pressure to do that–to get sales, etc. But I guess that’s also a form of comparison and no healthier. Blah!