Eighteen years later, I still remember the moment I first told someone I wanted to be a writer. The certainty of that idea developed over a year I will always hold close. It was one of the most challenging years of my life, but it was also the year I learned what it felt like to achieve a dream.
A year earlier, I had been uncertain of what I wanted out of college and unwilling to take out loans without more direction. I left school after my freshman year, and by late October, I was flying east to be a nanny for a family I’d never seen. It was one of the scariest and most thrilling decisions I’d ever made.
In hindsight, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
My college friends who kept in touch with me that year know that it was a very lonely year in many ways. I didn’t do a good job of making new connections; there were other nannies in the area, but the au pairs seemed more interested in people who spoke the same language, and other nannies had schedules different from mine. I probably didn’t try hard enough, but I also had my own agenda. With my days free while the kids were in school, I read books and wrote and drove all around, exploring the new and unfamiliar. I haunted the local library, where I read Virginia Woolf and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I walked to the waterfront and peered out at the sound. I drove down the road and marveled that another state was so near. I became obsessed with taking the train to the City on my days off.
For all its ups and downs and lonely moments, I still think of that as my magical year. There, I had a room of my own and a car and plenty of space to breathe and become.
And I did.
About a year later, through mutual agreement, I returned home to the middle of the country. I returned to the school I had left, and even to the dorm I’d lived in not long before. Many of the faces remained; many new ones arrived. I fit myself back in to that place and time with new purpose.
I don’t think I’ve ever been able to explain to my friends why or how it was worth it to take that year, to embrace the solitude and the loneliness. I’m not sure the family I was with knows how important that time was in my life and how grateful I am that I got to spend it with them (and that we remain connected so many years later). I’m not certain even now – sometimes – that I fully understand how important that year was in shaping me.
I’m writing again.
Right now, a week after spring break’s end, I’ve managed to fit in twenty minutes a day, inspired by Bryna and a recent conversation we had. It’s a start.
I’m starting to suspect it’s a significant one. For the first time in years, I’m not writing history; I’m writing fiction. I’m playing with story and letting my imagination run wild. I’ve stepped away from The Book (aside from queries) and I’m starting to play.
It’s taken me awhile, but I think I really needed this.
Bryna’s post last week resonated with me in so many ways, because in the past two years I’ve felt the emotional juggling act so much that comes with combining things that seem so disparate. I hadn’t felt that way in a long time.
Referring to her current status of teacher-and-budding-entrepreneur, Bryna commented that “It can be exhausting to be forging ahead while I am simultaneously looking back.”
Going back to my dissertation has made me feel that way, more often than not. It’s a project I love, but I don’t want it to keep me from finding new loves. It’s a delicate juggling act, when you have lives as full as ours. It’s so worth it, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
I keep thinking about that magical year in the midst of all of this. I’m running a thousand directions a day right now, and being able to stop for a moment to take time to imagine – that helps ground me, but also frustrates me. I think it will be many years – if ever – before I find myself with those endless, uninhibited hours of creativity.
But I don’t think I need that anymore. I just need to keep taking the time to meet myself where I am. Here’s to 20 minutes and the next, and the one after that.