It's very early on the last day in April, and I'm feeling my own tremors, with the "next big one" coming at any moment. I don't feel so much afraid as uneasy. It's that sense of not being in control of, well, much of anything. Of the words that are begging to be written ... of today, of next week or next month ... and it is a strange feeling, indeed, to be living in a state of flux.
Writers who want to remain working writers (i.e. to put the descriptor "writer" on your tax forms) sometimes need to take on extra outside work to make ends meet. Along this journey of revision and new words, I've done exactly that, and with nothing fancy or high paying, but the kind of job that gets your face in front of a lot of people every day. Rather, a lot of people's faces in front of your face -- working at a convenience story/slash/gas station.
This is one of many odd jobs on my resume; a resume that resembles at times a weird career track of professional "everyman," and at other times looks like a mish-mash that's less of a Renaissance Man (or everyman) -kind of thing, and more of a, "working for a living (almost) digging ditches" listing of experience. (I actually once considered digging ditches, because I thought it'd be good exercise, and that I might learn something that I could put into my writing. I've also always wanted to work on the docks because of some twisted Steinbeck-ian fantasy.)
From most, if not all, of my jobs, I've taken something with me after my last day, along with bits and pieces of all of the "honest-to-goodness characters" I encountered along the way, and a whole lot of genuinely fine people I've worked beside. I'm grateful both to the characters, and to my current and former co-workers.
From grant-writing for non-profits -- the "9-5 desk" job, to the "front desk" job at a hotel -- it's all worthy work in the end (my Grandfather would say), as long as you do it well, and with conviction and plenty of humility, and as long as you keep your eye on the real prize -- which, in my situation, is "time." Because time evolves into the rest of everything.
-- to have enough money for another sabbatical, until that first book sells enough copies or the film rights that you can truly take even more time off (dare yourself to make your dreams a reality)
-- to understand how difficult it is for some people (your co-workers, especially in the lower-wage jobs) to make ends meet, in any economy, and to listen to their stories about the day-to-day struggle, as well as listening to their equal sense of well-being
-- to reaffirm that belief that there is a humanity that listens, and cares, and -- in the form of individual people who might have nary an artistic bone in their bodies, teach you that what counts is how you feel about yourself, and then, what you feel you can accomplish with the talents you've developed and that have led you past the point of ever giving up on your dream. Because you can't really ever let go, can you? You can take a break from your dream, but it will nag at you, and claw its way into your psyche until you have to say: "Enough already -- I get it! And I will follow you!"
Now, I know that I don't need to write best-selling books to fulfill my dream. I just need to write. Simple as that, with a period at the end of the statement.
And I need to feel good about what I write -- that, as I often suggest (suggest more for me than anyone else) that the words do matter, that people still read and can be affected in positive ways by what they read, and that books can inspire and change, even in the smallest, microscopic form, a day in the life of -- that one person (reader) I will never meet.
As I continue this trip (as well as avoid tripping and become a cog in any machine), and document the creative process here on This Side of Paradise, I am immediately cognizant of how lucky I am. I mean, really really lucky.
I have a path, see, and no question it will twist and turn in ways I can't predict or imagine, and that I might feel tremors along that path, and even experience an internal earthquake of intense magnitude that I am forced to seek shelter, deep within myself, like hibernation or retreat, but always with the intent to resume -- to move onward and ever forward -- to keep writing until the words form the sentences that make sense, and then polish those sentences into something that the stranger who might be affected by my work, this person I will never know, never meet ... might describe as "beauty." (Or in some variation of that word, and personal for my "necessary stranger.") (Ah, you necessary stranger, how integral you are to my existence!)
*You can write your pain into beauty, I am convinced.
You can write your tremors away, but you should never ignore that they're happening. (Keep extra rations of hope at the ready. Always be sure you have the hope.)
And you have to believe that you can survive the "next big one" when it hits you.
How do you do it? You survive by doing what you can to get your feet back on the ground. Forget about anything else until you have the sensation again in your feet, and the ground beneath you. And then you survive by waking up (figuratively or literally) at any odd hour of the day or night and going to the door of your Little Room, closing it behind you, and locking yourself inside.
This is a good thing, the closing of the door, the locking yourself in. Oddly enough, it's not exile, but freedom.
The road to my own freedom wanders through part of my current days, along the aisles of the convenience store, and in the faces of the customers who, while in a hurry to get on to the next stop in their own lives, have enough time for a smile or nod -- and to convey the sense of: we're in this together, even in our seemingly separate lives and worlds.
We do connect, somehow.
Really, we do connect. We have no choice in this. And that's why a world that's filled with however many people and places can seem so small. This isn't a ride at Disney World. This is where you are, right now. You are here. And so am I.