“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”
I was reminded of that quote recently as I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Big Magic,” which had become my Big Nudge to write A Book. That can happen if your creative spirit is on the search even if you don’t know it. Gilbert carries a lot of weight with me, so when she quotes someone else, it has staying power.
This recent nudge to write some kind of memoir is still strong and exciting and terrifying and sometimes overwhelming. I think I have my feet securely on the floor. My mind is full of memories. Can you imagine 80 years worth? Sometimes, I’m not so much, “feet on the floor” as “head in the stratosphere.”
This new adventure, at age 80, is the stuff of wonder and confusion, some amazement and downright hard work. Thankfully, I don’t have to do it alone.
I have spent hours this past week with memoir writing luminaries like Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Cameron, and Mary Karr, all giants in the medium. I’ve spent further hours with Alison Wearing, whose course on Memoir Writing is in its second of twelve weeks. She has provided interviews with successful writers who have had so much to teach and inspire me.
And I have been writing – and writing – and writing. A lot of it is embarrassingly mediocre. Some, amazingly insightful. Sometimes I’m exhausted; sometimes, elated. (“Wow! I wrote that???”)
Each attempt has given me courage to forge ahead as long as I don’t get caught up in cringing at the disappointing ones. They have each shown me what a daunting task this is, and yet how powerfully magical it can be.
How many times in all these years of life have I had to rewrite the script of my life? Any of us can tell that by how many times we’ve bumped up against another turning point, where life was no longer going to be the same. The death of someone we loved. The traumatic experiences that damaged us seemingly beyond repair. The poor decisions we made that led to disaster or defeat. But also, marriage, moving, having children, a new career; they don’t all have to be bad.
All of my experts agree that doing a memoir is making a deep journey toward transformation and redemption. It’s the work of looking at the past with new eyes and with a fierce intention to find truth there. As much truth as we can.
Finding truth is often painful. It can hurt like hell. Sometimes, it’s excruciating. Who wants pain anyway?
But finding truth can also set us free. Free to forgive – ourselves and others. Free to find kindness and understanding for ourselves and others. Free to discover that even the deepest kinds of pain can be turned to an impossible grace that makes of life a gift we never knew was there. Free to sit quietly in awe with how far we have come.
We don’t have to write a novel-length memoir to find all of that. A short story can hold enormous truth.
We humans have so much more in common that we realize. We all hurt. We all know joy. We all fall short. We all can overcome so magnificently.
So for the time being, I’ll be a student who sometimes works too hard at this new adventure. Sometimes I’ll be a piker who just hums around the edges, being afraid to jump into the middle. But being a student has always come easily to me. It’s been a lifelong gift that keeps leading me on unexpected journeys that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
I’m so relieved that deeply meaningful life really doesn’t end at 80. There is still so much yet to uncover; so much of that “life that is still waiting” ahead. I’m so grateful that there is still wonder to discover. And truth that sets me free.
And that’s very okay with me!