My spiritual director keeps after me to set aside all practical considerations and lay out my vision for this elder phase of my life. So, for the record, here it is: To be in Africa, to write, and be with family.
There is probably something else. Oh yes, natural beauty and spiritual beauty. To understand the nature of God and the Universe and be in harmony with that beauty. Not so much to make the world a better place as to be a catalyst for the love and beauty that already exists.
That is the sum total of my wish-vision, what my soul wants that I am pretty sure is central to who I am. It’s pretty consistent, reflecting themes of Young Me, Middle-aged Me, and now Old Me, and it encompasses the restless spirit of adventure that has broken out periodically throughout my life and is giving me fits right now.
I realize that one part of this vision I can carry out immediately is to write. It doesn’t matter what. Just write every day. Never mind that I think I have to be in Africa to write, or at least that is what I want.
I noticed that I was bothered by regret yesterday when I read one of those FB posts about 10 Mistakes Writers Make and realized, whether or not I considered myself a writer, that I had made pretty much all of them, every single one, beginning with the first one, which was to think I am smart. Now I have always known that most other writers I enjoy reading are a lot smarter than I am but it didn’t register that I wasn’t exactly taking this into account when I sporadically, over the years, attempted more or less serious writing. I am a very bright person but most writers are very bright people, so when it comes to writing I am not at the top of the class but somewhere in the middle or toward the bottom. This doesn’t mean I can’t be a writer. It only means I have to work hard at being a writer if that is what I want to be.
Well I don’t know if I want to “be a writer” (I keep saying that, don’t I?) but I do know that writing is a necessity for me, if only to make my life happen. The “what happens next” of my life is always at the back of my mind. If I stop writing, my life doesn’t stop exactly; it does flow on, but in a vague dream, not a song. I lose track. The days mush into each other and I get bored. The recurring wish for displacement, for adventure, for something new is related to my addiction to narrative. When nothing is happening in my life I read and watch TV to get my story fix. When my own life is Happening (in the 60s sense) I couldn’t care less about entertaining myself with other people’s stories.
Getting back to writing and working hard. I’m not even sure I know what putting hard work to my writing means but I do know where it starts: with faithfulness, with dailiness, with practice. Now here comes an old scoldy voice that says you shoulda started this a long time ago. But I will say that I have been daily about writing. Just not all the time. Many, many periods in the past I have written every day. So if that counts at all I’m not exactly starting from scratch if I now take a vow, at age 71 and 8 months, that I shall henceforth write every day and see what happens.
This particular piece of FB wisdom that I read says you can’t become a writer in a year but you can in 10 years of writing every day. (Or something like that. I am too lazy to look up the exact instruction, part of my resistance to research, which is a big writing handicap.) If this is true it means that I will be a writer no later than the age of 81 and 8 months. This may sound discouraging to you but not to me, since at this point in my life I am not looking to make writing more of a career than it has been in the past, that is, earn money through my writing. What I see is the possibility that I will get at least one terrific book out before I die. That is enough. I would regret dying without having produced one terrific book. (And no, what I’ve written before doesn’t measure up.)
Why? Let me sniff out the reasons for this particular ambition which, if unfulfilled, might leave me thrashing about on my deathbed saying woulda shoulda coulda. It is not to have something to pass on that has my name on it. I couldn’t care less who, other than my family and descendents, remembers my name in future generations (or even now, for that matter). It is not even that I feel I have something to say. Maybe I do and maybe I don’t but if I do, it is not at all clear yet. Rather, it is that I feel like I have it in me and, therefore, it is worth some effort, at least faithfulness, to try to produce it. I have it in me in the sense that I am capable (though not, perhaps, ready) and I have it in me in the sense that something is nestled inside me, waiting to take shape. I won’t use the birth metaphor. I feel more like a hen with an egg to lay. Or two. But at least one.
Other deathbed-type regrets? Things I would regret if I didn’t do or experience before I die? Strangely enough, I can’t think of any right now. I have not only children but grandchildren. I have traveled the world, inhabited the world in much of its variety. It bores me to try to name everything I have experienced and am and have done because I would only name those things to imagine a bucket list that I no longer have. Been there, done that, literally. Which means, everything from now on is frosting on the cake.
Believe me, I love frosting. The fact that I have traveled the world doesn’t mean I don’t hanker for another international trip, and every additional grandchild is a thrill. But if I should die tomorrow, I could also say enough is enough.
Except for the terrific book.