Friday, March 15, 2013

The Book I Didn't Write

About three years ago, I wrote a proposal for a book that was "gimmick-lit": one of those project where the author does something outside of his or her comfort zone for a year and writes about the experience.  The masters of this genre are A.J. Jacobs & Gretchen Rubin. Done right, these books are so much fun: informative, entertaining, and even a bit inspirational.

My proposed book was, to be honest, an attempt to inform/entertain/inspire myself. It was a "Plan B" type of book, where I'd attempt twelve different adventures over the course of the year to help Steve and I re-envision our lives.

In the opening scene (one that I suspect will end up in a different book someday because it's as grim and true and poignant and real as anything I've written) I describe walking through Target on a Tuesday morning and catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror. I fit right in with the Tuesday morning crowd: I looked frumpy, pudgy, exhausted and overwhelmed. I was drowning in a tsunami of crisis: miscarriages, the death of a friend, two major job transitions, and a family health scare.  So when I saw the other ladies there at Target, my first thought was, Oh thank's not just me!  But then I realized that all those other beleaguered women had babies. There was a reason for their chubby fatigue.  I had no such excuse.

That day (which really happened; it was not part of a project) was a turning point, making me realize that Steve and I had to "Return to Go" (as a board game might instruct) and figure out what we, and God, wanted our lives to look like.  I wanted us to build something with the pieces we had--a strong marriage, faith, education, access to an incredible city and network of friends--rather than lamenting over the pieces we were missing. And I suspected I wasn't alone in facing some version of this challenge.

I charted a year-long program.  I thought it might make a good book if I could balance out the sadness with some humor and discovery.  I planned a month of fitness (admitting that while I never want to run a marathon, I'd trudge through a 5k if the finish line was somewhere near an Ann Talyor); a month of spiritual growth (where I'd spend two weeks emulating Anne Lamott, and two weeks trying to be like Joel Osteen); a month of spontaneous travel (because one of the benefits of a double-income/no-kids lifestyle is supposed to be the freedom to jet off to cool places, and we have thus far failed to jet); a month of housewifery (I don't even see the dust in our house until things are furry & grey, and I've never learned the finer points of getting the grime out of the corners); and a month of beauty (where I'd make the effort to look the best I could, every day: more showers, fewer sweats & ponytails, more lip gloss, an attempt to put fancy shoes into the rotation.)  There were a few other items, but those were the ones I was most excited about.

That was three years ago. I've never run a 5k, and the dusty corners of our rooms are still an embarrassment.  Here's why: When I sent the proposal to my agent, she said something to the effect of: "This is funny, but it isn't you." She reminded me that I write about surprise and encouragement, and how those things emerge from my faith; that my books are real-happy, not manufactured cheer.  I can't remember her exact words, but the through-line of her comments was, "This isn't you."

I am so grateful that she saw this truth.  I needed to be reminded, even if it meant walking away from a book project that would keep me busy & distracted for a few months (and give me a better answer when people asked, "Are you working on a new book?") To put it in construction terms, I built the walls of that house...and then walked away because I didn't want to live there.  It wasn't me.

In the years since, I've picked away at other projects--a collection of thoughts on praying for a husband, some essays on waiting for God, a novel. A lot of life has happened. It didn't unfold along neat monthly lines, but wow, has it unfolded. Now I'm surveying this new landscape, asking God, Where is the surprise? Where are have you planted happy endings? How should I think about this or that? What do you want to me to write? It's a different perspective, and the walls are going up slow. But it's me, and I'm more confident that what I build will be something that I'm proud of.

If there's something you're working on just because it's in front of you, or because it's the hot thing, or it's what you think you can pull off with the limited resources you have right now even though you suspect it might embarrass you later, know this: it's okay to walk away. The walls (and the poignant scene at Target) will still be there, should you decide to return.  We have more time than we think we do--exactly enough, in fact, to do whatever we're supposed to do.  It helps me to remember that :)

And I prefer happily-ever-after stories that don't require me to run a 5K while smiling like Joel Osteen!

1 comment:

heidikins said...

I actually decided to do something similar for my 30th year, 12 things that will help me grow, push my own limitations, and experience new things. I'm only 1 month in so far, but I am really liking some of my planned goals for the rest of the year! :)