Last week I talked about finally admitting to my true calling. Today I’d like to talk about the process that got me to that point. It was a long, slow, at times painful process and I didn’t understand what was happening. In hindsight, I can now see how everything that happened has led me to this point in my life. And I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.
The seed of my passion for writing was planted before I could even read. I learned to love books from an early age due to my Mama reading great books to me – both picture books and otherwise. Playing pretend as a kid caused that seed to germinate. It blossomed when I read my first “real” book. As in, a book with chapters and no pictures. I even remember what that book was – a biography of Helen Keller. Her story, and the way Mama was proud of seven-year-old me, sparked a fire inside that has never gone out. The gift of my first journal for my 8th birthday sealed the deal.
The path of my true calling took a dark, but necessary, turn during my early teen years. I was never the typical overtly rebellious teenager. Instead I poured the frustration and angst of those years into words on paper. I still turn to writing when I am frustrated or upset. As I came out of that phase, my writing became something more. Lighter and more optimistic, but also more real and honest. I had found my voice. I also began to delve more into writing fiction. Looking back, some of those early efforts were cringe-worthy, but I am slowly improving. I still have not created a story that is fit to publish yet. Someday perhaps.
In the meantime, writing is both my lifeline and my outlet. It is the one thing I turn to in every situation. When I’m sad or joyful, depressed or content, angry or excited, when I feel broken inside and when I am ready to take on the world. Writing is always there for me and it is always my first reaction. That is how I know that it is my true calling. And that is how I know that I will never stop writing.
Some people seem to have it all figured out. From a young age, they know exactly who and what they are going to be and by golly that’s what they do. I am jealous of those people. By the time I graduated high school, I had emphatically decided on a career 20 different times, no two choices alike. When I was five, I wanted to be a firefighter. Then a police officer. At six I was gonna run an orphanage when I grew up. Seven-year-old me was a future politician. And so on. Lawyer, bodyguard, journalist, truck driver, cowgirl made more than one appearance, restaurateur, a secret agent phase of course, DJ – and the list goes on. I never could settle on just one.
I think there are two reasons for that. The first is equal parts personality and upbringing. My dad made no fewer than 8 career changes just in my memory span. I always thought that was normal, but I guess most people stick with the same one forever. I honestly don’t know if I could do that. There is something to be said for security, I suppose. But is security worth sacrificing adventure? Should I trade an unpredictable life of freedom for safe drudgery? Yes, I know I’m oversimplifying. But do I really wanna tie myself down – even to something I love – and potentially miss the next great opportunity? I want to grab life by the tail and see where it takes me.
The other reason for my inability to pick a single career is denial. All those years and all those varied careers I said I wanted, I never once admitted what I really wanted. Even to myself. Other than as a pipe dream. An “if-a-genie-gave-me-three-wishes” kinda dream. I have finally admitted to myself and to others what I truly want to be more than anything else in the world. I want to be a writer. Actually, I am a writer – I want to be a successful, published author. I believe that writing is my true calling. Some even say I’m good at it. Whether my work will be a success or not remains to be seen. Whether I can make a living off it also remains to be seen. But whether I make millions as a writer or a few bucks or nothing at all; whether I find a successful second career or work a string of jobs or quit working altogether; whatever else I may do, wherever my life may take me, one thing I know for absolute certain. I will never stop writing.
Some call it a “bucket list”, some make a “dream board”, and some set “personal goals.” Whatever you want to call it, the practice of articulating what you want to see, get, and do in your life is a good habit to have. Having a bucket list helps me think about the future instead of getting completely caught up in the present. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for living in the moment. We have to enjoy the here and now because it’s all we’ve got. But we still need to find a little time to daydream about and plan for the future. If we don’t figure out where we want to be or what we want to do down the road, how will we know which road to take?
My bucket list is so random; it almost seems like more than one person made it. Places I want to go, things I want to do, stuff I want to own – it’s got everything on it. From holding political office to living on a houseboat. There’s the obvious ones, like successfully publish at least one book, build my dream house, and own at least 10,000 books. The castle-in-the-sky-pretty-much-impossible-type daydreams like owning my own island and a yacht to go with it. And no bucket list is complete without a few travel goals: visit all 50 states, a motorcycle trip through South America, an African safari honeymoon. And the list goes on.
Some of it will never happen; hopefully more will work out than not. Even if I only accomplish a few things on my list, I will have done more than if I just drift along letting life happen to me. I don’t want to be a spectator to my own life – I want to grab hold of my life and mold it into what I want it to be. And what I want it to be is an unconventional adventure. My bucket list is the first step in that direction. Of course it’s completely useless unless you actually use it, so that’s my next step. Have bucket list, will travel.
When I was a kid, we had an old-fashioned record player. Even then, vinyl records were obsolete. Cassettes ruled the music industry, but would very soon be surpassed by CD’s. I remember when stores stopped selling cassette tapes. My dad remembers when cassettes replaced 8-tracks and when 8-tracks replaced vinyl records. Today, digital downloads and streaming services are taking over. I still buy CD’s. The quality is the best offered on today’s market. But I almost never listen to them. I rip them onto my computer and load the songs to my MP3 player. It’s easy and portable – I carry dozens of albums in one device that’s smaller than a deck of cards. The CD’s themselves sit on a shelf and get dusted once a month.
But, somehow, I still have a soft spot for vinyl records. I don’t really know why. Nostalgia probably. Good memories of listening to them as a little kid. But it’s something more than that. I don’t know how to describe it. A record is something tangible, a work of art that you can hold in your hands. Listening to a record is a purposeful thing, a conscious act. Choosing a record, setting the needle, and getting lost in another world. Putting an actual CD in a boombox offers a similar experience, but it’s still not quite the same. Others say I’m crazy. That digital is the only way to go. Vinyl is too expensive and cumbersome. But is convenience really the only consideration? Sometimes the experience is the point.
That old record player is long since gone. It’s no great loss – its only value was sentimental. It was never a real high-quality player. Someday I will replace it with a better one. And some first-rate speakers. Someday when I have my own permanent place. I’m already carting boxes of books around, I don’t need crates of records too. Until then, I will hold my dreams in a special place in my heart. I can see it now. The husband and kids gathered around in the evening. One reading a book, a couple playing with toys on the floor, that one coloring pictures, this one doing homework. My other half playing with the kids or helping one with homework or reading a book. I’m in the next room washing the supper dishes or maybe a couple of the kids are. Maybe I have time to do something I like – knitting or reading a book. And a record from my extensive collection playing in the background. Someday.
It is a beautiful thing to rediscover something that you once loved but had since almost forgotten. When I was a kid, we had a swimming pool in the back yard. Nothing fancy, just one of those vinyl above-ground affairs. For this kid, it was heaven on earth. I love being in the water. That pool is where my Daddy taught me how to swim. I was really little and never got very good, but it was so much fun. Mama didn’t swim and we were too small to be in the pool by ourselves. So we waited eagerly for Daddy to get home from work every day all summer long.
One of my earliest memories is of him standing in the middle of the pool trying to talk me into jumping in so he could catch me. And I remember these awesome orange floats that went on my arms. They were so cool. I’d swim around until I got tired then I’d float with just my head and shoulders out of the water. I never did get tall enough to touch the bottom before we moved into town. Saddest day of my young life when we had to leave that pool behind. And our city yards had no room for even a small one.
I hadn’t been in a pool since – other than one afternoon at a friend’s house a few years ago. I realized then that I was a little bit rusty and spent most of the time in the shallow end. So a couple weeks ago I bought a swimsuit and signed up for swimming lessons. Buying the suit was an adventure in and of itself. I had no idea how hard it would be to find a relatively modest swimsuit. The next adventure was the lessons themselves. I had so much fun. The lady who taught the class was phenomenal. Good at explaining things while making it fun at the same time. The class was actually intended for first-time swimmers, so it covered the basics. Which was perfect. I could swim already, but like I said, never very good. And even that was 20 years ago. The lessons gave me a solid grounding in proper technique.
Someday I dream of having a place in the country where I can put an uber-cool in-ground swimming pool in the back yard. Complete with waterfall and slide. The kind that costs more money than I should spend on something non-essential. I wouldn’t mind living in a tiny little house for a time if that’s what it would take to pay for the pool. Impractical? Probably. Loads of fun? Oh yeah. And absolutely awesome for raising kids. I’m a firm believer in the work hard, play hard philosophy and that’s how I want to raise my kids. There are many things I want them to learn, and how to have fun is one of the big ones. Real fun – good, old-fashioned, honest-to-goodness, outdoor play. I want to give them the same beautiful childhood my parents gave me. And a swimming pool is a big part of that.
Sometimes I still feel like a little kid; other times, it seems like I had to grow up way too fast. Part of me doesn’t want to let go of the girl inside; the other part wants to be all woman. I feel like I don’t know who I am anymore. Or where I belong. The world expects one thing, my family asks another, my heart wants something else. I am a piece of wood, adrift at sea, just waiting to see what shore I wash up on. If I don’t find a rudder soon, will it be too late? Will I lose the chance to determine my own destiny, chart my own course? I’m sailing in uncharted waters; there is no map to show me the way.
It’s not so much that I don’t know where I want to go. I do have a final destination in mind, generally speaking, but I don’t know how to get there from here. And, then too, there is just a breath of hesitation in the back of my mind. A hint of doubt whether that is really where I want to be. Part of the problem is that I want to do it all. I want to travel the world, footloose and fancy-free; but I also want to settle down and raise a family. I want to write as a career, but I love working in construction. And a little part of me wants to go back to college and follow where that may lead.
The first step is making some decisions I guess. I’m old enough that I should probably have already done that and I guess I sorta have. It’s just the final commitment that’s lacking. So what then? Craft a plan to get from here to where I want to be of course. Ain’t nobody else gonna build my life for me. If I want something, I gotta go after it myself. Thankfully, I’m not scared of hard work. And once I set my mind to something, nothing’s gonna hold me back. And while I can’t complain about the life I have; it’s not the one I want. So I’m done wavering. I’m not a kid anymore, I can’t hide from life. I have to face it head-on and build my dreams on the foundation laid in my childhood. It’s strong and so am I. Uncharted waters are nothing more than an opportunity to draw my own map.
Books are incredible. Amazing. Magical. A treasure more valuable than the sum of all the precious metals in the whole world. A book is worth its weight in gold. Well, most are. Some are just garbage, good only for kindling. Although I personally would have a hard time doing that to any book. When I was maybe 10 or 12, I started reading Fahrenheit 451. I did not finish. It is supposed to be a fabulous book, but I do not know. I got as far as the first book-burning and had to put it down. It literally made me feel sick. Ironically, the whole point of the book is how important books are. Which is great, and I totally agree, I just couldn’t stomach the idea of books being burned. How anyone could do that is beyond me.
I also have a hard time grasping the notion of getting rid of books. I currently have boxes and boxes of books waiting for the day that I have a place big enough to put them all out on bookshelves. Some think I’m crazy for hanging on to them for so long and through so many moves. Maybe I am. So what? There are certainly worse types of crazy. The other day I awarded myself the herculean task of sorting and repacking and making an inventory of my books. I made the mistake of assuming that it would be easy. Physically, it was. But I was not prepared for the emotional turbulence I encountered. Part of me enjoyed going through all my books. I love all books and most of these are long-time favorites. It was like visiting an old friend.
But it was also very hard at the same time. My Mama was the one who taught me to love reading and a large portion of the books in those boxes were ones she had given me. Some were picture books she read to me when I was little. And I realized all over again that she will never read them to my kids. I will never get even one more book with an inscription in her handwriting. But then on the other hand, I am so incredibly blessed to have both these books from her and all the beautiful memories of being read to and reading together. Nothing can ever take that away.
Someday I hope to raise a houseful of kids. Several years ago, I sketched my ideas for the perfect house. It’s a big, sprawling 2-story with a super-awesome kitchen, a courtyard complete with fountain, balconies on the second story – everything I could ask for in my dream home. But the feature I love most is the library, the biggest room in the whole darn thing. With floor-to-ceiling bookcases on every wall, a desk in the middle of the room, and comfortable seating scattered around. A sanctuary where my kids can discover the same love for books and reading that my Mama gave me. If they have that, then I will consider myself a successful mother. There’s nothing more important than family – but books are a really close second.
This is harder than I thought it would be. I mean, I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize how difficult this could actually get. I considered giving up on this blog and my writing dream when Mama died. She believed in me and my writing before anyone else did and I didn’t know if I would be able to carry on without her support. Then too, there would be the issue of trying to write without being overwhelmed with thoughts of her. I ultimately decided that continuing on with this and every other aspect of my life is what she would want me to do. But it sure hasn’t been easy.
It’s like the words are stuck. It’s weird, because writing has always been easy for me. The words would just flow with little effort. Quite often, it was a struggle to get them to stop. Mama always said that I have a gift. Now it’s like I’m groping in the dark to find what I want to say. My hope is that by putting this down in black and white, maybe I can beat this. I may not even publish this; I don’t know yet. Writing has always helped me work through problems I needed to solve or decisions I needed to make. But I’ve never had trouble writing before. How can writing save me this time, when it’s a fight to even put this on paper? I feel like I’m lost. Maybe I’ll try telling a story.
It was almost a year ago that I first started this blog. It was her idea of course. “Have you ever considered doing a blog?” Out of the blue, her question jolted me. I had never thought of blogging before. “Just something to think about,” she said and that was the end of the conversation. So I did think about it for several weeks. Even as I went about my normal life, it was always in the back of my mind. Every once in a while, I’d ask her a question. What would I write about? Would anyone read it? Who could I get to help me set it up? Could I do any good with a blog? Every step of the way, she was there to help and encourage. When I finally launched in May of ’15, I think she was more excited than I was. And when I had to give it up a few months later, she was so disappointed.
Between work, life, and taking care of her, there just wasn’t time for extras. So I did what I had to do. And I didn’t mind, not really. We would talk about it every once in a while. She encouraged me to keep writing as I had time. Even if I didn’t publish what I wrote. She didn’t want me to give up on my dream. The re-launch in January was her idea too. Life was stabilizing and she seemed to be doing okay. “New year, new start,” she told me. So I did. Three weeks later she was gone. And this blog is all I have left of her. So no matter how hard it is, I won’t let go. As long as I have this, it’s like she is still here with me. And I think I’ve worked through my writer’s block. Thanks, Mama.
Last week, I wrote about my dreams being put on hold. I learned something about myself through writing that article. Those old dreams have been on the shelf collecting dust for so long, I had almost forgotten what they were and how much they once meant to me. For me, it has always been easier to push hard or painful things so far back in the closet of my mind that I can almost forget about them. In order to write about those old dreams, I had to pull them down, clean the dust and cobwebs away, and take a good hard look. They and I had to become reacquainted, as it were. And in that process, I realized something.
The girl that put those dreams on the shelf so many years ago is gone. She has vanished, leaving only her memories to remind me of her. I stand here today as a totally different person. I’d like to think a better person than I was then, but certainly a completely changed person. Putting myself back in her shoes and seeing the world through her eyes was not an easy thing to do. For a brief span of time, all her deepest fears and insecurities and longings and dreams became mine again. And I realized that I am glad that I am no longer that girl.
I also realized that as I have changed, so too have my dreams. They have grown and matured right along with me. This period of waiting has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Not only has it made me a better woman, it has also given me better and more beautiful dreams. So I will not be putting all those old dreams back on the shelf – they are dead and need to be buried. It is time for new dreams, new plans, new purpose. And I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
My days in high school seem so long ago. Back when I was young and full of dreams. Dreams of a successful career, of making a difference, of changing the world. I was going to do something big with my life and I couldn’t wait to get away from the people and places I’d always known. I worked hard to graduate at the top of my class – even after skipping 11th grade. I made an almost-perfect score on the ACT and applied to my dream college. I was on my way to the life I’d always dreamed of. Funny how God has a way of changing our plans.
After my first year of college, I needed a summer job. My dad offered me one in his company. By the time fall semester rolled around, my dreams of college and career were gone. A number of circumstances had come up that forced me to put my life on hold. No, I shouldn’t say forced – I could have chosen to leave anyway. I could have put my needs and desires first. Most will say I should have. But here I am, almost 8 years later, still in the same place with the same people and doing the same things I wanted so desperately to get away from. Do I wonder what might’ve been? Of course. Do I regret walking away from what I’d always wanted? Not for a minute.
I’m not saying it’s been easy. Far from it. Doing the right thing always comes at a high price. Just because I turned my back on my dreams doesn’t mean that those dreams were dead. I’ve struggled numerous times with that decision. Did I make the right choice? Am I crazy? When will it be my turn? I always come back to the same answer – I am where I’m most needed. For now, that is enough. I wonder if life will always pass me by, if my day will ever come. Maybe so, maybe not. Either way, I will continue to live my life by the only creed I know: to do as much good as I can wherever He places me. Whether the rest of the world applauds or condemns me, even if I walk alone, I know in my heart that I have done the best that I could. In the end, that’s all that matters and I believe He will honor it.