A few weeks ago, Camille (not her real name but I think I'll start calling her that), who runs my writing group, gave me an exercise. She does this once in a while and, although I seize up each time at the thought of being given an "assignment," I invariably end up benefiting greatly from the process.
In this most recent exercise, she asked me to write about a moment during which I recognized or acknowledged my calling or purpose (independent of motherhood, family, etc.). I never had considered the existence of a particular moment or transition, but when I looked back, there it was - waiting for me.
In the spirit of blogging and reaching out and all that good stuff that has been tapping me on the shoulder over the past months and even years, I am sharing my response below. What follows is the unvarnished and unedited text that came from this exercise. I dedicate it to that tiny filament in each of us. Glow, baby.
I sat at the desk in the master bedroom of what we now refer to as the “little house” – the house where we had our children – our first house. The desk was large - with a hulking hutch balanced above it – and the room was small, maybe 14 by14, certainly not living up to the title of “master” anything. I sat in the indirect light of the desk lamp that had had its head torqued to face the wall and looked around the room. Husband’s dresser, my sewing table with its Bernina sitting on top, a half-made play quilt impaled on its needle, husband’s valet with his suit coat flung across it, a brown leather recliner that I had been convinced to give him as a gift as long as it didn’t end up in our bedroom, our California-king bed with husband asleep in it, a changing table piled high with wipees, burp cloths and newborn diapers no bigger than a kleenex, a beige embroidered bassinet with our tiny son asleep in it. It was like a dorm room and seemed to be crammed with everything we owned. A space capsule. It was 11:00 at night and I was in my ancient California Berkeley sleep shirt and giraffe-print fluffy slippers, sitting quietly at the computer, looking around the room, thinking. There was something I’d been thinking about doing for a while now. An idea that had been flitting around the edges of my mind for months, but seemed to evaporate when I looked directly at it. I felt its presence, though, a tiny bit stronger every day. It was an audacious notion, especially for someone for whom a five-page college paper was a crushing, Herculean undertaking. God, how I hated writing papers. The monotonous rehashing and regurgitating of the professor’s theories or the textbook’s recitations. Five pages of double-spaced misery. What was I thinking? I had tried to shake off the notion. Ridiculous, I told myself. But the notion persisted, unbowed, and I eventually named it in my mind, although not out loud yet. I was going to write a novel. Then there were the press releases. How many scores of press releases had I written over the years? Gads, too many and too painful. Saccharine, insincere weavings of desperation, designed to hint at something that wasn’t true or distract from something that unfortunately was. They were arguably more painful to write than the papers. At least at Cal I knew that the person critiquing my work was smart. I gave a bemused smile and watched to cursor wink at me from the empty page. Who would ever see what I wrote here? What did it matter? Did I even have any business writing my so-called novel? I had a toddler and a new baby, for crissakes. Anyone could tell you I had no time for self-indulgent projects like novel-writing. Sheesh, what did I even have to say? Wink, wink, wink said the cursor. It seemed to know something I didn’t, but it wasn’t telling. I yawned. I festered. I pushed back my cuticles. I glared at the husband. How could he just lie there? And then a sentence appeared in my mind. Hmmm. I typed it and it glowed on the screen. The cursor winked at me again and I felt a tiny filament of a light flick on somewhere inside, no bigger than a single bulb on a Christmas strand. Hmmm. I cocked my head and studied the sentence. It was all mine. Off the syllabus. No client approval required. I was drunk with power. Now what? Another sentence appeared behind it. Well. Where did that come from? I looked around to see if anyone was seeing this activity that surely was a naughty waste of precious mommy time. Where did I get off thinking that – oh, there’s the next sentence. Ha, that’s pretty funny. Wouldn’t it be funny if now, oh, wait, there it is, happening on the screen. That’s crazy. Who do I think I am? I’m not a baseball-cap-wearing, laptop-toting writer, for crying out loud! I’m a spin doctor. A corporate animal with Liquid Paper in my veins. Give me your indicted, your explosive, your politically incorrect…I will retool them, repurpose them, revarnish them. But I’m not a creative. I would have known that years ago, right? If I had magic beans I would have known long ago and I would have been doing a different job all along. I pushed back in the chair and took a deep breath. I was a spin doctor and now I’m a mom. There’s no room for [gulp] novelist in there. You self-deluded, wretched - but wait. There on the screen. I wrote that. It came from me. It wasn’t there on the screen a few moments ago…but there it is now. I created it. It’s a tiny little corner of a napkin of a world that no one knows but me. What if that was what I did…officially? How would that work exactly? Who would I be? What an outrageous idea. I scooted forward to the screen again and studied the lines I’d written. I wondered what was going to happen next in the story. And then I knew. Yes, I thought as I typed, that’s how she would talk. And this is what she needs to say. And she is part of me. And this is what I do. Tonight. And tomorrow. And the days after that.