Though I am a person of a certain age, I often still toy with the idea of a new career in the same way that I consider buying other people’s houses when I’m walking around the city.
I already have advanced degrees and a career, mind you, and a perfectly lovely house, and I’m much more likely to retire from the career and move into an apartment than I am to suddenly become, say, a counseling psychologist. I’m not ruling anything out, mind you. It’s just a question of probabilities.
But being a person of a certain age, those probabilities become more of a motivation. Priorities become clearer.
There are things I can’t put off any more. I’ve done some of them in the last few years. I’ve digitized my collections of photos and my scores of handwritten journals, and I’ve shredded, donated, and given away all manner of possessions and records.
Because of that, I am much more mobile now. I’m not carrying a lifetime of possessions and memories on my back. In case I have to move, or be moved, I can move. In case I want to finish more of the things I’ve been putting off until I had more time.
But there is so little time. I was in the bookstore yesterday and as I often do, I went in search of a new book by an author I particularly like, and to my delight I found one and pulled it off the shelf. On the cover, it said it was the final in the series. The author had died.
I had thought she would be there forever, the way I keep assuming I’ll be here forever, contemplating new careers, considering whether to get my sofa reupholstered, watching my grandson grow up, putting off publishing.
Which is to say that after finally getting my first two published books up on Kindle last summer, I had high hopes of finishing the final book in that series and got off to an excellent start, but then the university semester began. Teaching a hands-on in-person practicum course in the midst of a pandemic meant I had to re-invent my curriculum entirely while taking care of panicked, lonely, stressed undergraduates for whom, it turned out, I was often the only teacher they met with in real time. That, in addition to family responsibilities, meant that I stopped being able to work on the book for two months.
Here I should make it clear that I never stopped being a writer. I have five manuscripts drafted, including a different series and a collection of short stories. I walk along the street revising my stories and my novels, and thinking up new ideas. I scribble notes to myself about what I want to do.
It’s just that because I was trying to write in between things, I ended up with tangles in my tales and would put the work aside until I had the time and the concentration to undo the snarls. And I ended up with piles of mare’s nests and rat-kings.
The Stick Princess is mostly drafted, for instance. But after I finally figured out the protagonist’s motivation (yes, I write my stories first and figure out the plot later), I lost track of my scenes and stopped to write an extended summary. That means my manuscript was only partly rewritten and the final chapter was only vaguely sketched, and the summary I stopped and wrote loses track of characters.
Well, I’m a person of a certain age, and I don’t have forever. So I informed my supervisor I would not be teaching my course again.
I don’t have all the time in the world any more, but because I quit teaching the course, I do finally have time for what matters, and what matters right now is finishing this book.
I printed out the manuscript just as it is, and went through it page by page writing myself notes, crossing things out, and occasionally writing REWRITE in block letters in red ink when I realized certain things just wouldn’t work. Now I’m re-doing the summary.
I love writing. But even more, I love being allowed to write.
I feel so selfish. It’s wonderful.