Inspiration: For When You Need It Most

A Moveable FeastI don’t even own this book, but for some reason it is always there on my mind or in the back of my mind or otherwise someplace near to it. When I check it out of the library, I usually keep it through the maximum amount of renewals (9 I think) and thumb through it almost daily, reading bits and pieces of it here and there, discovering something new every time, and not just about Paris, or Hem, or that era, but amount myself and how I choose to view the world. Having written that just now, it sounds heavy, I know, but trust me it’s not. It’s actually quite simple and down-to-earth.

I can’t remember what drew me to A Moveable Feast the first time I read it—it was probably at my wife’s suggestion, but I do know it was on my writing desk the day my daughter was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder, type 1 diabetes. Obviously there was no connection to Hemingway’s Paris and this affair—we live in the American south and there was no drinking, no horse racing, no boxing or famous people involved—but I found nonetheless something buoyant about the writing itself that helped me come to grips with this, our own life-changing event.

Shortly after the diagnosis, I began writing a blog—feel free to follow this link to visit it, it’s called Without Envy—and what Hemingway’s writing of Paris, and his other, fictional work, too, of course, but Paris was real, what it taught me was to identify the emotion, find it in whatever action or person that gave it to you and write it down in such a way that it’s honest and clear so that if any one else reads it they will see and experience the same emotion too. It set a perfect example for a father who was facing what is and will probably be one of the saddest, most painful situations in his life, if only because of how unprepared and little I knew about it. For as Hemingway once wrote himself: The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places —A Farewell to Arms, so too had the world, it seemed, broken me and those I loved, but through writing about it I felt stronger. You can’t ask much more from a book or its author.

(Un)Tying the Bowline

If I were ever to own a sailboat, and I think I would like that very much one day, I would name it The Damned Fool. To be sure, the phrase embodies what many might think of the sloop’s senseless, stubborn captain. But the moniker has little to do with me, and even less with the boat, as it speaks to a philosophy. Philosophies are earned, not awarded, however, as anyone with some age on them can attest, and so it is fitting that if this thing (I hesitate to call it a goal) were to come to me during this, middle life—if it is to come to me at all—so too should the task of naming it.

We should be so fortunate if all of life’s little experiments, opportunities and experiences arrive only after we’re good and ready, so that we know what to do with them and can clearly identify the good from the bad, the right from the wrong. Only, that is not how the real world happens (visit my blog, Without Envy, to read more on the challenges of the unwanted and unexpected). Even when we think we know what we’re doing it seems more often the case we do not, thus the perception of foolishness and in my case a well-deserved title for a boat.

Having said that I am reminded of a saying by Mark Twain, and of which the general idea prompted me five years ago this Friday to leave my job to pursue writing full time.

 20 years from now you will be disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the one’s you did.

There are of course a thousand other quotes just like that suggesting that life should be lived to the fullest. What you don’t hear is how exactly to go about it. Looking back on my own experience over the past five years of writing full time, there were some things I think I/we did well—We planned and saved for the day, and afterwards I wrote, I mean really wrote and didn’t just talk about it (other writers will understand this). I also studied the works of those authors I most respected and used what I learned about them and about my own writing to teach every summer at a young writers’ workshop which helped me stay focused on the mechanics and share my passion for the craft.

Then there were a few things I could have done better, like I should have behaved more like an unpublished artist, which I was. What I mean by that is I should have treated my day as if I still had a day job to with which to divide up my time. Instead with this huge amount of time, I started a garden, built a backyard chicken coop. If the kids classroom needed a chaperone, I volunteered. In other words, I did all the fun things I could find (in a house there are so many distractions, I wasn’t prepared for them!)

I was acting like a successful and financially-established novelist, though I wasn’t either of those. Yet there I was hoeing, feeding hens, gathering eggs, carting kids around on field trips. Just because we had saved up some money, that wasn’t an excuse to pretend that it wouldn’t run out. That’s not to say we spent foolishly, we didn’t. We cut our expenses drastically those five years (and I would say for years to come, maybe ever). But were we as frugal back then on day one as we were on day seven hundred, there would be a lot lest today to worry about.

Was it foolish to leave work to pursue this? Perhaps. Some would say it was a drastic and selfish thing to do. But I don’t think so. After all, to end with another commonly heard quote in regards to change (this from Karen Lamb):

A year from now you will wish you had started today.