I’ve been reading a book called The Road to Burgundy by Ray Walker. It’s research for my novel, and it’s fun research. As much as I love learning, reading dry textbooks sounds like the worst way to end a day of chasing after two kids. Plus, I feel like it’s the personal stories we learn most from rather than generalizations and statistics. This book is a memoir of a man who gave up a promising career in finance to start at the bottom of the ladder in the wine business simply because he loved to drink wine and found he had an unrelenting passion for it. His goal was to eventually move to France to open his own vineyard with his wife and young child in tow. And he did it. It’s been such an interesting read, but before I even finished the first chapter, I felt this aching pain in my chest and it hasn’t let up since.
Could I ever do something so crazy in the pursuit of my dreams? Would I? Should I?
Clearly, I work hard. My life has revolved around writing on a daily–or at least, weekly–basis for the last 7 years. I have a bookshelf full of writing craft books. Earlier this year, I reached my goal of signing with agent. I’m constantly studying the fiction I read to better understand what makes me connect to it or not. I’m always practicing new techniques for accomplishing my writing goals, plotting, and getting the words on the page in the most eloquent and efficient manner.
But is it enough when I hear of other writers pounding out six books a year? Carrying a journal with them to record their every observation and idea? Traveling to faraway destinations to research locations for their books? Putting thousands of words on the page every day no matter what? Writing a short story each day on top of finishing their novels? Studying poetry and other forms of writing to better understand the cadences in lines of fiction?
What does it mean to be a true artist?
What does it mean to give your all to your dreams?
Does it mean packing up your life and moving to France?
Or is it possible to connect to the heart of your dream in a three-bedroom house with kids thrusting Littlest Pet Shop kittens at you while you work?
I think for those of who are artists–and from this book, I’ve learned anyone who has a dream they believe in with every beat of their heart and every breath of their being is an artist–we are constantly battling the balance of our inner world with the reality of the outer world. When we close our eyes, put on our blinders, and disappear into our work, we are those artists sitting in a cafe in France. But when the flow stops and we open our eyes, we’re faced with very strong possibility that our work is nothing special. That we are nothing special. And it feels like we should be doing more, pushing harder, pushing further.
This week, as my head swam with these thoughts, I picked up Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg–a constant source of encouragement and gentle understanding. I read the chapter entitled, “Be an Animal,” and in it Goldberg writes about a friend who traveled to Europe with the intense fear of getting lost. I have that fear too. I fear that as I battle the “no”s in this business and in life, as I try to push through them and stay strong, I will get lost. There is no map for unchartered territory and each of our journeys is unchartered territory. No one takes the same path. But Natalie writes that it was that fear of getting lost that makes us lose “all touch with…common sense, with the natural senses that we rely on as our survival tools.” Of her friend, “Afraid of being lost, she became lost.”
It’s our fears that hold us back. I can’t count how many days these fears have stopped me from making any progress toward my goals at all–in a sense, creating the self-fulfilling process Goldberg talks about. Thankfully, I have continued to wake up to a new day and very unsteadily gotten back on the horse often enough to get this far. I don’t yet know how far my journey will go, or how my life and process will change over the years, but for now I will do the best I can to quell the fears with this:
I’m doing the best I can with what I have. And when the opportunity arises to do better, I will do better. I will go further.
I’ve started on my new book and it is so much fun to be hanging out in a new setting and learning about new characters! The past couple of weeks have revolved around research as I drop myself into the wine world and dabble in equestrianism (horses), but I do have a few scenes written and oh, how I love fresh words. This writer has been editing for entirely too long!