I had a BLT today at Glacier International Airport, and while this is not remarkable in itself, what is remarkable, to me, is that the only other BLT I have ever had was just over a year ago at the same airport, the same little café. A year ago September I was leaving a writing retreat where I had, for the first time ever, read something out loud I had written about being adopted. A year ago September I sat in Glacier International Airport eating with a group of writers, one of whom would change my life just six months later by giving me a place to write. And now, a year later, I’d written and published a book and was making notes for book number two, but more startlingly, I'd come to Montana, to the very same city I'd started writing about adoption a year ago, to meet my birth father's relatives. People a year ago I hadn't even known existed and people now who were living deep in my heart.
Recently, my friend Karen, a favorite yoga teacher I more than once stalked at Whole Foods, curious about what someone so strong and beautiful would put in her basket, a person I later became friends with when I offered to work on her back after class, gave me a book by Steven Cope called The Great Work of Your Life. Karen is a woman of few words, and they are, always, gold. So when someone like that gives you a book, you pay attention. I picked up a pen and started to read. I have never marked up a book that much.
Steven Cope writes about what he called Unity of Action. “Perhaps once in your life, for just a few months, or weeks, or days, you knew what you were really about. You knew what you had to do and you did it with passion—with everything you had. You discovered the magic of aim! Somehow, you managed to organize everything in your life to support your aim.”
I have given up a lot of things this past year because I was determined to write a book. I often woke up at 2 A.M., dark with fear, worried that I was disappearing in my paring down to what was essential to accomplish my goal. What if I ended up homeless, carless, without health insurance? What if in speaking my truth I alienated the world? What if in finding my biological family I lost the family I had grown up with--my family. What if the book I wrote only brought debt and no measure of financial success? What if people said it was a narcissistic endeavor and that I should be ashamed for making such a big deal of what had happened before I could even speak? How would I survive this journey? I felt alone and foolhardy and fearful. In the mornings, after coffee and exercise, everything was different: I was on fire. I was loved and I loved and I had a purpose: I was going to tell the world what it was like to be adopted. I was going to write the books I wish I’d been able to read when I was younger so I wouldn’t have thought I was such a nut job. So that I would have seen I wasn’t crazy, I was adopted, and so that hopefully I would have learned specialists existed, therapists who actually understood adoption was trauma and not just an event with no side effects.
I still wake up at 2 A.M., 4 A.M., afraid. I have given up so much and I have more to give up if I want to continue on this path of living as a writer, one who writes more than she goes to the bank. For example: Do I really need a car? Do I need to go to Peet’s every single morning? A kombucha from Whole Foods is over three dollars. If I give those up, can I buy more writing time? How much am I willing to let go of so I can market book #1 and write book #2?
And I feel social pressure. It seems all my contemporaries have places of their own, cars of their own. Lots of clothes. Lots of meals out. But then I think about my dream life, and it goes all the way back to when I was a child on Martha’s Vineyard, watching the hippies crawl out of the chicken coop they’d converted into sleeping quarters. I wanted that life, the one that was in front of me in the field, but the life that was behind me in the house, the one of my parents, the one that followed the more traditional path of go to college and get a good job and have a family and buy all the stuff families need and sign on the dotted line if you don’t have enough cash to buy the things you and those you love want. It’s not about the magic of aim. It’s about trying to pile up everything you can on your plate and hope that by some miracle you can balance it all. It’s a life spent trying to hit a target by spraying a wall with tomato sauce. If you throw enough, you’re bound to hit something. But there is no grace in action. No real ownership.
But then I think about the three months I had in New York City and Martha’s Vineyard where all my efforts were focused on writing and finishing my book, and they were the best three months of my life. Yes, I cried. Yes, I despaired. But I also just lay on the floor in amazement: I was living the life of my dreams. Maybe the way I felt those three months was how a surfer feels in the tunnel of the wave. I was so in each moment.
And now all I think about is how to get back there, back to the awareness of aim. To be able to say: I am writing a book. The claim of aim frees up the inhale and the exhale. You know why you are on the planet. You don’t even have to say I am writing a good book. It’s so funny. It’s not about quality, really. It’s about getting the thing done. And there is so much freedom in that. It’s wild.
I think about my daughter who needs to decide her major in college. She is leaning towards Art History, and the reaction more often than not, when I tell people, is skepticism. “What is she going to do with that?” they ask. They want a major that leads more obviously to a nice house and car. But I want her to fall in love with life. When we went to Italy last winter, we walked fifty miles in six days in her determination to get to as many museums as possible. When we were in New York City this summer, we spent two full days out of the handful we had together in the city at the Met, on her insistence. That girl loves art. You should see her face when she looks at a Raphael. I am convinced she will find a way to make a living if she follows what she loves. I’d bet the little I have left in storage on it.
In life, we are dogs on a trail sniffing out our true path. Sometimes it seems to take forever. It took me fifty-one years to get to where I felt free swim in the love I have of writing. I’ve felt the urge forever. I used to tell people, for me, trying to write was like trying to shit a watermelon. But once I let myself write about the one thing I wasn’t supposed to: my adoption, the melon part just disappeared and the writing turned to water.
I wish I had the blind courage of an arrow. Sleep doesn’t always come easy. I wish I could know my bills would get paid and that my daughter would have everything she needed. I wish I could know that this writing business isn’t all a selfish pipe dream and that one day I won’t wish I had just gone to work in an office. I wish I could know I wasn’t going to die later today or tomorrow. But the funny thing is I can’t say I wish things came easy. I hope I make it. I hope everything works out okay.