Hope Begins in the Dark

Joy Lovely Joy
I don’t know when it happens or how it happens or sometimes (like now) how to get out of it. And I suspect if you’re a writer — particularly a freelance writer working with set guidelines and a slew of editors — you’ve been here too. This is the place where you beat your head against the desk and you stare at a blank screen and you find any excuse to not work on the project at hand (or under contract) because you’re just not hitting the mark. This is the place of paralysis. I dread working on this project, and trust me, if I were to explain the project it would seem simple, fun even. Let me assure you – it is not fun.

I wrote the above words yesterday, hoping that by writing it out — as is often the case — I could purge myself of whatever was holding me back and pick myself up and move on. No such luck. In fact, the opposite happened and I found myself in a dark place by nightfall, both literally and figuratively.

I don’t often talk about my faith here because I fear alienating readers (maybe I should get over that), and my relationship with God is a deeply personal one. My running dialogue with God is a continuous thread woven throughout the fabric of my everyday routine. I pray constantly for  my children, my family, my friends (whether real or online) and neighbors. I’ll drop what I’m doing and pray for a child whose struggle/fight/disease/disappearance I learn through Instagram or Facebook or the news. If you’re a part of my life and you’re carrying darkness, or you’ve expressed something you’re struggling with, or you’re contemplating something huge, chances are high that I’ve sent up words to God on your behalf. Yet I struggle with praying for myself. I fear that I’m being selfish. I rationalize this by telling myself that no one knows me better than God, so I don’t need to tell Him my struggles and worries. He already knows.

Last night, when I found myself in the dark, it wasn’t just about this project. I can now see that this has been boiling for sometime — I’ve been simultaneously stretched thin and stuck, not knowing in which direction to turn, where to place my attention or priorities, and suddenly all my failures, all my shortcomings, all my second guesses, all my worries and fears and regrets spilled over into one sticky puddle at my feet. So I sank into it. I surrendered. I pushed my prayer-censoring self out of the way and finally brought some things before God. And then I watched that puddle slowly dissipate.

Hope begins in the dark.

-Anne Lamott

This morning, I awoke with a clearer focus, a more positive mindset, a mental list of actions I need to take to get this train back on track, and I’ve managed to accomplish more on this project in a few short hours than I have in two weeks. God answered my prayers with a vision of my life and priorities and goals as a neatly compartmentalized pie chart, and I now see the things that need my attention most, the areas where I need to kick it up a notch, and the places where I need to cool it for a bit.

I’m not saying my prayer session was miraculous — there are still things under the surface that could pull me under if I let them — but it did gift me direction and grant me peace for the time being. Is it a coincidence that the sun is splashing light across a blue canvas of sky today? I certainly don’t think so.

Confession: I feel a bit exposed writing this post, and publishing it will push me out of my comfort zone, but sometimes such vulnerability is essential for growth, so here goes…

Why write?

Hemingway there is nothing to writing

I was engaged in a conversation with another mom the other day – a mom I don’t know very well. We started talking about what we do for a living. I explained that I’m a freelance writer and do most of my work for educational publishers. She was intrigued and wanted to know more, so I told her. That led to me venting a bit about rejection. When I came up for air from my whine fest she bluntly asked, “Why do you do it?”

I was taken aback for a second. My first instinct was to defend my profession, my industry, myself. And then I thought, I don’t know that I’ve ever asked myself why I do it.

I’ve always written. I’ve always been called to paper and keyboard; to tap out a rhythm that echoes my days; to chisel a world from a scrap of dialogue; to connect through words unspoken. It’s my way of hashing things out, of processing things, remembering things, making sense of things. It’s my way of escaping, relieving stress, learning more about myself, pushing myself, disciplining myself, teaching myself.

Writing, for me, takes the jumbled mess of thoughts knocking about my head, and organizes them, colors them, ties them up with perfect little bows and compartmentalizes them in chronological or alphabetical or any other -ical order. Or maybe it doesn’t do this at all. Sometimes a writing session multiplies the jumbled thoughts into an unruly vagabond tribe — wayward and haphazard, searching for a place to land — voices too distinct to ignore. Voices I will surely revisit. Either way, I always learn something in the process and by the time it’s done, whether it’s a news article, a non-fiction unit of study, a blog post, or a picture book manuscript, I am changed for having written.

Something happened over the summer. Somewhere in the stretch of structureless days I lost sight of my writerly self. It wasn’t until I resumed creative writing for a freelance opportunity that I remembered  “rejection” is just another word for “try again”.

Sit back down, face the blank page. Take it bird by bird.

Feedback, when given authentically and truthfully, is a catalyst for growth, an opportunity to push yourself and your work to new limits, to beyond limits, to utilizing muscles and tools you didn’t think you had but you did. You had access to them all along.

With the rejections that I’ve received from submitting synopses for this project, I have been granted a second chance. Because with each one, I held tight to a character or a scene or a plot that I begrudgingly relinquished for the sake of this project. And now they get a second chance at life. A limitless life. Rejection has resuscitated the storyteller in me.

All of this is not to say that rejection doesn’t sting. Of course it does. But I’m happy enough with my progress on this project thus far to recognize that maybe, just maybe, I never really wanted to relinquish a few of these little darlings in the first place. Maybe they were always meant to be mine–part of the vagabond tribe with voices too loud to ignore. I don’t know that they’ll ever see the light of day, and I don’t presume that a beckoning voice means their stories will flow seamlessly from my fingertips. Crafting their stories might turn out to be hard work. Some of them might fight the page. Others might careen onto paths unforeseen and I’ll have to trust where that takes us. Maybe to a dead end. But maybe not.

“I hate writing, I love having written.” -Dorothy Parker

So why do I write? Though it might cause bleeding from time to time, the high from having written is enough to move forward, to make me think I can do it again and do it better.

Hello, 6

“Go and wake up your luck”

-Persian Proverb

Dear Mia,

As of 10:32 this morning, you are 6.

Mia portrait collage

This is how it happens, I know, the days of the year circling back to this one when I first held my heart outside my body. I watched you squirm and scream, red-faced and mad, until you were in my arms. Suddenly, you stopped and settled and I thought,

Lucky me,

          Lucky me,

                    Lucky me.

I could go on like this, waxing nostalgic about beating hearts and secret languages and umbilical chords that are never truly cut, but today you are 6 and yesterday was not such a good day.

“I don’t have a switch you can turn on to make me nice.”

Arms crossed, back hunched, tears pooling at the rims of blue eyes.

Hello, 6.

Mia, 6

The thing about mothering is this: I thought I would have all the answers by now. I thought I would be a seasoned pro by the time 6 rolled around. I thought I would be an authority, a veteran. Turns out, I’m still winging it because the moment you were born so too was I. The mother in me turns 6 today too.

For the past few weeks I have felt this day fast approaching, leaving me untethered and wandering, watching you race ahead to 6 while I say my final goodbyes to 5. The very same 5 with which I had just recently made amends.

Mia, 6

I think 5 might be my favorite age, full of intellectual growth and independence – an ability to converse and interact in a way that you couldn’t before. Last week you wrote personal notes to all the girls in your class that said things like, “I love your eyes that are brown,” and “You been a good friend to me,” and “I just love your hare.” I find rainbow colored hearts tucked into your backpack, all labeled Mommy. You bring paperwork home with stories and scribbles doodled on the back. Rather than playing with toys, you invest yourself in writing picture books and illustrating fashion books.

You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander…I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.”   ~Anne Lamott

Sometimes when you need a break from the noise and raucous of your brothers I find you curled on your bed reading (reading!) a chapter book (by yourself!). As awe-inspiring as it is to bear witness to this growth, it comes with a bittersweet realization: You will never be 5 again.

Mia, 6

It used to be that I had to lay in bed with you until you fell asleep. Now I choose to stay. It’s in the dark of your room — tucked under the covers, breath and stillness between us — that you tell me scraps and snippets of your day, things you don’t say in the light.

“I like morning better than night.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m afraid of the dark sky.”

You ask me if vampires are real and how do I know and what are vampires anyway. You ask us if we believe in God and how do we know. You ask if I will die and leave you and how do I know.

Mia, 6“Go and wake up your luck.”

I don’t remember the first time I heard this quote, but these are the words that find me when I climb the stairs to wake you up every morning before school. And now as I’m finishing up this post, I look at the clock and realize it’s almost time to wake you up. Once again, these quiet morning hours have flown by and I still have a million items to check off my to-do list. I swat at thoughts and worries that swarm about my head and brush away the general feeling of being overwhelmed. As I climb the stairs to wake you with kisses on your 6th birthday I’m only thinking,

Lucky me,

          Lucky me,

                    Lucky me.

I love you to the moon and back.

xo,

Mommy

This post is part of Collectively Creative, hosted by Kelly of Cobwebs, Cupcakes & Crayons. To read more on this month’s theme, “Lucky”, check out these links:

Jell-O Shamrocks: A Kid’s Lucky Snack – (Cobwebs, Cupcakes & Crayons)

A Lucky Save! – (Pillows A-La-Mode)

DIY Craft: ‘Stained Glass’ Shamrock – (Time With Thea)

The many meanings of “lucky” – (The Thing About Joan)

This Party Calls For A Theme:  It’s All Rainbows and Unicorns – (Green Door Hospitality)

Keep Calm and Pinch On – (A Ponytail Kind Of Day)

Honorary Irish and my favorite Irish Soda Bread – (My Healthy ‘Ohana)

Luck o’the Irish for Easter!  – (Minerva’s Hand)

Lucky Gold Elephant – (Now at Home Mom)

Make your own luck (using a crochet hook) – (Gentle Stitches)

Asian Cucumber Salad – (Inspire and Indulge)

The Lucky Edition Logo March 2013