I am going through transition number 412, and I feel once again as though I’m getting nowhere. I see the arc of my life and its current descent, and I wonder—often to the point of melancholic distraction—if I will ever achieve any of my goals, see any of my dreams realized. I try to remind myself that there’s time for me to do whatever it was I planned to do with my life (be an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker? write the Great American Novel? join a polyamourous commune?), but that’s typically first thing in the morning. By the time I get to 6 p.m., I’m exhausted by the many distractions and tasks that sap my strength and neutralize my passions each and every day.
In one of my favorite novels, The Master and Margarita, The Master—a great writer—claims that he destroyed the only copy of the magnum opus he was writing by tossing it into a fire. The destruction was owing to the fact that the Master felt despair over the work and knew no one would ever print it, so he burned it. This fictional encounter mirrors an actual event in Bulgakov’s life, when he did set fire to an early version of The Master and Margarita. In the book, his original manuscript is handed back to him by none other than the Devil himself. When The Master questions how it was possible to get the work back from ashes, the Devil (in the guise of one Professor Woland) explains, “Don’t you know? Manuscripts don’t burn.”
In fact, the reality was that Bulgakov had to rewrite his book from memory. It wasn’t published during his lifetime. He died young from an hereditary disease (and probably considerable stress from being banned in his own country but denied permission to leave).
I can only imagine how hard it must have been for Bulgakov to write at all, knowing his work likely would never see the light of day. He would have been writing strictly for himself and a small cadre of trusted (and, no doubt, like-minded) friends.
Slightly less romantic than the notion of “manuscripts don’t burn” is the reality of “the Internet is forever.” I recently came across an article online that was published almost four years ago. TheRumpus.net is a popular culture “indie” website, which offers (along with reviews, essays and other related posts) advice on writing from author Cheryl Strayed (in her “Dear Sugar” column).
In her August 2010 column, Ms. Strayed gave some tough love to a young, female, budding writer who was in despair over her inability to “write right.” In short, the advice was “don’t worry about what you write, just write!” It’s similar to advice I give to young people who want to “become a writer.” You really don’t worry about finding an agent or an editor or a publisher until you have a full manuscript to present. You become a writer by writing.
However, Ms. Strayed summed it up much more colorfully than I ever did: Write like a motherfucker!
I have been thinking of this for the past few days since stumbling upon her article. I’m adopting it as a mantra of sorts. While nary a day goes by without me creating some form of written output (I would say I average between 1,000-2,000 words per day, which is pretty damn prolific), I almost never “write like a motherfucker”—i.e. with a passionate abandon that transcends time and space. I may write like that one or two days every quarter (or roughly two percent of the time); mostly I’m writing to hit a deadline or put out a coherent marketing piece. There’s nothing sublime or incredible about the work I do; I’m just a worker bee doing her thing.
Despite my general aptitude for getting material out on time, I often feel that I’m wasting my time as a writer. That my internal drive is to write like a motherfucker, but the manifestation of that drive is never quite translated into an end result. I have literally dozens of tales to tell—screenplays, novels, memoirs, non-fiction books—but they are lost in the ennui of daily living.
It’s far too easy for me to view my life from the pessimistic side of things: what I haven’t accomplished, how many mistakes I’ve made, how often I fail, how many times I’ve been disappointed or have disappointed others…
Saturday was an interesting day. I went to my son’s baseball game. Typically, his dad has him on the weekends, but owing to circumstances, my son was home this weekend, which meant I had to take him to baseball. The day began with my son basically saying he would skip the game if I was too put out to take him. I told him of course I wanted to watch him play (a half-lie; I still have to do my daughter’s taxes, plus I had one of those deadlines to hit and)…
It was also my daughter’s 20th birthday. I am teenagerless for the next two years.
I reassured my son that I do love him and wanted to see him play, and that whatever else is going on with me right now is not his fault, that my preoccupations (which are many at present, and I may write about them in a few months) were not his to bear. We’re all under a lot of stress at the moment, but I wanted him to know it was neither his fault nor should he feel responsible for the tumult that surrounds us at present.
So, I took him to his game and was impressed to see how well he plays at catcher. He has one hell of an arm, albeit not in the “pitcher” mode: He can fire one off to second base, however, which he did during the game getting an out off a near-stolen base.
He was struggling to get a hit, however, and after getting struck out he returned to the dugout and threw his hard-hat across the bench. I called him up to the viewing area and told him that his action was inappropriate. I could see that frustration in him. I could see myself and my worldview: He was completely focused on his failures and couldn’t see his successes. I told him that he was playing extremely well; that baseball is a team sport and he’s one of the best players on his team; maybe his hitting needs work, but he can throw the ball farther than anyone else; as catcher he was receiving almost every pitch thrown at him (whereas the alternating catcher was dropping many of the balls coming at him). In short, I told my son to keep doing what he was doing and to work on his upper body strength and conditioning to become a better hitter. He wiped away his tears and turned that frown upside down. His team won their opening game by a wide margin.
After the game, we ended up at the same diner with several of the baseball families, so we sat alongside them. As so often happens, I was the odd woman out, so I sat with the kids. At one point, my son asked me, “Mom, when is the last time we went to Church?” I admitted that it had been several years. He then turned to the boy beside him (I hadn’t been listening in to that point) and announced his atheism and the belief that Jesus was just a really cool revolutionary but nothing more. When the boy next to him asked, “What do you believe in?” My son answered, “I’m like my family: we believe in science.” Um, yeah, we have been watching Cosmos together as a family.
I also found out that my son was spreading the gospel of “stroller moms” as “breeders” (something he got from my bff, incidentally, not directly from me). And this is the son that on dress-up day two weeks ago where he could wear whatever he wanted to school decided he would wear a dress and heels (he also painted his own nails).
During all of these actions, I held my breath and reminded myself that he’s navigating his way in life; that he’s either going to continue to be this free spirit or will conform to his community’s expectations. That the best I can do is let go and let “God”—whatever that may be; we talk about the Universe a lot in our home, as in, what the Universe wants for us will happen.
Next up was getting ready to celebrate with my daughter, who had slept in before heading out to have brunch with a friend. We were meeting up to go bowling followed by a night at Cirque du Soleil. For the past couple of weeks, the two of us have been joking about how there is still time for her to “go out and make bad choices.” My daughter is the first female on her father’s side not to have a teenage pregnancy; she’s still getting straight As in college despite having just filmed a major motion picture (it may premiere at Cannes 2015). She hasn’t made any bad choices, which is a miracle in and of itself. For her birthday, we bought a really nice guitar, which she has been learning to play. She’s signing up to take ASL classes in the fall in addition to her double major. She’s thinking about doing an astrophysics track on top of her psychology major. She so wanted to read Michio Kaku’s The Future of the Mind, that she bought herself a copy the same day as I was giving it to her for her birthday (we opened presents late because of the baseball game so now she has two copies of the same book by a renown physicist with whom she’d like to intern as he, too, is looking at how physics and psychology intersect).
As weird luck would have it, Cirque du Soleil’s latest entry, Amaluna, is a female-empowered adventure loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was accompanied by an all-woman band, and my daughter loved it. We came home to open presents and cheer her birthday with pie (she’s not so much a cake person).
By that point, I was utterly exhausted from a long day of parenting, knowing full well I would have to get up Sunday morning to work.
And I wonder why I still haven’t finished the rewrites on my novel.
If you’ve read this far, I thank you. I’m about to sum up.
When I look at my life through its prism darkly, I often forget those trees for the forest. Nope, I didn’t get the idiom backwards. I mean that I truly do see the forest. Like, all the time. I forget that—while my forest is overgrown and lacking any kind of coherent plan—I’ve managed to grow a couple of pretty phenomenal trees in there. My daughter is “done; stick a fork in her.” No matter what life throws at her, she’s going to make the most of it. She will act (in the professional actor sense) and study and live life like a motherfucker.
My son is turning into this very interesting human, as well. He’s moody as fuck, but we’re working to get him into adolescence and out alive. The fact that he stands up for his friends and his beliefs (even if both are likely to change in the coming years) is truly awe-inspiring.
I often look at my kids and think how much I’ve sacrificed of myself. Single parenting is so damn hard if you do it right. And somehow, despite my many trips and stumbles along the way, I’m doing it right.
In spite of all my contrary hopes and dreams—the ones where parenting is a huge drag on all I wanted to accomplish in life—I managed to be a great mom.
Yeah, I parent like a motherfucker. Every day. With all my being.