“The writing life is rarely up and to the right,” my friend Jonathan tells me, and I nod, even though he can’t see me on the floor, wedged between my bed and the dog’s, wiping ugly cry off of my cheeks.
I’ve been having a WEEK.
You probably know this kind of week. It’s the week you hope everything might fall into place like chips on a Plinko board, and instead you’re still coming up nil. It’s the week when you imagine your “fake it ’til you make it” might start to pay off but you didn’t quite make it, so now what? You’re just the perennial faker? It’s the week you realize that you’ve grown attached to an idea for your life that is not real or helpful, and it’s causing you some suffering, some snotting.
Around this time last year, I took a trip to the mountains with two writerly girlfriends. Our rhythm went something like this: sleep until nine, write until noon, explore until evening, and then read our writings aloud, brave and blushing. It was here, surrounded by wood planks and dead bumble bees, that I formed the first paragraphs of my next book.
From there, I came home and did the things I knew to do after a decade in publishing. I found an agent. I cobbled together a book proposal or rather book proposals. There were as many versions as I had selves. The theological one. The journalistic one. The religious one and the thinks-she-funny one. There was the one that sounded like someone’s best friend, just not my best friend, so I had to wonder.
In the time it took me to put together a proposal, another friend had written a book.
No matter, I told myself, slow was my M.O. I may not get there the fastest, but, when I did, it would be the truest way I knew how.
Finally, it was time to pitch the idea to publishers. As we did, I listened to their feedback. Even harder, I listened to my inner feedback to their feedback. Where did this pass land in me? What did this offer spark in me? It wasn’t always clear. But I thought it might become that way with time. Time had aways come through for me.
But when it appeared like Time had arrived, there was still a niggling feeling within me. I showed up for the writing things. I did the publishing things. I strung each next best step together, thinking I was preparing a banner of celebration over this threshold. And, yet, I couldn’t bring myself to hang it. This made me very sad, and concerned, and eventually panicked because I couldn’t quite make sense of it all. Things weren’t turning out how I expected.
Enter the WEEK.
It was harrowing, but I did not give up. I woke each morning, letting my eyes adjust to a new day, a fresh mercy. I put my hand on my heart, a lot, and said, “Do not abandon me here.” I asked a handful of friends, maybe too many, to help me make sense of myself. As they did, I listened to their feedback. Even harder, I listened to my inner feedback to their feedback.
If the writing life, the spiritual life, any life worth living is not up and to the right, as Jonathan says, if it’s not a linear line of progress, if it’s not always getting better or clearer or lighter, then what is it?
It’s like a spiral, I’ve decided, and a downward one at that. Our knowing moves in circles, like T.S. Elliot once implied, whereby we often arrive where we began but with a perspective more grounded in truth. (Is this why after sixteen mattresses, I decided to re-buy the very first one I tried?) The mark of success in this metaphor is not, then, up and to the right. It’s down into the center, our center, the center of all being, the center I call God.
Nothing is lost, God says, when I am weary from all of my wavering, feeling like time has been wasted, willing myself to just get on with it. It’s the psalmist who actually puts these words in God’s mouth for me:
God’s love is meteoric,
his loyalty astronomic,
His purpose titanic,
his verdicts oceanic.
Yet in his largeness
nothing gets lost;
Not a [wo]man, not a mouse,
slips through the cracks.
— Psalm 36: 5-6 (MSG)
I do not fully understand her, but this is the God I believe in: the one who grabs my chin and says, “You are worthy of time to decide;” the one who strokes my head and says, “You didn’t know what you know now;” the one who lights a candle for me and says, “We’ll figure this out together.” I believe in a God who keeps track of my life, even when I can’t.
After a WEEK in which I am less sure of where to go from here, I am more sure that nothing is lost in our cosmic travels. No knowing is lost. No turning is lost. No time is lost. We will not be lost.
We are always in God’s orbit, as nauseating as that may be sometimes.
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