What Have I Learned?

The last two years have been transformational for me, to say the least. It’s been full of ups and downs, for sure, but over all, the past two years have been good ones. I’d spent the few years before those focused on taking care of my daughter. Little else entered my periphery. She was in a dark place, it was my job to keep her safe, end of story. There was no room or energy for anything more. She’s still my priority, but, for the most part, she’s doing well enough that there’s room for more in my life. It was one of those not so pleasant breakthroughs at first. Two years ago, I suddenly had time on my hands. I was unfamiliar with that concept. I’d come through a divorce years before with probably nothing but my dignity intact. Okay, I don’t even know if I had that, but I like to think I did. After the divorce when there should have been time for me to figure out exactly who I was as an adult, my daughter’s needs came first, and I figured I’d worry about me later. Two years ago, later came. My daughter was improving, she was starting to be able to spend time by herself, (at nearly ten years old she was finally starting to go into her own room to play for the first time in years), and I was left wondering what the heck I was supposed to do with myself. As happy as I was for my daughter, it left me with a void. I’d been so focused on her care, that I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was almost unpleasant because in a lot of ways I allowed myself to feel like a failure. I’d started school, then my daughter needed more attention, so I had to drop out. During my marriage I had started a couple different things and never saw them through. I’ll just blame those on the fact that I was miserable and didn’t much care. I’ve always WORKED I’ve just never had a CAREER. Two years ago I sat looking at where I was in life, and that overwhelming feeling of never living up to my potential was beating me over the head. With a gigantic club. I wondered what I had to show for the last forty years. Granted I had a beautiful, wonderful daughter that I wouldn’t trade for all the world. She was my light, my heart and in many ways my salvation. She was enough, that’s for sure, but I had nothing else. Or I didn’t feel like I did. My days felt like most of them spun out of control, like I was on some giant hamster wheel from hell. There was always stress over finances, stress over the way my ex treats my daughter, and the stress of being a single mom to a special needs child and hoping like hell that your parenting best was somehow good enough.

When it became clear to me that things were steadily improving for my daughter, I found myself wondering what I was supposed to do. I wondered who I was. I decided to embrace the journey of finding out. (I started the blog, Who Am I? Why Do You Care? with an eye on the journey I was undertaking) I decided to let go of the stress and the worry and hold on to all the good that surrounded me. I knew I could never banish either one of those things, but I was making the effort to not let them rule me. For the most part, things always have a way of working themselves out. In the end, the things that bring us the most grief are going to make us stronger, right? (Please tell me that they are, because if not, I don’t want to know.)

So here, I was, poised on the brink of my life and I had no idea where to start. I  COULD have decided to concentrate on learning a trade, figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, but instead, I embraced what I’d always wanted to be ever since I was a child. I picked up my writer’s soul, dusted it off, and tried to see if there was any way to bring life back from the remnants. There were cobwebs a plenty, and rust to boot, but once I started nurturing that withered part of me, it sprang to life as if it had known all along that I would be back. When I published Tomorrow’s Promise, it was an important work for me, because it reminded me that I had dreams. It reminded me that I was more than I had allowed myself to be. I was happy to see the work completed. I was desperately afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do it again. I began reading more, researching, learning about the publishing trade (vastly different than what it was twenty years ago), and everything I did only solidified the fact that I wanted, more than anything, to be a writer. I was afraid to call myself a writer, though. I was afraid I wasn’t good enough, or that I wouldn’t be able to do it, or that something else would come along and sidetrack me again.

That was a year ago. What have I learned since then? As soon as Tomorrow’s Promise was out, I was hooked. I wanted to write. No, I NEEDED to write. I wrote a few short stories, read some more, and participated in my first National Novel Writing Month. It was so much fun! Watching the word count grow was absolutely addicting! I’ve spent this last year on another book, Blessed Light, Cleansing Rain. When it comes out in October, it will have been 11 months in the making. This book, in some ways, means even more to me than Tomorrow’s Promise. This book started from a new idea, not one I’d had for twenty years. This book has shown me that I am, indeed, a writer. This book has taught me that it doesn’t have to be perfect.(not at first, anyway)  I learned that the first draft can, in fact, be complete crap. I learned to not give up. I learned to listen to my characters. If they want to go in a different direction than the one I have planned, then they know better than I do. I learned to silence the critic inside that wants to make every sentence right the first time, and to immerse myself in the flow of writing. Re-writes are for getting it right. Edits are for getting it perfect. (or as close as possible) I learned to quit talking about wanting to write again – someday – and just write. I learned that I love the hyperfocus that can happen when I write, but that I need to have a plan for coming down from the hyperfocus, because that crash is intense. It’s painful.

What else have I learned this past year while I was writing Blessed Light? I learned that I don’t care if I have a career, or if I work in a restaurant or retail or a grocery store. I’m forty two years old. That’s not old, by any means, but if circumstances have kept me from attending school, then I can make the most of it. I don’t believe there are bad jobs. I’m grateful to have one. We may struggle sometimes, but I make it work. I keep us afloat and in the grand scheme of things, that’s all that matters. I’ve learned to let my girl go. That one is hard. I’m used to being there if she falls. I’m used to her clinging to me. I’m learning to back away and let her try to get up by herself. I’m learning to watch and see how she handles mistakes and the curves that life throws at her. Sometimes it’s hard, because when she hurts I want to help, but I can’t always. So much of her life is beyond my control, and she has to learn to cope with that on her own terms. She has to learn how to regulate her moods, find ways to keep on task, stay organized, and figure out how to not let other people and their actions make her feel bad about herself. She struggles, and sometimes she still needs my help. Sometimes I even miss her, but I know that learning to live her life not so dependent on me is what she needs. I hope I encourage her and teach her, and hope she knows how proud I am of her. I have learned that it’s okay to accept help sometimes. I’m still not good at asking for it, but I am at least trying to work on graciously accepting it when it’s offered. I have learned that I have amazing friends who support me in this crazy writing endeavor. They even act appropriately interested in all my writing news. 😉 I have learned that I’m the only person that can stop me. I’ve learned that writing is probably something you could never truly explain to non-writers; how it consumes you, how it fuels you, how it is agony and ecstasy all rolled into one crumpled, weary package and even when you aren’t writing, it still consumes you. I have learned to never take that for granted again. I can never gain back all those years I spent not writing – and that is the biggest waste of all.

I’ve learned to embrace the person I am, and to embrace the process. I’ve always believed that we are constant works in progress and the greatest abuse to ourselves is allowing ourselves to be stagnant. I’ve learned that it’s okay when the process is painful. It means I am learning something important. I’ve learned to listen. Listening to myself, trusting myself, and believing in what I have to offer, are perhaps the greatest things I have learned this year.

I AM on a journey. I can’t know how it is going to end, or even where it is going to end, but I’m willing to embrace my travels. I’m willing to trust in my heart and believe that my life will have meant something. I don’t want to be insignificant. I don’t want to leave this earth thinking that I never meant anything to anyone, or that I didn’t serve some purpose here.

I am learning. I am living.

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