Last Friday and at the request of my older daughter, I drove a few hours away to attend her high school choir concert—one, because she didn’t want to ride the bus home and two, because she hadn’t been feeling well for a couple days. Just a little run down and under the weather, but now she has the flu, so no wonder. Anyway, when she first asked me to go I thought I would make it a quick round-trip—drive there, watch the performance, head back home, end of story. But then I remembered that my grandmother lived close by, so I decided to make a long day of it and hang out with her for a few hours.
Now, let me preface this by saying that I come from a very large and close knit family. But my grandmother has always been a little standoffish—not a criticism, but for reasons I won’t divulge she’s always been a little hard to get to know. Especially when you couple that with the very real belief I’ve always held that my sisters and I were not necessarily the favorites of the family. It was a pretty universal belief among everyone around me, but that’s not important. Maybe you can relate, maybe you can’t…but probably you can because aren’t most extended family dynamics like this in some way?
So I decided to swing by my grandmother’s place for a bit. It had been over a year since I’d last seen her, she’s ninety-three, and both those things added up to a very real need to check in. So when I pulled into town, I picked up fast food and brought it to her apartment with the full intention of staying an hour or so. Check one. Check two. Check another thing off my list. I’m not proud of that selfish attitude, but it existed nonetheless.
Halfway through lunch my plans changed. I was running a French fry though ketchup and just about to pop it into my mouth when she stopped eating and looked at me. We’d been talking about my books—The End of the World specifically—and she must have seen something in my eyes. Because she pushed her plate away, sat back in her chair, and said this:
“You’re a fantastic writer, Amy. I bet you didn’t realize all the sacrifices you’d have to make to get there. Reaching your dream is wonderful, but it can also be a very lonely place, can’t it?”
I ate the French fry.
Tried to breathe.
The expression tears springing to your eyes is a popular one in book land, one I’ve used a few times myself even though I’ve never actually known tears to spring before. Tears are more of a slow build up for me, especially when born out of need and deep emotion.
But there they were, tears springing and shooting and running down my face like someone inside me had turned on a faucet and I couldn’t find the off switch.
It can be a very lonely place, can’t it?
She was right. It can be.
For all the euphoria and excitement and sense of accomplishment and IT’S ABOUT TIME feelings that finally realizing a lifelong dream ushers in…reaching that same dream can also be lonely. My grandmother is the only other writer in the family. Years and years ago, she wrote for the town newspaper back when women didn’t really do that sort of thing. She was criticized. She was ostracized. She was all the other cized words I can’t currently think of. Since then, she’s written a book about her life, one I keep in my bookcase at home. So she knew.
Writing is solitary.
Story creating is solitary.
Insecurity and apprehension and doubt are solitary, especially since you’re the only possible person who can write yourself out of those awful feelings.
And while support from family and friends is oftentimes overwhelming…
Sometimes it is not.
Not everyone understands me. Not everyone understands my need to chase something bigger than myself. Not everyone likes it. But that’s okay, because not everyone has to.
Which leads me to the other things my grandmother had to say, the things that will stay with me during times of self-doubt and inward criticism and the all-too-familiar feeling that I’m doing everything wrong.
“Amy, you need to learn to live for you. You’re the only person you need to please…the only person who will be by your side forever.”
“Amy, resist the temptation to live for your kids. Yes, do everything you can for them and love them better than anyone else can and let them know you will fight for them to the death. But don’t live entirely for them, because they are just passing through. You’ll have them a short time, and then you’ll be left with you. After they leave, make sure you’re happy with the person you’ve become.”
“Amy, write the best story you can tell no matter if anyone else likes it at all. In the end, your stories are your legacy. Make sure they’re the stories you wanted to tell.”
“Amy, remember your friends and family. The ones who stay with you—love them fiercely all the way to the end.”
“Amy, be happy with yourself. I’ve been married twice and now I’m alone, but I’ve got to say that I like me.” (she smiled) “I don’t mind my own company at all.” (she laughed)
“Amy, come back and visit soon. And next time, stay the night and we can talk more. I kinda like having you around.”
Turns out, I kinda liked being around her too. Turns out I’m going to do that very thing again soon. Also turns out we were never her least favorite, it just took a whole lot of wasted years for us to really get to know one another. But that’s the thing about time…it doesn’t run out until it does. So while we have it, maybe we should make the best of it. If things aren’t the best they can be right now, then maybe we should step back, analyze our situations, and make whatever adjustments it takes to get them that way.
At least that was my grandmother’s advice.
After I finally took the time to ask, it turned out she had a lot of good advice to give. Funny thing…people with more life experience usually do.