There I was, sharing a cup of hot chocolate at Panera with my friend Graham, relating the challenges a published author faces—I was not whining—when he casually observed, “You need an outlet.”
I hopped into the Wonder Tundra and drove to California and back a couple weeks ago, with his advice ringing in my ears. What did he mean? Six thousand miles later, I have a Clue.
Once upon a time, I was an aspiring musician. I wallowed in music and got a sense of competence and confidence from my increasing skill, and a lot of joy from indulging a personal passion. Then I started supporting myself with my music, and… the game changed. I had to worry about what to play for this ballet class or that class reunion, I had to chop down some repertoire to fit into perfect eight measure phrases, I had to simplify pieces to be able to handle them up tempo, and so on.
Love became tempered by the need to eat.
When I became a mother, I adored my newborn child and got up five times a night to tend to her smallest whimper, and I delighted in doing so. A few years later, love had to be tempered with boundaries, or nobody in the house was going to be functional for very long.
When I rode horses, I did so out of sheer love for the beast, and the saddle was my happy place. I again enjoyed a sense of competence and confidence from growing (though never very impressive) skill, and when I was on my horse, the big, bad world, with its unfairness and bigotry, violence and injustice, did not touch me. I cannot afford to ride like that any more, so alas, that happy place went on hiatus.
But I still had the writing… another happy place, where for hours at a time, I could fashion worthy characters, big challenges, and a reliable Happily Ever After, which I badly needed after a day in court.
Except the writing now has to be tempered too. I need a little thicker skin for when reviews that are not just critical, but downright mean, come raining down on my parade. I need discipline, because deadlines wait for nobody’s mojo. I need marketing savvy, because the publishing industry isn’t merely changing, it’s in outright revolution. The sense of growing confidence and competence I had as an aspiring writer is tempered with caution and humility. Nobody gets published without an entire village behind them, even if it’s the publisher’s village on salary whom you never get to meet face to face.
So…tempering makes things stronger, and I hope as a writer I’m being tempered by wisdom and experience.
And yet, Graham was absolutely right: I need an outlet. A place I go to out of sheer love for the things I can do and experience there. A place free of judgment, and full of good will and the pleasure of growing skill. Maybe I’ll take up knitting, maybe I’ll write some nonfiction, maybe I’ll join… a book club (do not laugh, please).
Or maybe—radical thought!—I’ll open the lid of the piano that has sat silently in my living room for ten years.
What about you? Where’s your happy place, and how did you find it?