In the spring of 2006, I began a novel.
Although I was an impressionable child emotionally, legally I had crossed over that bittersweet threshold into adulthood. With my new sense of “real world” freedom (whatever the hell that means), I felt empowered to pursue exactly what I damn well wanted. No matter the cost. And I ended up here, almost 10 years later, an ex-almost-author with a rhetorical trash can full of reluctance and remorse piled pleasantly on top of that failed dream. This is why that’s okay…
Sometime in 2005, in the midst of my junior year of high school, I decided to abandon my new found passion of theater and the high school culture altogether and “dual enroll” in college courses at the local junior college. Since year 14 or so, I maintained a sense of disillusionment with my peers and society’s standard of what a teenager out to be. Instead, I immersed myself in church activities and created relationships with those around my age who shared similar views of boredom and disenchantment with those hobbies our peers keenly, often obsessively, chased. Proms, football games, student elections, parties… I truly did not care. When looking back through the sobering lens of perspective, I was rebelling. I was a church-going, non-partying, never-been-kissed safety rebel. (I may expand on that reverse rebel idea in a later post) My one attachment to my high school was through the drama department. Since I was a young girl, I found a sense of belonging and purpose when creating thoughts and ideas with written words (even now, at age 27, while tapping away on this keyboard, I feel most myself). Writing has always been my “thing.” At age 13, I was published in a national, seasonal literary magazine that was read by thousands of kids my age. At age 14, I received the coveted perfect score on my state’s standardized writing test. I was frequently published in my schools literary anthologies. I took ownership of my writing and somehow that didn’t translate to me being an honors English student nor, even more oddly, did I find interest in our school’s writing club. That was too mainstream. Too expected. I found more interest in the stories and theatrics and outlandish themes of the drama department. Because of my quirky, eccentric, old soul attitude and style, I identified more with theater. I felt fed and satisfied and accepted there.
And then junior year happened and I decided I was done with high school. I’ve always had to fight my selfish wants of flitting from project to project, dream to dream. But this time, my want was insatiably satisfied. I happily flaked out. I would complete my final courses at the junior college while also gaining credits for my future college career. My parents loved it and applauded my discipline and commitment to higher education. I simply wanted to get the hell out of the public education system.
(All of this back story does go somewhere.)
I was able to focus on my personal growth as a young woman with a pliable mind. Which, again, in retrospect, was probably just me wanting the freedom to be able write when I wanted, how I wanted without a guiding structure. Looking back on my quarter century of life, I realize how precious those days were. I had recently discovered Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice” and was intoxicated by the brazen female characters, self-discoveries and recurring themes of opposites. I launched into creating a fiction novel based loosely on Austen’s work and found myself obsessed with maintaining its literary life. I kept pens and scraps of paper on me at all times. I’d excuse myself from family functions and social gatherings to record possible character dialogues. I’d scribble thoughts and ideas on old receipt paper between customers at my job as a supermarket cashier. A usual night of falling asleep equated to the interruption of slumber by way of turning my light on with half open eyes and weak handwriting translating my constant imagination. My entire life up until that point felt justified and necessary, every memory was an “a ha” moment. Every accolade for my writing, every aced essay, every club or high school event I shook my head at suddenly made sense in the larger picture. This was me. This was my dream, my purpose, my passion. It was a drug-like bliss I have yet to experience.
My church social life began maturing in sync with my novel and before I knew it, I had received my first burning heartache when a close friend rejected my attraction and romantic interest with little sympathy. So at 18, I made a hasty decision to move to my father’s town in south Georgia and resume life there.
From there, my story diverts and multiplies into even countless more outlets and wings of memory but for the sake of this, my first post, I’ll keep it fairly straight. While my interest in my novel remained constant, I doubted my passion and gift time and time again in a suffocating, self-inflicted sub-life. Naturally, time spent devoted to my novel waned dramatically. Between the bible studies, mission trips, intense college courses, nearly full-time working hours and budding new relationship with a pastor (that ended in a failed, messy engagement… again, more on that in a later post), I could barely look at myself in the mirror without feeling like a sellout.
Life happened. I went back on promises. I disappointed friends. I made a move back to my hometown and reevaluated my spiritual convictions. That was the beginning of me truly finding myself. At 22 as an ex-churched agnostic and college dropout, I finally began the process of growing up. So, nearly 10 years after I began my novel and after many writing conferences and projects, there still sits that file on my laptop desktop. 117 pages of chopped pieces of a larger epic, some more advanced and edited than others. It’s been a year and a half since I actually sat down in hopes of resurrecting those old feelings of identity and unstoppable, flowing words. Every now and then (usually after too much wine), I’ll open the document and read to my heart’s content and remember the pleasure being a creator of some kind gave me.
Recently, in this new stage of my life, I’ve haphazardly told people I’m “working on a novel.” Of course, I leave out the fact that “working” really means “worked” and those words are now pretty much a dead end for me. It’s taken me months to accept that and find peace with it. I will no longer claim to be a prospective author; not until I find that passion and commitment again. To me, those 117 pages are more about my childish dreams than they are the actual characters and plots. Part of growing up and maturing into yourself is about knowing when to let go of pursuits and, instead, knowing when to face the bleak darkness ahead with a suitcase full of doubt and self-questioning, all of it held together by a mousy thread of hope.
A novel is not complete until it teaches it’s audience its purpose and brings the truth full circle, right? In abandoning my novel, I’ve found a new sense of purpose, a clean slate, a dismissal of the shame and regret. In abandoning my novel, I’ve discovered that the girl version of me was the only one holding onto it, clinging for any promise of salvation.
I used to beat myself up about not being able to commit to finishing my novel. But in some weird, existential sense, I did finish it. I grew up and realized that dream has passed. I have a big girl job now, I have more debt than I’d admit, I have a 401(k) and with each passing weekend, I seem to find more and more joy in staying at home and getting in bed around 11. Maybe if I was a different person, I’d have finished that novel. Maybe it’d be on the bestseller’s list. But I didn’t let that girl version of myself down, I didn’t disappoint her. I don’t consider it a defeat of me; I consider my doubt defeated.
So here I am. A new city. A new job. A new house. A new blog. I won’t say this is a new chapter. I’m actually not an author, I’m not writing a novel, so this is a new post. Literally and figuratively. I’ll be enjoying this new journey’s existence in this present day until these new 117 pages have taught me what’s intended.