A cracked open window was the most beautiful thing I saw this week.
Allow me to explain.
I’ve been going to yoga a lot lately. There’s something about yoga that has been helping in a way that’s different from my usual jogs to the Arboretum or morning kung fu training. Yoga has been the most affective way of counteracting all the sitting and typing and brooding I do when I write. At yoga, I stand at the same spot, near the back and across from a window overlooking a few rooftops but mostly sky, and for 60 or 90 minutes I switch-off my writer-brain enough to breathe.
Because this is what happens when I’m working: I’ll take a small notion– a glimpse of a memory that continues to haunt or something overheard on the T or a brief passing moment (like the way the young woman knocked on the window of the pizza shop to wave hi to her friend as he tossed the dough in the air)– and stretch it like taffy, stuffing it with character descriptions and back story and creating a new setting or context and finding gaps where the scaffolding of a plot can go in, until it is something else entirely. This taffy stretching of true memories into true fiction can start to make one feel crazy, so yoga is a good way to keep your feet (and sometimes hands) firmly planted on solid ground.
That’s how I used my day job, too. Writing in the morning and then going to work, where taking care of children and families keeps me focused and in the moment. It has been a good and comfortable situation when my writing is going well, and especially when my writing was going not well. There was a stretch of time where the task of publishing felt impossible, and I was just about ready to throw in the towel. When I first moved into my current apartment, I wasn’t sure if my desk was going to fit. And I was ready to take that as a sign that writing was something that I shouldn’t do. But my friends and family stubbornly insisted on finding a way, saying, “No, no, you need it, we can do it– see, look” and arranging the furniture in such a way that I could have a little office in the corner of the living room.
Their insistence was encouraging. They believed in me during a moment when I had stopped believing in myself. I got back to writing, and my confidence slowly returned. As I wrote and worked more, balancing the work-life scales became difficult again– except it wasn’t work and my personal life, as I have blogged about in the past, it was my day job and my real job, writing.
I was starting to feel like my day job wasn’t really serving it’s purpose as my anchor anymore, that it was becoming dead weight as I was trying to set sail with my writing all over again. I was trying to find a new way to negotiate this balance when something happened.
I received the news that my friend Rayburn passed away.
This is the only photo of me and Ray.
He was visiting Boston and we just ate pancakes.
I was feeling self-conscious, which is why I’m making a weird face.
Since I found out he died, I’ve been looking at this photo and wishing that I had more pictures of us, at least one that we were both smiling in.
Ray was an avid reader, and we often talked about books and movies. He had this way of soaking up art, experiencing it fully, and then quickly, accurately, volleying back the things that worked and did not work for him. He was very particular about what he found appealing in art. One of the best compliments I ever received was when Ray told me that he enjoyed my writing.
But now he’s gone and I keep thinking that Rayburn– someone who believed in me and my writing– will never be able to hold a book that I write in his hands and tell me, “See? You did it.”
I think of that and it stings. A lot.
Maybe it’s a cliche thing to say, but death has an undeniable way of putting things in perspective, of reminding you, hey, this whole life thing doesn’t last forever. Things change, and sometimes they change unexpectedly, suddenly, in ways that you can never imagine. We only have so much time, so do what you believe in. Loss can be painful, but it can also give you courage.
On Monday, I quit my day job. And just hours after I put in my resignation, I was notified that my application to join the Writers Room of Boston was accepted. I’m going back to writing full time, and I’ll have a quiet space downtown to get some work done.
In the span of a few hours, one door closed and another one opened.
Then I went to yoga. It was evening, but the sky was night-black. I stood at my usual spot in the back, casting my gaze out the window. The rooftops were only a shade darker than the sky. But this time, the window, which is normally closed, was open. Not wide open, just a crack, enough for the darkness to catch my eye without the reflection of the studio’s dim lighting to obstruct the view.
My writer brain, which is trained to look for signs, themes, omens, foreshadowing, couldn’t not notice that change. I had been contemplating the nature of change, of doors opening and closing, and there right in front of my face, was a crack in the window, hope calling, cool air and the sounds from the street, telling me that I’m heading in the right direction.