Here I am, oh, so many years ago, sitting in my good friend Katherine's apartment in Little Rock, Arkansas. I’d never seen this photo until she recently sent it to me. Few other photos make me feel old the way this one does. In my body, face, dress, which I made myself (in a phase of life when I had energy to sew clothes for myself) I see someone before some of life’s hard hits. I see someone smooth and unworn, like a sheath of silk straight off the loom. Just weeks from the moment this photo was taken, my father would suddenly die, sending me into a spin of working through the fear such loss unearths. What did I want from life, anyway? And once I decided that, how on earth would I make it come to pass? As young as I am in this photo, I was also too old to still have such questions. I admired the medical student who knew what she would do for the rest of her life, followed the path, and got there; or the lawyer who also knew, followed the path and got there. For me, it was all a little more...uncharted. I am the daughter of immigrants who were not educated and read and wrote only marginally, regularly needing my siblings and I to explain letters and documents to them, yet I wanted to be a writer. I had the old fashioned and romantic grand sense of it in mind. Rilke and Anne Sexton. Hemingway and Willa Cather. I was very serious about it.
There's a great line from the movie "Harold and Maude" that's stuck with me for decades: "Ah, my! How the world still dearly loves a cage..." And so it does. We love our cages, especially the ones we build for ourselves, which make life, in its confinement, seem manageable. Being a Writer with a capital "W" made my options myopic and limited the choices I made. I think feeling we have to choose and stick to some stereotype is very much changing in our society, except perhaps when it comes to politics, where people have a need to pick a side and then remain blind to anything that happens outside of the margins of their party choice, but that's another blog post. :)
What if the dream, when it doesn't come true as we pictured it, when it doesn't happen in the time frame we thought it would, is not dead, but simply gathering more girth the way a rolling ball of snow gathers more snow? What if God is trying to make your dream wider? Grander than the cage you put it in? Freer and more organic? The dream, in these days, was like a bonsai tree—contained, curated, something I poured all my attention into, and it was manicured with some idea of what I thought a writer should be and how a writer’s life should look. I think, over the years, that dream grew offshoots and became larger, much more difficult to contain. It grew into something wild. It went from a book-sized page I looked down into to all the world around me. To the things I could touch with my own hands and shape with my own hands, and even those I could not touch, like my ancestry and culture. It grew into bread making, gardening, cooking, photography, cultivating a beautiful home, taking care of my body and health and taking care of my family, making sure its members are daily surrounded by beauty. And I know that these things—bread, gardens, and even my own body—will vanish. That they will not endure. But in the world we’re currently living in, neither will Hemingway. Better, then, to stay wild. ✌🏻