I am always writing.
Let me qualify* that statement. *(GRE word)
I am never writing these days, in the pen to paper, fingers on keyboard traditional sense.
Technicalities. I will always lose when it comes to technicalities.
But in my head, you must understand, I am always writing. My brain makes statements, creates sentences, crafts essays. All the time. I can be driving for 30 minutes and “write” a whole essay on jealousy, celebrity, mental health (one of my favorite topics, as we all know), a memory of my mother, by the time my car gets me to where I’m going.
Sadly, and so very aggravatingly, only my car gets me where I’m going in these situations and my essay never hits the page.
I am sometimes good at the self talk that says, “It’s OK if this thought, sentence, idea, whatever, never hits the page. What needs to hit the page will hit the page.” I know that it’s good to practice writing, even if it’s only in my head.
It breaks my heart and makes me crazy and makes me feel like my writer’s life is slipping between my fingers, too. It does that too. But on a good day, or in a good moment, I’m OK with breathing, getting out of the car and walking into whatever activity I have signed up for that is further delaying my writer’s life.
Four weeks ago this weekend I was at a church retreat. It was fantastic. I was so unused to seeing mountains, that I actually commented to my fellow Saturday afternoon football players, “Doesn’t that look like a green screen?” This comment also made me realize how LA I have become – yikes.
I got a fat lip playing football, which I loved, because as a sibling of all males I enjoy showing off an injury, and this particular injury wasn’t accompanied by a concussion so it was all good. I also got the fat lip upon colliding with a very attractive male who I am yet to relocate at church services, so if you see him please let him know I’m looking for him. And that my boo boo needs to be kissed. (Get it? ‘Cause it’s on my lip? Nailed it.)
I met some new people, including a fellow writer who I declared my soul mate basically right away, and out loud. I hope that didn’t freak her out, but it’s already out there so what are you gonna do? Our pastors preached, and taught. We sang. A cabin mate prayed for me and another cabin mate after we opened up about our struggles with anxiety and depression. The time of the prayer was around 2 a.m, and sent up from bunk beds.
The food was even good.
When I left the retreat, I drove away without the radio on. This is something I almost never do, as, like most of us, I am terrified of silence. I’m OK with relative silence, sometimes, i.e. classical music, or yoga or meditation, while someone talks you through what you’re doing ("Now move into cat pose..."). But total silence? No thanks. Because in my head things are not silent.
When I got home that day I was able to take an hour nap, and wake up not feeling depressed (a very common after effect for me; I don’t wake up groggy, I wake up legitimately depressed). Then, at bedtime, I was able to sleep again. Ever since this retreat, I’ve been able to fall asleep in ways I haven’t for years. I almost always read before bed, but I’ve been skipping that a lot lately.
I should mention I’m in a new job, thus my brain is still using a lot of fuel to learn the ropes, and I’m training for a half marathon, so my bod is craving tons of sleep, so this has a lot to do with my resting habits. But the retreat certainly helped.
I’m not saying the retreat was some childlike experience of childhood camp that acted as a magical elixir. But I was surprised how readily and easily I was able to drop my cynicism and embrace the childhood excitement of a camplike weekend (and I do believe it was not my own volition that was able to adopt such an attitude, I think Someone else helped in this department). And I left the retreat on a high, for sure. But if memory serves, this particular high wasn’t accompanied by the usual fear of an oncoming low that I so often carry around with my highs.
Yep, that’s me: can’t even enjoy the highs in life because I fear, in the midst of the high, that tomorrow (or in an hour, or in 5 minutes) I will crash. Can you relate? Call me. I mean it, I’m here. This back and forth is one of the worst things ever, and a thing that can make you feel very alone – but you're so not alone, homies.
On the last day of the retreat, before I drove away in silence and calm and peace and happy reflection on the football and the worship and the 2 a.m. bunk bed prayer, we had a worship service during which one of our pastors preached a message that really affected me.
At the end of the message we had communion, and I was able to believe, sort of, kind of, for the first time in a long time, that I was forgiven. Usually I take communion with a strange mix of “I don’t deserve this” and “I don’t understand this” feelings and numbness.
But during that last morning of worship, something hit me. And it was this: I need to
Quit writing it.
I don’t need to quit writing. I need to quit writing it: my life, my future. I need to quit writing the lows that I think will follow the highs. I don’t have a superpower to stop the lows that may very likely continue to follow the highs, but I don’t need to write them in my always-writing head before they have a chance to decide to show up on their own.
Let me slow down for a sec and explain what I mean.
In addition to writing essays, and delicious sentences that y’all will never see because I am too busy doing other stuff, I “write” out in my head what is going to happen to me. Sometimes these happenings involve me at Barnes & Noble in several years, signing copies of my memoir and being lavished with praise. Or being interviewed on the Ellen show, just because Ellen finds me interesting.
Usually the future happenings I write ain’t that pretty. They might be more believable, but they ain't pretty.
For example, this past week, while listening to my favorite writer, Anne Lamott, speak at a church here in Pasadena, the horrible story I was writing in my head was more like: “This is never going to be you. Clearly you aren’t writing as of late, so when do you think this is ever going to happen? Plus you’ll never be as admired as her. And maybe you’re not meant to be. Which is OK, but what's the point, then?” Etc., etc.
Isn’t that lovely and uplifting?
But guys. Friends. This is my life. This is my reality. Those examples above of the stories I write - both good and bad - are like the tip of a fingernail on an entire body of stories that are written all the time. My mind churns and churns and it loves to head for a story that ends in fiery doom.
I also love to write – and read – stories of grace, redemption, second chances, sobriety, peace, soft purring pets that amazingly, miraculously, through their purring, resuscitate us, over and over and over again.
But those awful, shitty fiery doom stories almost always elbow their way to the front of the thinking line. It is my prayer and hope and experience (not the most often experience, but enough) that the grace stories, the purring stories, win.
But, meanwhile, I must fight the fiery doom stories. Or just let something else be written in its place. Written by Someone other than me.
When I realized recently, Bailey, you need to quit writing it, I was able to enjoy communion. I was able to be resuscitated and drive in silence without freaking out.
Y’all might think that I am Little Miss Believer, with all my writing about faith, and it is my fear that I will be misunderstood in that regard and lead you to believe that you can’t relate to me or reach out to me with your doubts because you think that I don’t have them.
I probably doubt more than I straight up believe, I just want to say that. So again, if you can relate, call me.
But amidst my doubt, there are certain things that help me keep believing, or do what it more often looks like: keep me holding out for belief. Rooting for belief. Waiting and hoping for peace and calm and trust in that which is not my own mind and tiny life. Because this world is full of a lot of Awful, and I am not willing to believe that that is all there is. No way. Blegh. That view gives me the heebie jeebies and crushes me a million times over.
Reading certain Psalms (139, 91) makes me cry. Reading Scripture out loud makes me cry. Just thinking about praying with my family makes me cry. I’m not saying crying is proof of anything, but it’s telling. And it might be proof. I’m not really interested in the proving business as it is, anyway. I’m interested in the getting people peace and hope and love business, which I think is the business my God is in.
Some other things that keep me holding out for belief include: a kingdom that is not of this world. Because as I mentioned before, this current world, while full of beautiful things and nature and yes, love, it’s really full of Awful. So that whole, “This isn’t all there is” idea: that sits really well with me.
Also, God as our Father works for me, because I have a really wonderful human father who is just like me and thus quite possibly may understand me better than anyone else I may ever end up knowing. I realize that a lot of people don’t have great fathers, or fathers who are even in the picture of their life, and I always hate hearing about those kinds of pictures. But I am really grateful for my dad, who, in being a wonderful dad to me helps me imagine a God who loves me affectionately as my heavenly Father.
I could get more into the details of those two things I just mentioned, but for now I want to focus on the final thing that really helps me with my unbelief. And that is this: God as the Author and Perfector of our Faith (other translations: author and finisher of our faith - I also love that).
I love that.
As a writer I love that, because I love to write and I identify with it, the same way a carpenter could love that Jesus was a carpenter, or a dancer could love and so totally get it why David decided he needed to dance that one time.
I also love it, as a writer, because it reminds me that I am not The Writer, nor do I have to be, nor am I allowed to be, nor will I ever be.
So I can, and should, quit writing it.
Just this morning I was making up in my head a whole scenario of how a handsome boy I know might ask me what I’m doing for Thanksgiving (it is almost guaranteed he will not ask me this) and I’d have to tell him, “Oh, I just bought a plane ticket to see a friend for Thanksgiving.” Then the handsome boy, having acted too slowly, would not spend Thanksgiving with me, and thus we would not and will not ever spend that quality time together that we need in order to fall in love.
…and then there will be no other handsome boy to love me, or there will be one, but before we get engaged, or after we have two lovely children or at some other inconvenient time, this handsome boy will discover that I have a crazy mind that churns and goes between high and low. He will discover that I need so much attention and that I can be so obnoxiously sensitive, something that I’m aware of and just in turn makes me more sensitive, and we will get divorced or not engaged in the first place and I will die alone.
I’m asking for a friend. I’m not the only one who writes these fiery doom stories, right?
OK, I know that we all write fiery doom stories, except for a few Pollyannas in the world whom I can only tolerate on very rare occasions for about one single minute, if that.
But I’m willing to bet that my fiery doom stories are more frequent and more fiery than those of the general public. Should I see a therapist about this? Yes, and I’m working on it.
But I can seek solace, whether I'm in a season of seeing a therapist or not, in knowing that Someone else is writing my story, and I can hope and trust as best as my cynical, grumpy, scared little heart can handle, that the story will not end in fiery doom.
And I can buy a plane ticket to see a friend for Thanksgiving and trust that if I’m meant to fall in love and get married and have kiddos and hopefully not get divorced, that all that will happen. And if it doesn’t well then it doesn’t. I don’t like to think about that, but hey, this is not my book. Some people wish to see into the future. I don’t wish that. I prefer to just write my own book – somehow, somewhere, in the time that will eventually be allotted to me for writing – and meanwhile live inside this one that God, the author and perfector of my faith, is writing.
Oh yeah, and with this kind of surrender and quitting of the writing of fiery doom stories, I can actually have a shot at enjoying Thanksgiving. Which would be so great. (And I am pretty excited - me and friend already have a pretty ambitious list of movies to watch during our holiday).