The only guarantee in life is that it’ll take unpredictable turns. I’ve learned this ad nauseum in parenting and my writing career. Not that I’m complaining; both rides have been fascinating so far.
But every so often, there’s this brief and shining moment of utter clarity where I can see the trajectory of a decision or action right to its final destination. These laser-bright opportunities are astoundingly rare and tremendously gratifying.
Example #1 In Parenting
A few years back, when one of my daughters was at the ripe age of five, she became enchanted with the idea of being a model. Well, I’m not saying this aspiration is bad . . . for other people. I’m just saying, "No way in Hell. NOT in my house. Never. Nosireeeeeebob!"
So when my little darlin’, with her eyes so blue, said, "What do I have to do to be a model?"
I asked myself, "What response can I give that will forever nix this goal in the bud? What can I possibly say that will be so totally repugnant that she’ll never, even vaguely, want to pursue it further?" Then I came upon the answer. It was diamond clear, sparkling with myriad facets of confirmation that it wouldn’t be misinterpreted, that it’d be a bullseye hit.
"Well, Honey," I said. "You have to throw up a lot."
Example #2 In Writing:
Way back in the Cretaceous Period when I wrote my first two Sasha manuscripts — both of which were rejected too many times to count, thank God — I realized that something was fundamentally wrong with my concept. It was kind of like everything else out there: smart-talking PR pro finds dead bodies. Whoopie do.
I struggled for months until I came up with the idea that Sasha could specialize in small-town tourism. The second I landed on that premise, things began to fall in place. I also realized that it would achieve three important ends:
1. It’d be fresh because it’d celebrate places few people in or out of New Mexico knew.
2. It’d give me the chance to write about what I loved — my home state.
3. I’d get to travel all over NM, a place wanted to know more about; even if I never got published, I’d still have a load of fun.
That decision turned out to "make" the series, to give it a distinctive twist. And I knew, the instant I came on it, that it’d work.
So today I’d like you to think about your own crytalline moments — in parenting, writing, relationships or anything else. Let’s celebrate these glorious and accurate flashes of insight into our futures.
I said to my wife yesterday that there have been two major “adult” decisions I/we have made that have altered our lives enormously.
First: my move to Arizona. When I graduated from college in eastern North Carolina, I made one of the most not-thought-out decisions of my life. One day I woke up decided I didn’t want to go to work, and so I quit, rented a U-Haul trailer, packed everything I owned in a matter of 24 hours and drove 2000 miles with about a thousand bucks to my name.
Nine months later, I met the gal who would become my wife.
Second one: my move back home to Raleigh from Arizona. Since moving to Raleigh, my writing career has absolutely taken off. After struggling for almost a decade with seemingly no advancement, I’ve created a TV show, done over 100 bookstore/library events, done my first national book tour, been hired by two different publishing companies, and (most recently) sold my first book for over $50,000.
I like Stacey’s list of pivotal turning points so much that I’m not even going to add mine.
Way to go, Stacey!
Stacey,Those are both biggies.
I think my move back to NM from DC was a huge one and hadn’t even considered that yesterday when I wrote the post.
Thanks for reminding me . . .
Ah, come on, Louise. I wanna know.
Probably my professional epiphany was when I realized how much I enjoyed humor and that it was okay not to write serious literary fiction if I was doing something I enjoyed. 😉
You know, Toni, when I was thinking about my new series, I originally had something very different in mind. The protag was an older woman whose husband was dying of cancer.
I wrote about 100 pages in the book and realized I just didn’t want to live in that sad world every day for months.
We’ll see if it was a good decision to go for humor again when I get this rewrite done and my agent tries to sell it.
I can’t say yet how my own moment of epiphany will turn out, since it’s still in progress, but I’d have to say the decision to focus on my writing and photography, and on building a pathway out of the career I’ve been in (and which I thoroughly hate) might turn out to be one of those epiphanies.
In 2003, facing my 30th birthday and having attended fourteen funerals in 18 months, I made the decision that there was no time like the present to start making my life the way I wanted it to be. Since that time, I’ve had more than 150 published newspaper articles (and I’m working on my third and fourth national-scale magazine articles), ghost-written two non-fiction books, collaborated on an anthology of short fiction, launched a photography business, written 28 chapters of what I hope will be my first saleable novel, and written hundreds of pages of non-saleable ones. Oh, and my partner of 10 years and I have married, and we’re in the process of adopting a child.
Moments of clarity? I can’t say that I particularly envisioned any of these outcomes, and many of them are still in progress. But the realization that life is too short to put off the things that will make you happy was definitely an epiphany.
Tammy,I have a quote above my computer about commitment in a life and I think that your focus on what matters has been huge. One can’t always see the cause/effect as clearly as I outlined in my post, but there’s no denying that your life changed hugely because of your decision.
I love these crystalline moments, and have tons of them. It happens a lot in the plotting of a book, that aha moment that makes everything I’ve been writing fall into place.
And there are the personal moments, which are wonderful. I remember when I was just starting out, and I got frustrated because I couldn’t figure out what to do next in the book. I nearly gave up. As silly as it may sound, I read a numerology column that said: “You musn’t let fear of failure stop you. Quit limiting your potential. Now is the time to let your creativity flow.”
Bam. All it took was a magazine column’s kick in the pants. Pretty sad, huh?
BTW, I cut it out and have it on my refrigerator…
JT, that’s a great quote – thanks for sharing it.
Along a similar vein, one of my favorites is from Shakespeare: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”
Putting oneself out there doesn’t guarantee we’ll always succeed…but success is sure a lot more likely than when we don’t try at all.
And, I think it was J.A. Konrath who described a published writer as “an unpublished writer who didn’t give up.”
Pari, I hadn’t thought of it that way, but “commitment” is a good word to summarize what I was trying to say. My attitude these days is about consciousness, about making sure that each day brings at least a small step toward my goals, and about making the most out of each moment we have, because we never know until one moment too late exactly how many we have.
And the funny thing is, sometimes we don’t realize until much later that the seeds we’ve planted have taken root. Your parenting anecdote reminded me of something that happened to me just recently, one of those crystalline moments. We parent our daughter, who’s 12-1/2, using a technique called “Love and Logic” — basically, emphasizing the logical consequences of choices and teaching decision-making and problem-solving skills. The Love and Logic people like to say that our kids ought to go out into the world and say to themselves, “I recognize this world – I trained for it at home.”
Anyway, about three months ago, my daughter and I were in the Wal-Mart parking lot, making a stop on the way home from the strawberry stand. I had to stop suddenly to avoid someone not watching where they were going and, when I did, 12 baskets of strawberries slid off the back seat and cascaded onto the floor. My daughter looked into the back seat, and then turned to me with a wicked gleam in her eye. “Gee, mom, what do you think you could do better next time?” she asked me, parroting back the same language we use with HER. Trying not to laugh, I replied, “well, I guess I could put the strawberries on the floor next time so they don’t go sliding around if we have to stop suddenly.” Amy gave me a decisive nod and said, “That’s a GREAT idea! Let me know how it works out for you.”
You KNOW your kids are listening when they’ve absorbed enough of your parenting techniques to use them against you!
JT,I don’t think of that moment as “sad” at all. Sometimes it feels like the universe or God (or whatever name you want to put to IT) just dropkicks a message right into your life.
The trick is to pay attention.
Tammy,Your parenting example made me laugh out loud. What a wonderful moment.
I get those every so often and it’s difficult to keep a straight face.
On a more serious note, living life intentionally gains power through the act itself. Trying to be aware is incredibly difficult — and rewarding.
Thanks, Louise (and Pari)! I love you guys.