Doing the salad post a couple of weeks ago, I was in the “zone”. The words were flowing off my finger tips and I was quite proud of what I wrote. The voice was natural and easy. I excitedly asked the hubby for feedback and was ready for some high praise. But he hesitated before he spoke. That was not a good sign. “I found myself chuckling at a few places.” He began slowly. And from there his comments went downhill. He thought the exact opposite of my own evaluation – that the language and humor seemed forced and needed a lot of editing. I was completely deflated and my first reaction was to counter his criticism and prove him wrong. But I held back and thought about it. He was partly right. I needed to sit on my writing for a couple of days and edit it before posting. Still I felt doubt creeping in. May be I was not a writer after all.
Later that night, as if someone thousands of miles away knew exactly what I needed, Tara Austen of Tea and Cookies posted on Twitter a link to her blog post on “fear” and “terror” in the writing process. And very thoughtfully, links to related posts on the writing process. I read all of them and also heard Elizabeth Gilbert’s eloquent lecture on creativity at TED. Then I breathed out. If published authors still felt scared every time they sent something out for publication, a amateur like me was entitled.
“Am I good enough to do this well?” It was always the question I asked myself, for five years of graduate school, when all my colleagues were publishing multiple research papers, filled with hundreds of equations, while I had published only one paper with barely ten equations. It was obviously the wrong question. I should have asked myself, “Do I want to do this?” Because I did not want to write those long papers with hundreds of equations – I do not like equations, do not understand that much math and am not good at it. There, I’ve said it. I don’t know any other way to do this. I’ve struggled with the idea of being a “failure” long enough when all it was, was one bad decision. I don’t have the luxury to wallow in that anymore.
So today as I make the same mistake and ask “Am I good enough to be a writer?” I correct myself immediately. Who knows how much is good enough? I have never had an essay accepted for publication, still a creative writing professor once used the following words when talking about my writing career: “When your first book gets published…” The reality is somewhere in between. I will probably eventually get something published, because as Monica Bhide says “Tenacity trumps talent”. And I know that I like doing this everyday – filling up a blank screen with words. Even though there are days when as Harlan Coben says, “I don’t like writing. I like having written.” So the question is not, “Can I write?” but, “Do I want to write?”. That is always the right question. Now let’s get down to the business of it.
My babysitter’s dad passed away within twenty four hours of what seemed like an innocuous fall outside his home. He had suffered a stroke and the doctor who was initially hopeful of him making a recovery, told them nothing for several hours before emerging to announce that he was dead. A day after her father had died, the babysitter was at my door to borrow money for his last rites.
I definitely don’t have the luxury to act like a victim.
A few days later, we woke up one morning to find that there was no water in some of our taps. There was a broken pipe in our apartment which was leaking water into the room below and leaving our walls wet. We had told the building manager about it, but nothing had been done until the leak became so heavy that the building tank was draining out completely. Then it became an emergency and the valve feeding water to that pipe was shut off. The husband went about calmly trying to fix the problem. It was not yet panic time as we had water in our emergency tank. Still I had this irrational need to yell and scream and feel sorry for myself.
“That’s so unnecessary, these things happen.” Side one of my brain said.
“Shut up.” Replied side two. “Why do these things always go wrong in my life? XYZ’s life is perfect.”
“Yes, but think of how much worse things could be. Imagine what the babysitter is going through now.”
“But what will I do if there’s no water? How will I take care of things around the house and the baby?”
“Relax there is water. People survive on much less water in Mumbai.”
The inability to resolve this inane argument between the two sides of me left me in tears. The cook heard me crying and came into the room and said,
“It’s okay didi, these things happen in everyone’s home.” As if she knew exactly what I needed to be reassured of – that I was not alone. She should know, because between four jobs, three children and waking up in the middle of the night to fill water, she definitely did not have the time to wallow.
In the week that followed, while the pipes were replaced and we were straddled with multiple plumbing issues, both sides of me had their day in the sun. I went from serenity to insanity and back again. Because even though I do my best, I make mistakes. I make wrong decisions. Even though I know what I should do, I sometimes cannot make myself do it. Or even though I know I shouldn’t do something, I do it anyway. Like get angry. Or feel upset. Just like there are things outside me that I cannot control, there are things inside me that I can’t control either. It’s who I am. Good and … trying to be good.
So I keep trying. And when I am completely disappointed with myself, I am held together by a breeze from the lake which on quiet evenings feels like nature is blowing it’s spirit right into me; and that helps me move on. As I said, who has the time to wallow in your own shortcomings? Move on, life is happening.