I have been trying to write a book since I was twelve years old. But somehow, in the ten years since, I have never been able to. And while I have been unsuccessful in this long endeavor of mine, I think I at least have finally managed to discern what the problem is.
I have started a vast amount of stories; lack of ideas has never been the impediment. Instead, I have struggled with an overabundance of ideas. I will start and work on one story, but suddenly I will be struck with a new, brilliant idea, and I cannot seem to stop myself from veering off on it. But before I get too far, another plot comes to me and it is imperative that I work on it, and so on and so forth. For ten years.
I have never been able to figure out this flaw in myself. I have pondered a million reasons why—perhaps I was just afraid of commitment? Or maybe I was just too lazy. Or it might even be that I am a poor, delusional imbecile who was only fooling myself to think that I was actually a writer.
I think this is the inevitable fear of every writer, at least in the beginning, and the only way to truly overcome it is to simply decide that you are going to believe in yourself and your talent. So what was the problem, once I chose to think that I do have some ability? Why did I write something that seemed dynamic and poignant as I put it down, but when I went back and reread it seemed clumsy and juvenile? Why did a plot that seemed to spring to life in my head and develop rapidly and with a rich array of details suddenly go stagnant, and lose all interest for me?
Here is what I have come to believe the problem is—I keep changing.
Now, of course this is not some revolutionary, brilliant idea. The whole point of life is growth and change (at least I think that is what it is supposed to be). I mean, change is always inevitable, even if in no other way than the aging of your body. But somehow, in the course of ten years, it never dawned upon me that as I changed, so too would the stories inside of myself. And let me tell you, the ten years between twelve and twenty-two were rather crowded with life changes.
In the past three months, I have experienced the loss of two beloved pets, one whom I had for sixteen years and was my best friend, and the other a precious, lively spirit whom I did not get nearly long enough with. On top of the loss of my grandfather and grandmother within the last seven years, I have been slowly, and then quite suddenly, being forced to come to terms with death. And I think I have finally reached a change that alters you irreparably. As tired and cliché as it sounds, death makes you achingly aware of the fragility of life. I look around now, and the world seems so delicate, so unsteady. My time has now been shown to me to be undeniably finite, with no assurance of fairness or joy or longevity. With no assurance that everyone I love or care about will not be taken suddenly.
Perhaps this all seems very obvious to you, because you yourself have already experienced the irreparable change. You can never unknow the reality of death once you know it. Of course, I have been aware vaguely of these tried-and-true truths since I was very small—but I did not really understand them until now. If you let it, death can loom on your horizon at all times, larger even in your view than the rising and the setting of the sun each day. That has been my paradigm for the past few months, certainly.
However—I do not want the deaths of my loved ones to be in vain. For some reason, it always seems to help when you say, yes, they have died, but it was not in vain! Of course, this often only works for heroes in stories and the like, when someone dies so that someone else can live. How do you make the death of a cat or a dog to be not in vain?
This question is why I am trying desperately to effect a paradigm shift. Instead of anxiously fixating on that looming specter on the horizon, sickened and afraid of my newly cemented knowledge, I want to turn my eyes to the infinitely precious life around me. I want to grasp every moment with open hands and take charge of it, instead of letting them flow around me, always flinching in fear of each one because I know now, fully, what might be waiting within. Yes, death will always be there, undeniable, but I would like to keep only him in the corner of my eye, instead of dominating the view.
This is how I hope to make the death of those I love not in vain. Their loss has taught me an ugly but inescapable fact, that is true. It has taught me the wildness and vagaries of grief, the searing burn of injustice, the nauseating weight of terror, the clawing grip of anxiety. It has taught me sorrow, those fathomless dark depths.
But. It has also taught me about myself. I have come to know myself better, and I have gained an understanding of a fundamental characteristic of myself that has eluded me for years. Ever since I have started writing, I have been plagued by the doubt of an essential thread of my very self. Now I can say, even if you never write a book, you are a writer. Yet this new appreciation of life has kindled in me the fervent desire to boldly go forth and achieve my dreams, instead of just hoping that somehow, someday in a vague, dreamy future they will make themselves come true.
Yes, my loved ones have forced me to confront the bald-faced, ugly reality of dying. But, more than that, more importantly than that—they have taught me about living. They have died, but in doing so, they have allowed me to live.
And so I say, they have not died in vain.