Aim lower, fly higher

Aim lower, fly higher

I don’t remember how old I was when I realized that I would never be famous. Or maybe I do, and it’s too embarrassing to admit. The needle kept moving, as I was open to be famous for a lot of things.

A lot of these dreams died for lack of talent. The fact that the high point of my acting career was a stint as Cinderella in third grade – and I never had more than a handful of lines in a play since – was an indicator that Hollywood would not come calling.

In my 20s, I took guitar lessons from a graduate student at the University of Texas. When I never picked up the instrument at home, and subsequently never learned to play guitar, my husband wondered exactly what was happening at my sessions. Nothing romantic. My teacher was equally annoyed.

I never landed a plane in distress, or foiled a bank robbery, or found the obscure Olympic sport that I could maybe gain a foothold in. I had late aspirations for Badminton, but the hand/eye coordination thing was a deal breaker.

My last hope was writing, which luckily was one of the things I’d loved the most. But the desire for glory was also inching me away from the thing itself.

For most of my 20s and into my 30s, I’d estimate I started about book a year. Sometimes I’d get 100 pages in. Sometimes 10. When my kids were small, I was still pretty good about getting myself inspired and motivated. And for a glorious hormone fueled period when my daughter was a baby, I was on fire.

That’s when I sent three submissions into The Southeast Review’s Best Short Short Story Contest judged by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler – and won. Five hundred bucks. All three of my entries placed. I was over the moon, and ready for my literary career to launch.

Two things happened in the months to come. First, I found writing harder, because I thought that every page needed to be perfect. And second, when I did get something I thought was good enough to send off, I was rejected by everyone under the sun. Which did not exactly stimulate the confidence to keep going.

And so, the last decade went by. I’ve done a lot of writing for others, which fulfills me. But my desire to write fiction fizzled. 

Lately, however, I have found creative writing enjoyable again. And I think it’s mainly because I’ve let go of any expectations for whatever success I may – or may not – achieve.

I’m never going to be Eudora Welty or Flannery O’Connor and that’s OK. If I can eke out time to do something that I enjoy which also engages my creativity and my curiosity, that’s more than OK.

When my kids complain about not wanting to do something because they are not ‘the best’ at it, I no longer feel like a hypocrite when I tell them that if it’s a thing they really like doing, being number 1 – or even 101 – shouldn’t matter. And by doing it, you’re bound to get better.

I like a quote from a letter that John Steinbeck wrote to his son. It is advice about love, but it is also advice about life:

“And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”