Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shopping for Excuses: Conversations with Myself

On Thursday a brochure for a week-long summer writers' workshop at a college in the beautiful mountains of southwestern Virginia showed up in the mail at work under the church name, and whoever distributed the mail put it in my box. I start to put it in the recycling right then, but decide it won't hurt to look at it, and carry it to my office. When I get a minute, I read the workshop option descriptions--and avoid looking at the price. It's not like I'm going to go. I can't decide which of two of the courses I would choose, they both sound perfect. Moving on to the faculty, I choose based on the instructor bios; okay, their photos--definitely the woman over the bearded man. What the hey, might as well look at the price. I quickly add up the workshop, room, and board prices. Then I drop the brochure in the trash and return to the bank reconciliation. Numbers swim in my head for the next two hours. I knew this reconciliation was going to be problematic due to a bank error last month. It gives me a headache. I take the brochure out of the recycling box and add it to the pile on my desk.

The next morning, going through the pile, I look at the workshop list again. I really don't know how to choose between the two. And besides, it's a whole week. I don't have enough vacation time for all the things I want to do--a two-week trip to visit my family, staycation, camping in the mountains, time left for a day off here and there. And I'm not really a writer, anyway. I would be terrified to do such a thing. It is expensive, and even if I had the money it would be irresponsible to spend that much money on, on, on what? On myself. Work calls; I drop it back in the trash.

It's not the only random event of the week. When I arrive home Friday night from an evening with friends, there is a shopping cart parked at the curb in front of my house. It is late, I go to bed thinking maybe I didn't really see that. In the morning I leave the house for the coffee shop and errands, hoping that when I get home it will be gone. If I ignore it, perhaps it will go away and I won't have to make a decision. That is usually my first line of defense when faced with something that is hard, or that I don't want to do, or that might lead to disappointment--bad feelings; conversations that could clear the air, or could fill it with permanent smog (that has never happened, but I keep it on the list of excuses for not bringing up hard stuff); asking for what I want; giving myself permission to act on what I want. I wish I had never seen that brochure. As I enjoy my coffee, I read a couple more chapters in Creative is a Verb. "Passion should overwhelm reason time and time again. " (Alvaro Castagnet) I drive by my office to retrieve the brochure. I need to decide which workshop I would choose--if I were going to go. The trash has been emptied; the brochure is gone. It must be a sign. I feel a mixture of disappointment and relief. Mostly relief.

At noon, the cart is still at the curb. I consider my options. I quickly reject pushing it the mile to the Food Lion. After briefly considering relocating it to a neighbor's curb, I muse on walking it to the wannabe corner grocery in an empty shopping plaza a block away. Sort of the "if there is a buggy, can the store be far behind" train of thought. I would be doing my neighborhood good deed. I am annoyed at having to deal with this. I go back to ignoring the cart and continue surfing the net for instructions on building a small round patio in the backyard and how to calculate the area of a circle and where I might get building materials cheap and the merits of buying in bulk and paying the delivery fees and having to shovel gravel and sand and cart it to the backyard verses the more manageable but expensive bags at Lowes and how many cubic yards I would need and how many bags that would be at half a cubic foot per bag. Now that is a more responsible use of my money--a patio is an investment in the resale value of my home and garden and something I can enjoy every day for as long as I live in the house. A writing workshop only lasts a week and then it's over. My mom gave me money, but I am hoarding it for my house, it would be irresponsible to spend it on myself. God, it's good to have a clear justification for spending money. (Sometimes my thinking is so twisted it annoys even me.)

I tire of the internet, and I am discouraged with the patio project anyway. It's time to get outside, rake some leaves, stop this ridiculous dreaming of doing something that is too big for me, and way too much math. It makes my head hurt. I turn around to the window. The cart is gone. It worked! I ignored it, and I don't have to make a decision. Life is good. I start raking the crispy leaf bits off the weed lawn and around the chairs where I want to build the patio. Of course, the workshop brochure is on the web, I don't have to have the hard copy. As I rake, an activity I don't enjoy, but that I recognize as a task that clears the head as it clears the yard, I recall the question, "What would you do if nothing were standing in your way?" What would I do if I ran out of excuses? As a lifelong voracious reader, years ago I answered that question, "I would be a writer." As I pile leaves on the sheet, I see my mountain of excuses. As I pull the sheet to the back of the yard, I feel its weight. What if I considered myself as worthy of investment as I do my house? Could I work a couple of Saturdays so I wouldn't have to use as many vacation days? Would I consider giving up some of the things I have done before with my time off to do something new? How about acknowledging that writing never makes my head hurt? Maybe I could fill the shopping car with possibility instead of excuses. As I dump the leaves on the compost, the sheet becomes light again. The mountain is not insurmountable.

It snowed again this week. Just a dusting. The winter jasmine is in full bloom now. The bulbs I discovered had sprouted last week are taller. And the sedum has emerged from the ground. The snow does not deter them. It is their time, and there are no excuses. One of the friends I spent time with on Friday evening, a friend whose family includes a child in college and another close behind--income inhalers--went to Cuba last year with a group from church. Friday night she said, she couldn't really afford the trip, and the timing work-wise could not have been worse. But deep inside herself, she knew it was her time to go.

What is it my time to do? I have run out of the practical excuses. All that is left is fear. "I am not a writer. What if I can't do it? What if everyone else is better than I am?" I pull up the website and reread the brochure. It doesn't say a thing about "must be published," or "must have a degree in literature," or must be a "poet laureate." The only prerequisite is a love of writing. I read the course descriptions. The one the woman is teaching says it's for intermediate and advanced writers. The one with the bearded man states for all levels--and the description sounds a bit more like what I do. I open the registration form and choose them as my second and first choices respectively, add my contact information and credit card number. It does not ask for a writing resume or a writing sample or a 250 word essay on why they should let me in. I click send. I am the 80th person to register for the eight 15-person-limit workshops. Maybe I will get in, and maybe I won't. I will be disappointed, not relieved, if I don't. But I have done my part.

I go back outside. Three thoughts dawn on me. I could have put the shopping cart in my car and driven it to Food Lion. I put the brochure in the recycling box, that's why it wasn't in the wastebasket. And the income tax refund I am expecting is exactly the cost of the adventure I just signed up for.

1 comment:

KaKi said...

How wonderful!!! I understood every feeling you described! What is it about that title, "writer" that we find so scary? I have left my novel.....but it has not left me. Thank you for helping me remember. Thank you for reminding me that I am worth the investment as well. Thank you, my friend.