by Dawn Groves
Most of the writers I meet are genuine, pie-in-the-sky optimists. They believe that a best-seller lurks in their subconscious minds, waiting to catapult them into glory. I’ve been a member of this club since I started writing in the sixth grade. Each article I write is a stepping stone toward my personal “50 Shades of Grey” success story, except my book will be good.
Well, recently I’ve noticed a subtle shift in my optimism. It has grown more—for lack of a better word–reasonable. There’s less urgency, more comfort with moderation.
Charting Life as a Writer
Four months ago I surfed into a website called Wait But Why. It’s a playful, practical take on productivity and time management. One of the authors, Tim Urban, wrote an excellent post containing three different charts that depict a 90-year lifespan in years, months, and weeks, respectively. There’s a big laminated version the Weeks chart on sale for 20 bucks.
Urban suggests using the chart to diagram life accomplishments. Shaded blocks represent periods of time that can be dotted with notable events and experiences. The example here is one of several displayed on his website.
It was a cool idea. I eventually ordered the blank chart, unrolled it as soon as it arrived, then promptly went into overwhelm and stashed it in the closet.
That was four weeks before election day.
The morning after the election in a pique of god-knows-what, I fished the chart out of the closet, grabbed a couple of highlighters and started dragging long lines of color left to right. I used blue for the weeks in the past and switched to green for the weeks in the future.
Below is the result I generated. The green ribbon is my working future. I ran out of ink on row 70 but at that age I’d like to be playing and living on—guess what?—proceeds from my best seller.
As I toyed with the 70-year line of demarcation, the ribbon of green started looking mighty thin.
There’s Always More Time to Write
In my 20’s and 30’s, I gave myself plenty of time to write the grand book of books. Other things took precedence. When I hit the 40’s I shifted into motherhood and wrote very little. In my 50’s I started working again on a part time basis and did a lot of kayaking with my husband.
Then at age 57 my mate decided to start a new relationship with someone across the country. I jumped back into a variety of working gigs. It was tough but there was always that potential best seller giving me hope.
This year I’m 62. When I’m not avoiding and procrastinating, my top priorities are paying the bills, trying to get fit, and supporting my two daughters. I live a reasonable, proactive lifestyle. People think I’m doing fine.
There’s NOT Always More Time to Write
The chart was a cold shower.
Urban understood this kind of response. “It kind of feels like our lives are made up of a countless number of weeks,” he writes. “But there they are [on the chart -ed] —fully countable—staring you in the face.”
It was too much. I stood up, flipped the chart over, grabbed my car keys, and drove to my first experience of a marijuana shop.
Yesterday I was ready to face the chart again so I moved it back into the living room next to the piano and the kettle bells. I’m looking at it right now. My reasonable optimism whispers how there’s plenty of time to make money and enjoy life. I just need to be more realistic about what’s possible.
Reasonable Thinking, Reasonable Results
I put a lot of things on my bucket list and writing that damn best-seller is numero uno. But now my hope is fading. I’ve seen the green ribbon. I’ve heard the voice of reason and it makes good sense.
It’s like I’m in a real-life adaptation of the classic two-wolves parable. Here’s my version:
There are two hungry optimistic wolves living in my back yard. One wolf is a young, reasonable new tenant. An accountant. The other wolf has been with me since the 6th grade. She’s demanding and wild, forever howling at the moon, eyes filled with stars.
Which wolf should I feed?
Dawn Groves is a Bellingham author who teaches writing and WordPress at Whatcom Community College.
Images used with permission from WaitButWhy.com