Summer may not officially begin for another three weeks, but I am thinking of the start of summer as June 1st. Our son is home from college. I submit my grades tomorrow. Let the long, languid days of sunny reading and writing begin.
This summer I’m especially excited, because I am slipping into it with a newfound awareness about myself: I lead a crazy quilt life, and that suits me just fine.
For a long time, I’ve thought otherwise. I looked back on my life and saw only missteps and loose ends. I chose a college almost at random, applying to only one (!) and not setting foot on campus until my family and I pulled our car, filled with far more of my possessions than I needed, up to the curb next to my dorm. After a year, I switched majors, from journalism to English and math. Why? Because I enjoyed those subjects, but I had no clue as to how they would fit into my life after college. I entered graduate school on a whim when other plans had suddenly changed. I then worked for two years as a technical writer for–you’ll never guess–an investment firm, then was hired as a part-time college teacher before choosing to be a stay at home mom, at which time my restlessness led me to freelance writing: cookbook reviews and a recipe column and my own newsletter devoted to vegetarian food for families. In graduate school, I’d also begun to write book indexes, first on the cheap for “frugal” professors and, later, more professionally, for authors around the world and New York publishers (a job that used to involve bulky manuscripts and yellow highlighters by the boxful, but that now is done entirely electronically—amazing).
All of that brought me to where I am now: an Empty Nester who works not one, not two, but three part-time jobs (teaching, indexing, and writing). A hodgepodge. A mutt. A mashup.
When am I finally going to figure out what I am supposed to do? I would think.
Two authors have changed my perspective—my story about myself—and helped me to realize I am already doing it.
First, Barbara Sher. I just finished reading Refuse to Choose (for at least the second time), and, this time around, I took the author’s advice to spend some time thinking about my life: not only the constants, but also the activities that went nowhere and—this is the important part—at what point I lost interest.
Huge lightbulb moment! The three jobs that I have stuck with for more than fifteen years–teaching humanities part-time at an engineering college, back-of-the-book indexing, and writing–all are activities that a) have built-in variety from day to day and b) allow me, for the most part, to be in charge of my own time. I can’t imagine doing the same thing for too long or (this is harder to admit) doing what other people tell me to do much of the time, yet I’ve been able to put together a multi-faceted career (see the difference a change in wording makes?) that accommodates my preferences.
Second, Stephanie Tolan. Stephanie is an award-winning author who has just made available a free copy of her wonderfully rich book Change Your Story, Change Your Life, and I recommend it for everyone, especially if you are in the habit of telling yourself stories about your life that make you feel worse rather than better:
“When we tell ourselves a story that feels better, even a little better, we change the direction of the reality that will grow out of that story. Better feeling story becomes better feeling reality. And as the reality feels better it becomes easier to tell ourselves more positive stories. While each of us perceives differently, our individual storylines are so intertwined that as our stories change, so, inevitably, do those of the people around us as they perceive our change and adjust to it.” ~ Stephanie Tolan, Change Your Story, Change Your Life
The story I tell myself today is that I am, in the tradition of my mother and grandmother, stitching day by day a quilt of a life. No two pieces look the same. The scraps come from all facets of my experience. The colors span the spectrum. Yet it all somehow fits together. I will always also admire the more planned quilts, the Log Cabins and Wedding Knots and Lone Stars, but those are not my quilt.
Mine is a crazy quilt.
Do writers make a difference in other people’s lives? Every day.