It's funny how you can learn important lessons from the most trifling things.
Evan and I have been watching the show Sons of Anarchy for the past two weeks. We're halfway through the third of four seasons right now, and last night I started putting together some pieces in my life.
One of the show's main themes is recognizing what is most important to you and then doing anything you have to do to maintain it, achieve it, protect it--whatever. And these characters willingly put themselves through hell, throw themselves into gun fire, sacrifice their lives to keep that one thing sacred and to keep it going for the others who care.
I started writing books when I was 9 years old. It was the thing I did above all else, the thing that lurked in the back of my head at all times, the thing I would do after dinner: lock myself in my bedroom scribbling in notebooks. I wrote through puberty, through high school, through the turmoil of college, and through my early twenties up to where you know me now, on the precipice of 26. Almost two-thirds of my life, devoted to writing. The older I get, the dimmer my memory, I'll only remember that I was always writing, always thinking about writing.
And yes, during all that time I always had the far-off thought that one day I'd like to see my name in print. But first, I needed to do this with my writing, and I needed to improve my dialogue, or strengthen my word choices. Always something. As long as I was still writing, still coming up with stories, I was happy. I am happy.
Then I started blogging. And I saw how many people wanted to be published. And I asked myself if there was something wrong with me, that I didn't really think about being published--just writing. Did that make me less passionate? Did it make me a coward, because I hadn't thought about being published yet because I felt like I still needed to improve before I tried to put myself out there, still needed to write a better story, with better characters and better plot and better everything. Was I a coward?
Things started to change. I started finishing novels instead of just starting them. I saw massive improvements in my craft, felt them in my planning process. Saw maturity emerging in my words. So then I thought, yes. I can do this. I am close. I am ready. No more fear: just desire to make myself presentable, to make my words sing, to make them the best I am able.
When I finished my most recent book, I thought: this is the one. I'm going to shine it up and send it out. I'm going to be querying by April, at latest. I'm finally going to do it.
And I thought about that constantly. I thought about the drive to publish, I imagined writing query letters, getting the call, telling my husband that I had a book deal. Fantasy overrode reality.
In nursing school, nearly any student you talk to will tell you that s/he (but mostly she) is going into nursing because of her passion. She feels called to be a healer, to be this profession that is more than just a profession. They all walk around with this enormous depth of drive and well of desire that keeps them going when the cards are stacked against us. When the knowledge seems crushing and the skills are overwhelming and there are three tests around every corner, and everything is pass or fail--they have their passion.
And me? Nursing isn't my passion--I already have my passion, have had my passion since I was nine years old. The thought constantly presses against me: what am I doing in this field where passion is queen, with my passion at home in old notebooks and on hard drives?
This thought was truly giving me a crisis last semester. I finally overcame it by remembering that I will always need a day job, and I chose nursing through the sum of its parts--not the title first. I managed my time a little better so I could write a few days a week, and all the crisis went away.
But then I got the new bug, the publish bug. The query bug. And suddenly nursing school was in the way again. Last semester is a joke compared to this one. I'm learning skills that are honest-to-god life and death, medication administration, starting IV lines, inserting Foley catheters, learning everything I need to know about all the medications I will use in my practice.
In only two weeks, the crisis was starting again.
And then we started watching Sons of Anarchy, and I saw these characters who said: yes, I will go to prison for this thing I did. I won't be in there forever, but I will serve my time as long as I must, and when I get out, things will be back to normal. My passion has been saved because of this sacrifice, and I will live to fight for that passion for many more days.
The understanding started pawing at me pretty quickly, but it wasn't until yesterday that I let myself look at it and feel it and acknowledge it.
Writing isn't the only passion in my life--it's just my doing passion, if that makes sense. It's the thing I'd rather do instead of play video games or play the guitar or paint or photography. I also have passion for learning and knowledge. I crave knowledge. I savor every scrap of new information that I learn and I horde it. It's like those old ESPN commercials: "my knowledge...is greater than your knowledge!"
And most of all, I have a passion for my husband and for our life. Getting into nursing school was a year-long process. School itself is a two-year process. I make a pittance with my day job: he's our real bread-winner. He's the one who's said, "yes--I will put my own soul-searching on hold because I want you to do this, to find yourself through this new adventure." For that, I owe him everything. I owe him my full attention on school, I owe him paying attention to the other elements of my life that can give me happiness besides spending 8 hours a day in front of my manuscript. I can "go to prison" for just one more year, because when I get out, everything will still be here. I will still love to write. I will be a year older, and I will have read hundreds more books that will inspire me and teach me and improve my craft. I will have done my best at what I'm doing, and I won't live with the lingering guilt of I could have done better, if I'd tried harder.
I'm not saying I'm not going to write. I'm saying that the publish bug has been put into stasis. It was a foolish thing for me to obsess about the end, and not the means. I still want to revise and edit my manuscript, but I'm no longer holding up arbitrary words for it like "April" or "by the summer."
I guess passion is meant to burn bright and consume us. I'm not blowing out the flame, I'm just trimming the wick so my other candles can also contribute to the light of my path.