letter no. 6 – start small, but start

Sometimes we do not move forward because we don’t know what to do next. And sometimes we don’t move forward because we know exactly what to do next, and we’re terrified. (I am raising my hand. It’s ok. You’re not alone. Don’t be terrified of the alone-ness too.)

I felt deeply called out when Helen Macdonald wrote in her book H is for Hawk that falconer and writer James White began to self-sabotage because he was afraid of his own success. I am terrified when I start to do well, to succeed. I think I am terrified of trying to go beyond that marker of success and failing utterly. It’s not a rare fear, you know? It’s not as if nobody has been afraid of failure before. Afraid of success before. I’m still not sure I understand this fear myself, but it’s very real and I’ve let it hold me back from moving in the right direction. 

I don’t have any profound things to say to you about this. I can’t conquer that fear for you. Most of the time I haven’t even conquered it myself. But I want us to take the next step anyway. What is that step? Break it down, love. Don’t tell me it’s getting published or writing a book or something. No, I want to hear the next step. Maybe that means finding one place to submit a story. Maybe it means finding out how much going back to school would cost or even just sending that same magazine another essay. Choose a step, and if it’s too big, break it down until it’s manageable. Don’t try to write your bestseller if you’ve only ever written essays. Maybe instead choose a time and place you’ll commit to writing each day. Don’t put down grad school if you’ve never taken a college class – start with learning what you’ll need, or signing up for History 101. 

I don’t want you to play small. That’s not what I’m telling you to do. Dream big, girl. Dream big and take time to lay on your back in the park making shapes out of the clouds while you let your mind roam over all the bright, beautiful possibilities there are for you. But don’t come home and think “Well if I want to graduate college with honors, then I’ve got to pick a great college and sign up for all the hardest classes right now, this afternoon, day-job be damned.” Let the dreams take their time in coming true while you work on the little steps that are within your grasp. I want you to dream big and play reasonable – there’s almost always a simple, reasonable step you can take right now. And when we come back next week I want us to have taken it. Yeah, both of us. I’ve got some small steps in mind already. I could submit this work to that site, or pick a theme and develop an outline for an essay I hope to submit. There are actions each of us can take. I’m looking at you hard right through this screen: are you with me? I’ll be back here next week. I’ll have taken a step in courage, without waiting for all the fear of success or fear of failure to stop me. Meet me here in seven days. Let’s do this, darling.

your story matters – letter no. 2

It’s going to be worth it. It matters. These are the things you need to hear today.

Writing is worth it. Choosing a place you will write consistently and a way you will measure writing consistently and then doing the actual writing – consistently: this is all worth your while. It matters in ways you won’t understand at first. It matters when it feels dull, uninspired, worthless. It matters when it feels alive, golden, real. It matters all the times in between. And I’m using writing because it’s what I know but let’s pull in your own dream real quick: gardening, running, further education, travel, buying a house – it’s worth it. Stay with me.  Translate this whole post in your mind as you read. Put in your goal whenever I talk about writing. These words are meant to be true for you, too.

I know what you want: you want to have done the work. You want the work behind you. You want to see the fruit of your labor. Girl, I want to see the fruit of your labor too. I believe it’s going to be beautiful. And I truly believe it will come. But I know how it won’t come and I know one of the ways that it will. It won’t come by wishing on a star, by taking long inspirational walks in the woods, by sitting outside long enough. It won’t come by reading good books and calling them “field work”. It won’t come by attending a conference and calling yourself a writer with a fainthearted name-it-and-claim-it attitude. 

It will come by writing. It will come by writing the days you believe you’re a writer and the ones you believe you’re not. It will come by writing on the days when you felt wildly inspired and also writing on the days when you were sure you’d have to go back and delete every word, unthink every idea that led to those words. (Yeah. It’ll come those days too. Don’t discount them – remember all the days that I told you matter? Those are in there too.) 

I’m only partly here to reprimand you. And we do need it, a little. All of us begin to think that if we put in the work partly, that should be good enough. (It’s not.) Or we begin to think that we can’t put in the work. (That’s false.) No, you need to put in the work completely. You have to be all in and you have to be in it for the process, the work, the long haul. You can’t be in it for the applause that will not come on a predictable timetable or in an expected fashion. And you can put in the work completely. Honey, maybe you’re working full time and trying to workout and keep up a social life and all that you see is the ways in which you can’t. Then start with five minutes, girl. Start with five minutes and do it day in and day out. Read Atomic Habits and figure out how you can make that tiny, atom-sized habit a real one that sticks. You can write a book five minutes at a time. I believe in you. If I can write while raising a toddler, house-hunting and getting ready to birth a second child into our family, then you can write during your day job, your crazy social hours, your wacky gym schedule. 

There’s more to what I’m saying though. The second thing I’m saying isn’t so much you can or you have to but it matters that you do. It does matter. Your book is beautiful, babe. The world needs what you carry, as Janessa Wait says. She’s right. You’re carrying the stories you need to write even if you don’t recognize them yet. That’s ok, darling. Sometimes it takes a while. I’m still in the process of recognizing some of my own stories. Stick with it. What you find will be worth it. 

People will need to hear the words that only you can say. Please write them. Please write them hour by hour, or minute by minute. Please write them as slow or as fast as they come. But write them. Remember the fire that burns in your stories: think of it like a campfire. Sometimes campfires are little – they burn in the back corner of a yard and people stop by it to roast a marshmallow or warm their hands in between the exciting night games. And sometimes campfires are huge old bonfires. They roar and crackle so hard people need to stand back and turn slowly so they don’t get too hot on one side.

Friend, your fire matters no matter how huge and bright it burns. Your story matters. Tell it. The house you want to buy can be a home where you welcome people, where you welcome yourself finally. That degree can be a means of inspiration for others, a means of joy for you. That perfect latte pour can be your pride and joy and make somebody’s day, all at once. Any creative or artistic endeavor is a thing of weight and glory, darling. Never forget this. It matters. Your work matters.

embrace your dreams

“What do you want to do?” Grant asked. He meant for myself; did I want a job, a hobby, more education? We were walking slowly back from the park, me with the hole in my jeans, him carrying our tiny boy in the baby carrier. He asked me again sitting in the oversized blue chair in the corner of the living room, again in the kitchen when we did the dishes together and I wondered about what the fall would bring. He kept asking, sometimes months apart, because I kept not knowing. How long had it been since I knew what I wanted?

“No stretch marks, that would be nice,” I’d joke decrepitating. “To sleep through the night,” with a quiet sigh about waking up to nurse the wee one. “To not wrestle with my insecurity anymore.” “To have the space to think.” “A few hours by myself, no dirty diapers or wiping baby cereal off his chin.” I honestly didn’t know what to dream for, how to dream, what my dreams were. I only knew what they had been once, before I gave up on them and moved on.

We haven’t had that conversation for a few months now. Perhaps we haven’t had the time; Grant is working twelve and fourteen hour days lately since camp is up and running. There are counselors to be trained, schedules to deconflict. And I am happy. I watch the sun creep slowly up over the pines in the morning; I walk up the road to see Pikes Peak dozing in the noon sun; the alpenglow on Raven’s Craig casts the evening in gold before the night moves in like a whisper.

I have space; time. I can breathe again. The dreams are coming back.

“I want to [be] curious. I want to notice things. I want to be creative and resilient. I want to become better and better forever at what I love; parenting, writing, spending time in the outdoors, investing in relationships. I want to follow Jesus well. I want to think original thoughts. I want to work hard, and I want to know how to stop working completely and just play. I want to keep discovering the wildness and beauty God put in me. I also want to eat dinner.”

I wrote those words this afternoon, sipping too-bitter cocoa and staring at the aspens quaking in the gusty wind. I know what I want.

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I found this photograph a few hours later on Facebook, popping up in the memories that I looked at on a whim. I remember that photograph. The sun was beaming brilliant and the lilac blooms had given way to full-green waxy leaves. I settled onto the culvert rocks with no flowers to look at, determined to just put down my phone and be for a few minutes. And then this call snagged my attention; I started writing things on my little phone screen, thinking again of all the writing dreams that I had slowly given up on.

Two years ago was not much a time of dreaming. I was sliding into a hard season that would open with the uncontained joy of my wedding. But the seed of dreams was planted. Maybe it took all these two years to poke above the soil. Today feels softly significant for all the joy of this small realization. I know what I want.