The Universe was screaming at me this week, all different people, different things and events sending me the same message— Life is Now.
It started with the bathroom mirror, undeniably revealing grey hairs on my head. Forty-plus years of being a blonde who needed to highlight once a year, and now, the jig is up: Nature is highlighting the fact that I have been on this earth for forty-plus years.
Not only the mirror, though. I’ve been seeing a lot of doctors about a pain in my abdomen; I’ve been experiencing worry on such a level that my whole body seems to be getting involved. One doctor, just this week suggested I “dial it back,” which may seem condescending, but for whatever reason, it felt like an early Christmas present. I am allowed to retrace, to go back in time, to be again the Me that was feeling healthy and happy and more at ease. Not to say this pain is imagined or illegitimate, but this particular issue is manageable, nothing scary, and it will be fixed. This is a gift.
Then there’s the church message, which I’ve found can also be condescending, depending on the church and who’s ministering the message, but our priest reminded us that this week is the last of Ordinary Time, just before the excitement of Advent. The Gospel, plain and simple: what you do to the least of My brothers, you do unto Me. Whatever anyone’s belief about what comes after this life, there’s little denying that spending this very life helping other people is a good way to go. As I’ve experienced, in helping others, I help myself. And the “least of our brothers” come in all shapes and sizes. Those in need do not only need food on their tables during the holiday season. We –so many of us—are in need of friendship, kindness, time, attention, a conversation on the train, a quarter for parking. It’s simple stuff. It’s ordinary. But living out of our heads and paying attention to the now around us–it can be healing, all of this laughing, seeing, and being.
Anne Lamott calls laughter “carbonated holiness.” She’s another minion of the Cosmos who screamed at me this week when I went to see her speak at the Free Library of Philadelphia. She says a lot—read any of her books and she’ll stamp a little something on your soul—but when she talks to us as writers, I feel surges of intention. It becomes a conversation just between the two of us: Katie, you need to write, not because anyone cares if you’re writing (because no one does) but because that’s all you’ve ever really wanted to do. Stop pressing the snooze button./ Okay, Anne, thank you. I will.
Finally, Neal Carpenter. I saw him at a “house concert,” which sounds like exactly what it is. My music-adoring-and-very-hip-and-happening-much-younger friends hosted him in their living room and fifty-or-so folks gathered, listened, sang along. Not only do I love this guy’s singing voice and songwriting, but I love his story. He described writing for other people in Nashville, holing himself up in a room each day and putting songs together like banging nails. It sounded wonderfully romantic to me, but he admitted that the work can be beyond frustrating. Imagine, he said, building house after house after house that no one lives in. Some producer needs to pick the song for some singer to sing. What Neal decided after many years, was that he wasn’t waiting around any longer for somebody else to sing his songs—he was going to sing them.
Christopher Vogler authored The Writer’s Journey—Mythic Structure for Writers. It’s a great flip-through for me. He doesn’t create the idea, but observes it, that of the Hero’s Journey. He likens storytelling to life. There are similar stages to our journeys; there are familiar characters like the mentors and the villains. It’s not all that complicated. The setting may be different, the particular conflicts and resolutions, but each of us lives the same pattern—the beginning, the end, and what’s in-between.
I’ve always written with the hope that readers will relate to my experiences, but on this ordinary day, I’d like to send a more direct message. I’m talking to you. I’m telling you, this action, what I’m doing right now, this sitting down to write, is what I hope you’re doing, perhaps in a different form: you’re molding clay, you’re playing a flute, you’re gluing pictures to scrapbook pages, you’re collecting stamps, you’re sculpting, you’re hiking, you’re scuba-diving, you’re at the farmer’s market, you’re at the library.
What I want to tell you, whoever is listening, is that our stories are the same.
What I want to tell you during this ordinary time, right before the rush and pull of the holiday season, is whatever it is for you, if you’ve stopped it at all, start again. Be who you’re meant to be. Whoever the messenger—the mirror, the doctor, the writer, the priest—it is the same message and it’s for all of us.