I was listening to Nils Frahm’s album Felt while washing dishes when I was overcome by the most powerful sadness.
It was a good day. The whole family was together, shopping for ski season and checking out books from the library; I picked up Outside magazine’s special life-hacking issue “127 Strategies for Living Bravely.” We ate prawns, seasonal vegetables, and locally made pasta with our favorite cheap red wine, Protocolo.
But Nils Frahm always sends my thoughts down a rabbit hole, and the music was so achingly beautiful it set me to yearning, once again, that I too could make something exquisite to add to the collection of extraordinary things that brighten this world. Frahm conjured all my dreams of a life of art and ideas; images of traveling the world, not just to see what I could see, but with something precious to share as I discovered each wondrous new place. I had to fight not to be a clichéd housewife crying over the dinner dishes.
Then I remembered the phone conversation with my mom earlier in the day. She told me my cousin had shared this blog with a friend; the friend said I was living the life she wanted. I dream of writing my way around the world while she dreams of opera tickets and sharing the arts with her kids.
I think almost anyone would have found meaning from that. Some people would have gotten a message about gratitude and not taking your blessings for granted. I guess that’s a good one. Research has shown people who regularly express gratitude are happier. But that isn’t what I got from it. My first thought (after “Someone reads my blog!”) was, “Well, why doesn’t she?”
Yes, opera tickets are expensive. So are concerts and festivals, and not everyone can trade reviews for access. Before I went back to work, there were no tickets to anything. Ever. But the in-store concert is your friend. Public libraries sponsor arts performances. College campuses often host free performances. Youth symphonies and theaters are often grateful to anyone who shows up. Street fairs are free and are full of buskers.
I get, too, that new children and special needs kids don’t always handle crowds and schedule disruptions. Sometimes the experience just isn’t worth the effort. My kids screamed for three and seven hours respectively on their first flights. They refused to go near the water in Hawaii. They fall asleep at the ballet more often than I report in my reviews. And anything that challenges our 8:30 bedtime still requires days of preparation and recuperation.
But success often follows failure. Success never follows inaction, and sometimes the effort is worthwhile not because of the experience itself, but because of the way it lays a foundation for the future. Today my kids are masters of the in-flight entertainment system, love their swim lessons, and can identify dancers Kaori Nakamura and Batkhurel Bold just by the way they move.
So my next thought after “Why doesn’t she?” was, “Why don’t I?” If it’s so easy for me to point out how someone else can lead a richer life, if my life is so achievable, why don’t I just go write something heartbreakingly beautiful? What’s keeping me from landing the gig that pays for travel? Why don’t I just go and live life bravely?
So, dear reader, let’s make a deal. Starting now, I’ll make more time for writing. I’ll pitch more ideas to more magazines more often. I’ll experiment with fiction and poetry and narrative nonfiction longer than a blog post. It will probably suck, as things generally do. Most editors will not accept anything I write. When they do, I will cringe to see it in print, and wonder how any editor ever accepted it. But I will remember that success often follows failure.
I will keep writing through the suckage until I finally write something good. And you – mom, cousin, cousin’s friend, and anyone who accidentally googles their way to this little page – you do something, too. Do whatever it is that you’re afraid to try; the thing you are afraid will fail. Let it suck and let your life be the richer for having tried.
I’d love to hear from you about whatever adventures you choose. Maybe I’ll even end up writing a heartbreaking work of staggering genius about your life lived bravely.