I’m reading a novel about a Hassidic Jewish boy who was born with a gift. He is under pressure from his father to turn his back on what his papa regards as “foolishness”, but Asher simply can’t stop drawing, the pull is too strong.
His father travels a lot, sent out by the Rebbe (the leader of their Hassidic group) on important missions, and in the bit I was reading last night there was a conversation between young Asher and his mother – the boy can see how hard it is for his mother to have her husband travel so much, how she misses him and worries when he’s away. Why do you let him? he asks her, Why don’t you ask him not to travel so much? His mother’s reply was: How can I? It’s his life.
At that point I felt I could hear Asher yelling: so how can he ask me to stop drawing? it’s my life.
I identify with the boy in the story to some extent, because I too was born with a gift. Mine didn’t come with such a great cost – I was born with a gift for writing, and in my own culture that was seen as a positive thing. I was never told not to do it! There were other things that discouraged me from pursuing it at some stage – like the teacher at high school who reacted dismissively to a short story I showed her, which made me lose the courage to show my writing to people and so for a long long time after that I wrote quietly, “for the drawer” (as we say back home in Israel), not mentioning it to anyone. I’ve had phases of writing more, phases of writing less. A phase of writing mainly poetry, a phase of journalism, a phase of writing short stories, a short phase of writing short dramas, a phase of starting to work on a novel – all sorts. But one way or another, I’ve always known writing is an essential part of who I am.
So I identify with Asher in that we were both born with a gift. One thing where we differ is that he had to struggle so much to be given the freedom to do that thing which was so very clearly “his life”. Another thing where we differ is that he had one thing that was very clearly “his life” – for me, things have never been this straightforward.
A friend recently asked a whole bunch of us to say what stands between us and our dreams, and I said: the inability to pick one thing and stick with it.
I have 18,000 words of a novel on the back burner, and every now and again I think I really want to go back to it and finish writing it. But there are always other things I want to do. I have lots of creative ideas, all vying for attention. I’ve been getting more and more into photography and visual art, and I get so much out of doing that, I can’t just put that to the side. And blogging is something that fulfils an important need for me – to express my thoughts, and sometimes to clarify them to myself in the act of putting them into words. Social networking takes up time too, but it also fulfils a need for me – as an introvert, I find it so much easier to interact with people online, so being on Google+ means I can get social interaction in a way that is doable for me.
I have always tended to envy people who have one clear gift, or passion, or vocation – those who grow up knowing they’re going to be a doctor or an actor or a violin player or a teacher or whatever. People who can be single-minded and totally focused on one particular area. I’ve never had that luxury.
I hear fellow writers talk about committing to doing some writing every day, and I know I can’t commit to anything in that way – partly because it’s just not how I function, but also because I’m committed to following God’s guidance and being open to whatever he might tell me to do each day.
I remember the point along my journey when I made that decision: it was the end of December 2000. I had time off from work between Christmas and New Year, and I was house sitting for friends who had gone away. I had reached a drastic level of exhaustion before Christmas, and then the snow came down and I was stuck in my friends’ house, just me and their cats and God. It was then, in that time of enforced solitude, that God got through to me about how much I’d been trying to control everything, and no wonder I’d got exhausted – it’s a tiring business, trying to control stuff, especially as there’s so much we humans can’t control! It was then that I put my hands up and said to God: I’m going to leave you to drive and to navigate, I’m not even going to try looking at the map. Because you know where we’re going, and I don’t.
It has been quite an adventure since then. Definitely a bumpy ride at times! But I know I’m in safe hands, I know God does know where we’re going. And I feel 100% committed to carrying on this way: being a frog – fully reliant on God. Which means that all those tips and tricks about how you can write a novel if only you’ll make sure you write a bit of it every day and never break the chain and that sort of stuff – I can’t do that. Because for me every day is a day of being open to whatever God has up his sleeve, and as soon as I commit to doing X each and every day no matter what, I’d be making X into some kind of idol, something that is more important than doing what God tells me.
I’m not saying that’s always the case for everyone. It wasn’t the case for me when I started writing that novel that is sitting on the back burner – at the time, I felt God was clearly telling me to dedicate myself to that, so I did. (But still not by writing absolutely every day, because I feel that doesn’t go with the Sabbath principle as I understand it.) But then at some point there was something else I felt God telling me to do, which couldn’t be done in parallel, so I put my precious 18,000 words to the side. Every now and again he does get me focused on something in particular and so I do it – it’s actually because I don’t normally function this way that I can tell it’s God’s doing when it happens. (Like when he got me to really focus on doing the proofreading course – it was a correspondence course, with no deadlines whatsoever, and I was at the time still very much a procrastinator, but I got a bee in my bonnet at some stage and stuck to a daily routine of doing course work every afternoon for several hours until it was done.)
So, if God wants me to finish that novel, he will give me the necessary kicks up my backside. In the meantime, I shall continue to live this mixture of different kinds of creativity, trusting in him to guide me each step of the way.