I want to tell you of some happy coincidences I’ve experienced lately. Happy coincidences isn’t really the right term, but it’s going to have to do for now, as I nab a few moments away from the burbling, hopefully-lazy probably-chaotic Sunday spread before me.
In span of one week a few momentous things happened. Thing the first: I reached out to my mother via email, to try and send a jet of well-intentioned air against the cobwebs that had grown impossibly thick between us. Just opening the lines of communication. I wrote her, she wrote me, it was wonderful. I saved her message and read it again and again, felt its glow like a flashlight snuck into bed in childhood.
John and I went to see David Sedaris speak at the Hult Center here in Eugene. When David — can I call him David, now, I wonder? — briefly switched gears from making us laugh ourselves limp in order to promote a fellow author’s work, I straightened in my seat. He held it up and I could see the familiar ombré jacket design: Anne Patchett’s This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Hey, I thought happily, I have that at home.
I did and I do, but I had yet to read her chapter on writing. It’s titled The Getaway Car, and now that I have read it, I can agree with my pal David: you could go to school for many years to learn about writing, or you could read this essay.
Thursday, the same day we saw David Sedaris, I emailed both my mother and my aunt about an incredibly intimidating writing project I am thinking of taking on. My mother wrote back right away. She sent a missive that so fundamentally shifted my perspective on my project and my volunteer work, I felt nearly swoony after having read it. She also wrote,
Finally, my best advice, rather than go for it, is to know why you are writing this. If you know that you will have a firm grip on what is necessary and what is not important.
Well. That is just … yes. I could feel her words ricocheting around in my head for days.
Then my aunt’s email came. I will share a bit of what she wrote me:
Believe that you have the ability to do this. Everything will fight against you. Time, fretting, you name it. But you can do it.
She went on to share some advice about structuring the project that absolutely blew my skull wide open, and concluded with,
There’s so much more as you go forward. Everyone has been waiting for this.
And then I read that Anne Patchett essay, The Getaway Car. In it, she talks about how important it is to forgive oneself — for your sub-par writing, for everything:
“Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. Every time I have set out to translate any book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from becoming writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key.”
And she also writes of receiving advice about writing, in a time when she needed it most:
“I felt as if he had just taken my head off and reattached it at a slightly different angle, and as disquieting as the sensation was, I knew my head would be better now. The world I was walking in was a different place than the one I had been in an hour before. I was going to do a better job. There are in life a few miraculous moments when the right person is there to tell you what you need to hear and you are still open enough, impressionable enough, to take it in.”
Finally, I will tell you about an Xbox game we bought for the kids. It’s called Never Alone, and it’s an absolutely beautiful world where a child and a fox complete puzzles in a story based on Alaskan indigenous stories. I’ve been playing it with Riley, and last night we got to this section that just seemed insurmountable. No matter what you did, a ravenous polar bear came and killed the child or the fox before you could get through. Riley pounded his knees with frustration and declared it impossible, and I said it couldn’t be, there had to be an answer, we just had to keep trying. I looked online and found a YouTube walk-through where someone else had faced this same challenge, and we watched it. Ohhhhhhh, we said together. We didn’t know how it worked, exactly, but we saw a new path, something we hadn’t tried before.
This morning he played that level and this time the bear came crashing into the icy structure that was blocking their path, and it broke free, allowing them to escape. They ran forward, into the unknown, into the blue. Without the assistance, we never would have made it.
Do you see, now, how happy coincidences doesn’t come close to doing justice to the events of my past week?