Being between lives

This is the introduction to a series of guest posts about moving from our current day jobs and life situations toward our true vocations and life goals.

Do you have each foot in a different life—or a few different lives?

I do. Feels like I’ve been trying to transition from one life to another for as long as I’ve been alive.

There was a time when I almost crossed over from everyday life to being a full-time writer. My short stories and poetry were published, a play was produced and I wrote two novels (bad ones).

Or maybe that time just looks idyllic in retrospect. I was pretty much a single mom to my son and daughter for ten years since my husband was away on business five days a week. Then I went to graduate school and worked part time as a graphic artist, while still being a mom.

After that, I started teaching college and thought I’d found the perfect career. That’s what so many writers do, isn’t it? Teach class, then close the door and immerse themselves in their real work.

But teaching drove me crazy. I couldn’t write and teach, too. The words of my lectures drowned out the words of my fiction.

So I became an editor on a medical journal. At last, silence!

I could write again, but found myself transitioning to a different kind of writing. I’d always written short stories, but now I was trying to write novels. Real ones.

That’s not easy. Short stories are like paintings, novels are like movies. Hardly the same thing at all. I had a lot to learn.

Years passed. My children grew. I moved from New York to Baltimore to San Jose to the Texas Hill Country. I divorced and found a new relationship. I left my editing job, tried working for a literary agent, then went back to the old job.

All the while, the writing continued, stopped, continued, stopped— I don’t know how many times I quit absolutely, positively for the last time.

Finally, I gave up.

Now, whether I write for a few stolen hours a week while working as an editor, succeed and make a living as a novelist, or have to wait to write full time until I’m old enough to retire, I accept that writing fiction is and always has been the focus of my life.

There’s a kind of peace in that.

Coming in November: writer-psychotherapist-translation manager Louise Behiel and writer-sociology Ph.D. student Lena Corazon.

By S.J. Driscoll

Burning the Script

Guest Post by Kana Tyler
“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” ~ Anna Quindlen

We used to operate within limited lives, my husband and I—limited by the ruts of our career paths, by our addictions, by former spouses, by people’s views of us, by the “scripts” we believed we had to follow…  We both started over three years ago, via the troublesome technique of first destroying everything with our addictions—we met in rehab (proof that God has a sense of humor!) and if our new life and our marriage have a theme, it would be the phrase, “Because we can.”  It’s a joyful ritual of ours, this oft-repeated answer to so many questions.

Why have I covered myself with stories-in-ink? Because I can. Why do we swing-dance fully dressed under the sprinklers in a state park, or put Spam on our pizza, or go fishing in the middle of a weekday, or stop to learn the life-story of a stranger in the produce section?  Because we can.  So please ask me why I would cut loose from the safety of a scheduled work-week and paycheck to WRITE.  Don’t ask because you don’t know the answer; ask because the answer itself is a celebration:  Because I can.

Here’s a question for you (not rhetorical—if you’re reading this, I’d actually be interested in your answer).  Please introduce yourself by completing the following sentence:   “I am a _____.”

And here’s why I’m interested—I’m wondering if most people would automatically fill that blank with a job title.  I’ve certainly done it.  “I’m a school administrator.”  “I’m a restaurant owner.”  But although both of those were things I DID, neither of those phrases express the things I AM.  Sometimes there’s an overlap –“teacher,” for example, describes both a natural inclination and a one-time profession of mine—and I suspect the most fulfilled folks are those with the most intersections between their “I-Am” and their “I-Do” descriptors.

A month ago I was sitting in the entrance booth of a state park, wearing my cute little ranger-hat and pondering how the incoming drivers would answer if I asked each of them fill in the “I-am” blank… So I grabbed my notebook and began to scribble what grew into a two-page list of words that I might use about myself.  “Writer” topped the list. (“List-maker” also made an appearance.)  My husband and I pow-wowed that evening and (because we can) concluded that if I wanted a job description that matched my “I-Am” list, if I wanted to write…  I should.

A month later, I’m writing for an Idaho travel magazine.  I’m picking up freelance jobs.  Last week I was writing about Scuba-diving destinations around the globe (I AM a Research Diver).  This week I’m writing 400-word blurbs about travel destinations for a car rental agency (I AM a Traveler).  They aren’t glamorous gigs, but I just cashed my first-ever paycheck for writing.  And because I’m at the keyboard, I’m also resuming my long-neglected practice of writing for myself.  I’m relishing a life in which I’m not limited to “safe” choices.   Our existence is spicier since we burned the script.

Plus, I love my new commute. 😉

This post first appeared here on September 23, 2011.