Getting Ready to Exist

The human heart is never still. There is a divine restlessness in each of us which creates a continual state of longing. You are never quite at one with yourself, and the self is never fixed. There are always new thoughts and experiences emerging in your life; some moments delight and surprise you, others bring you to shaky ground. John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections On Our Yearning to Belong

 

I am on the edge, the edge where this peninsula meets a strait, straight line to the ocean. The water a dull green expanse like worn seaglass, except where it crashes ashore in brown breakers laced with white foam. The skim milk sky has a faintest bruise of blue underneath its watery skin. It is a battered day, spent and cold, seasonless, reasonless. One more soaking bluster to add to the wettest few months in Washington state history.

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My car faces the strait, windshield blurred by the weeping sky. Rain pelts the back window like a child hurling handfuls of gravel. I have had enough. This rain. This cold. This stasis.

 

Yet my life been anything but static for weeks on end. I lament the daily rollercoaster of praise and criticism that accompanies the public release of a very private effort. Routines disrupted, privacy jilted, my winter retreat from social media thwarted by the need to be present, responsive, accessible. And then, you know. Feeling like an asshole for even hinting that a dream realized could be fraught with stressors I wasn’t prepared for. The emotional tangle of being on, accountable.

 

I am filled, made complete, when I give of myself.  Because I have been receiving so much input, with too little output, a certain disquiet, an uneasy longing, has taken hold. A hole has opened inside. It is an emptiness in search of belonging.

 

“I’d woken up early, and I took a long time getting ready to exist.” – Fernando PessoaThe Book of Disquiet

 

I am not a joiner. Although I have causes vital to me, to which I donate time and resources, write letters to my elected officials, work to educate and inform my opinion, seek to acknowledge my own privilege and biases, mine is participation in solitude. Sure, I put in time during the growing and harvesting season at a community food bank garden, but even that is solitary: planting, weeding, watering, harvesting according to instructions left by the garden manager. The writing workshops I lead each week bring a certain calm joy that reminds me how much being a guide, a mentor, a teacher contributing to others’ creative process sustains my own.

 

But now, in this time of spotlight, what am I giving? How am I using my words, my voice, to create something beyond and greater than my own needs and ego?

 

Two weeks ago, the launch month of In Another Life culminated in an evening at a local bookstore, a celebration with my community. I took parts of the talk I normally give during author readings and tossed them together with a recounting of what led me to begin writing the novel in the first place: the miscarriage of a pregnancy in the final hours of my first writing conference in 2012:

 

‘This wasn’t the first loss, but I knew it would be the last. I was forty-three. After years of unexplained infertility, attempted adoptions, then the unexpected pregnancies, miscarriages, and surgeries, my body was battered and my soul couldn’t take any more. It was time to stop.

 

Those years of attempting to be a mother came to a definitive end at that writers’ conference. Yet something else sparked to life: a determination to find a way not only to cope with the despair, but to celebrate the life I did have, to create something beyond and greater than myself.

 

Two weeks after the conference, I typed the opening words to my first novel, the novel that became In Another Life. I didn’t set out to write about a woman recovering from grief, about the impermanence of death, the possibility of rebirth—of the body and the heart. In fact, I thought I had chosen the one story that would take me furthest from my own reality: a past-present adventure exploring a 13th century murder in southern France. Funny what the heart does when the head is distracted. It works to heal.”

 

These were the words I offered, to reveal how my personal grief ultimately led me on a very public journey.

 

Not long after this night, I received a message from someone who had been in attendance. She wrote, in part:

 

‘You did an incredible job tonight. You made standing in front of a full house and talking look easy. When I read the first pages of your book I feared you had experienced grief. The line “it had been so long since she had looked at her reflection in the mirror.” “It took someone else to make a decision about her life to propel Lia into finally making a few of her own.”  All feelings someone who has lived with grief would understand. I’m so so sorry for your losses. I think in your writing others will. . . encounter their own memories of grief & joys of finding love again. Your grief may turn into a gift you give your readers.’

 

The act of writing, which so often occurs in selfish solitude, is ultimately about finding a connection with readers. But most of us never really know what effect our words will have, if any; if the stories we tell resonate beyond a surface level that compels someone to keep turning pages. Just as I never expected that writing a romantic timeslip of a novel would bring me to my redemption, I never expected the finished story could speak to someone else’s mourning and healing process. With her words, this woman gave me a gift.

 

Be patient and without resentment and think that the least we can do is to make his becoming not more difficult for him than the earth makes it for the spring when it wants to come. – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

 

I am so ready for spring to come. My divine restlessness, which sets my soul afloat on this dull, churning sea, pushes me ever forward, seeking beauty, questioning my longings, testing the shaky ground on which I stand. “Be patient,” I tell myself. “But get ready to exist.”

10 thoughts on “Getting Ready to Exist

  1. I love this post, Julie, for lots of reasons. Firstly, the opening quote gives solace to me at a time when I think I should be feeling becalmed, but am actually unaccountably restless. Secondly, your description of the need to give of yourself through your writing strikes such a chord with me. And, most of all, I love the revelation of what your heart wrote when your head thought you were writing something else. I too suffered loss before the writing of my novel – the loss of my husband, my partner of twenty-six years – and what I thought was a book about a crazy young Italian woman turned out to be an exorcism of my own inner darkness. I’ve just read In Another Life and I completely agree with the member of your audience about how brilliantly evocative it is of grief. I too loved that line about not looking in the mirror. I’m so pleased for you that the novel has been such a resounding success. I hope this continues with your next publication and wish you some quiet writing space.

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  2. Hi Julie, I read your novel and loved it. It was so captivating that I stayed up most of the night to finish it. That hasn’t happened in a really long time. Thank you for your gift. I found your blog while looking for more of your work. After reading it, I realize it was no accident that I ended up on this page. I’ve been struggling with being “on” too much as well lately and feeling ungrateful for wanting to just stand still in body, mind and spirit. Be kind to yourself. Your feelings are totally normal and understandable. It’s how we grow, how we find our way to next level of self awareness. I cried when you wrote about your loss. It touched me deeply. I had breast cancer when my son was 6 months old and because of the effects of chemotherapy, I haven’t been able to have more children. Don’t get me wrong, I love my son so much and am grateful for him every day. I have been truly blessed with him. Yet after 11 years, I still feel an emptiness at times. Giving up on a dream is one of the hardest things to do in life. I wish you peace and happiness. Ellen

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    1. Ellen. Your words. What a beautiful embrace your message is-“thank you” is terribly inadequate. I am so grateful that you shared your story with me and I hold it, and you, in tenderness and shared grief.

      I’m tickled that you enjoyed In Another Life and delighted that you reached out. All love and gratitude to you. xoxo Julie

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  3. Julie, your posts always stir me, but I hesitate to respond, because my words are never able to match up to yours. Sufficed to say, my heart bursts for you everyday. It’s onward and upward for you, beauty 💙💙💙

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