Loves and Expectations

[Written while waiting in line for coffee]

I wrote my first story in kindergarten. It was a sentence long about a horse running away from a farm but eventually returning because the stories of my childhood were supposed to have happy endings. These stories were also supposed to have pictures, so I drew the horse, farm, and resident creatures. My school hung it on the wall and gave me a button. It had a lion on it. “I am a writer,” it read.

In middle school, I wrote about the Loch Ness monster, a horror spurred by the lighting of a candle, a second-person POV because I wanted to be inventive, and fanfiction with a Mandalorian-like villain. As I moved into high school, I dabbled with worldbuilding, developed the bones of a space opera mystery, but I never got beyond the first ten pages of drafting because writing anything is frightening, exposing, in a way.

And I wrote poetry, plays, short stories, and microfictions—some published and some never formed past their outlines. After high school, I stopped writing because I was supposed to be serious and studious and focused on school—which isn’t terrible advice, but advice from a place of love can be construed as something cruel.

I put aside writing as we set aside loves for what we are expected to do.

But we never stop writing, do we? Ours is a rich, literate history—we have moved beyond the oral tradition of our ancestors for the written word, so I traded the creative for academic. My college writing teemed with statebuilding theories, Swiss consensual democracy, human rights considerations in Sudan, the Basque people, military history, the differing experiences of Muslims and Jews amid the Spanish Inquisition. A year after undergrad, I wrote about Africa and uranium and North Korea and technical reports for my work. All this to say I never stopped writing; I just stopped writing for myself.

I didn’t write for myself for years, though I thought of it often: while deployed, while driving in the rain. Somewhere in Georgia, I found the thread of a story but wouldn’t know it for another ten years. And I would love to tell you I regret this, but I don’t. I am a person who subscribes to order and pieces falling into place as they should. If I had written my manuscript earlier, it wouldn’t be the one I’ve bled over and cherished.

But I wished I hadn’t paused. I have a folder tucked in a fire-proof safe with some scribbles from high school that I am terrified to read because I don’t know if I’ll be impressed or petrified. So here we are.

I am an adult, and I should be able to make good decisions, and I would like to believe I have made such decisions, though I often look jealously at those who ditched convention for the risky, rewarding, soul-satisfying roles. And maybe I’m a romantic. I consider all the lives I could be living. When I’m working, I often think about writing. For myself, these stories within me stirring. Maybe that’s when I asked, Why not me?

Funny how we stuff ourselves in boxes and weigh ourselves down with ridiculous rules for what we can and cannot do. Sadly, we come to believe them and live without wondering what if we could.

I started writing again in 2018, conjuring the will to write a sentence to pages each day—and I’ve mostly maintained this habit, with a few days off (with exception and reluctance, of course). What made this possible was a goal of writing with intention rather than specific word counts and leveraging the time between the seams—the brief periods spent waiting for something to happen. These minutes become hours over a day.

I am fifty pages into editing what I hope is the final draft of a story that found me years ago. And maybe it saved me, gave me purpose. For years, I have teetered on the edge of a crisis. I am no different from the others who gaze upon the world and wonder if they’ve made the right decisions. It’s difficult to ignore when life is delicate, short. I feel this deeply, in the marrow of my bones.

Strange how life derails and reroutes you. Sometimes I wonder if providence returned me to this childhood dream, if it is meant to be. Time will tell soon enough.

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