“So tell me, what am I looking at here?”, a question I asked of all of the eleventh grade students whose assignment was to develop vision boards of their American Dreams.
“These are my visions of the relationship and family I want to have. Here, they’re pictures of me chasing my passion of being a singer. These, these are the question marks of what I want to do. Which way should I go?”.
I giggle a little, I sigh loudly, “Oh boy” I say. This sixteen-year-old sits in front of me wondering if she should pursue her passion of singing or chasing the ideal of a relationship and family. How do I tell you what I learned?
I sit in my writing room coloring meditation pages as I listen to podcasts about creativity. It’s Elizabeth Gilbert answering a caller’s question about how to live a creative life when she can’t seem to find the time to write. Elizabeth Gilbert replies with something along the lines of how if we try to bury that voice that yearns to come out and tell our stories that it will come barrelling into our lives. That voice will force us to listen even if it means wreaking havoc in the lives we thought we were building.
This must be the yellow brick road to finding ourselves. This, I will follow.
August 2009. I read “Eat Pray Love”. Italy. India. Bali. Elizabeth Gilbert. She was broken. She healed. She found herself. She found love. She wrote a New York Times best selling book about her experience.
How hard can this be?
This dream of writing a book was always somewhere floating in my dreams. Throughout the last few years, I would start with this idea, write a few pages, and then get distracted. English Teacher. Trip Planner. Prom and Graduation Sponsor. Volunteer Board Member. Yoga Teacher. Girlfriend. Aunt. Sister. Friend.
May 2015. A break-up. Changing high schools where I teach.
Thanks to her announcement that she owned a small store, Two Buttons, there, I discovered a magic of day trips to Frenchtown, New Jersey, just about a two hour drive from Philadelphia. No, this wasn’t Italy, India or Bali but they were the best I could muster on my teacher’s salary and time. This, though, this would be my healing trip.
Walks along the Delaware Canal Path that revealed a gnome garden much to my fancy, coffee in Early Bird Espresso where I’d make my way into conversations with the locals as though I too was one of them, wandering moments through the Book Garden where the shop owner quipped, “Oh, you don’t need my help, I’ve seen you here before”, a stop in the consignment shop to find some favorite piece of clothing, this became my escape from the city. This trip was the metaphor of chasing my dream, of chasing the template Elizabeth Gilbert set out, broken, healing, finding myself, writing a book, finding love.
How hard can this be?
November 1st, 2015. This day, I meet Elizabeth Gilbert, she signs my copy of her newly released book, “Big Magic”, a treatise on pursuing the creative life. I proclaim that today marks the beginning of NanoWrimo, National Novel Writing Month. I AM WRITING A NOVEL. She signs my book, she sprinkles me with her magical writing dust, she writes that I need to be gentle with myself, she wishes me luck.
I leave. I write.
My ideas are unfolding. A teacher = Veronica, a group of students = Daphne amongst them, A writing group. A transformation. Young Adult genre. November ends with my project half complete.
December 2015 & January 2016. I develop a new plan thanks to the new found love of running and a running series in Tyler State Park. Each Sunday, the race distance was different: 3.1 miles, 5 miles, 9.3 miles. I would match the number of words I wrote to the distance I ran. 3.1 miles = 3,100, 5 miles = 5,000, etc. I would finish this book.
A trip to Barnes & Noble to explore this genre in which I am writing. I pick up “Belzhar” from Meg Wolitzer because I read “The Interestings”. Teacher = Veronica, a group of students = Daphne amongst them. A writing group. A transformation. Young adult. I throw the book across the room.
Um, Elizabeth Gilbert, what do I make of this development?
Along those Sunday morning runs, something else is bubbling within me. I am overreacting to students, this idea of having been told I am passive aggressive plays in my head, I don’t want to repeat the same mistakes that I’ve made in relationships in the past.
“What do I need to know?”. A mantra I conjure while out on these runs so that I can have what I need to know revealed to me instead of imposing my thoughts on the world.
January 2016. “The A Okay Team, Owning My Shit & Mile 4” is born. It gets accepted to be published by an online journal. I have broken through, I am healing, I am writing. Next stop love.
March 2016. Spring break. New tattoos “Own Your Story; Know Thy Strength”. A trip to Frenchtown, New Jersey to think about how I have changed. Online dates set up. A gynecologist’s appointment just to make sure all of my lady parts are in order as the next chapter is set to unfold. Those infamous words: “Do you feel this right here?”. That cancerous lump on the “Know Thy Strength” side of tattoos.
What the hell, Elizabeth Gilbert, you didn’t put this in the book?
May 2016. Running. Writing. Surgery. Radiation will be on the horizon.
Gilbert announces that the “Love” part of love was over.
What the hell, Elizabeth Gilbert? What the hell?