I have never been prone to realistic thinking.
Meaning, when confronted with the ample evidence that a situation has ceased being healthy, enjoyable, sensible, my mind flips into idealistic mode to get me past the multiple inputs that are telling me that right now, this moment, well, this moment sucks.
Anyone who reads this blog (thank you) knows that I’ve been working on this trait of mine and attempting—slowly, painfully—to recognize when I shift from realistic thinking into imaginative, magical or otherwise unrealistic cogitating. For me, realistic thinking—acknowledging the reality of a situation and not judging it as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but letting the moment be—is also about acknowledging truth. It’s not that ideals or dreams or inspirations aren’t truth, exactly, but when you don’t pair the idealism with the grit of grounded realism, of what’s happening right now, those dreams and visions become a hallucinatory delusion.
The vision has to be backed up by attention and by action.
This is as true in writing as it is in all other worthwhile endeavors.
At crucial times in my life, I’ve had my share of profound realistic thoughts that I’ve subsequently ignored, but these three, even I had to pay attention to:
I don’t need to be married
I don’t need to have kids
I don’t need to write
Here’s what I mean.
Of the many takeaways I gathered from the wrecked train of my first marriage, the one that stuck out above all others is that at any given moment during a marriage (however truncated) one or the other or even both participants can simply walk. They can quit. There is nothing to stop this from occurring. Nothing. No vows or promises or inconveniences are truly going to stop a spouse from bailing if s/he has set his or her mind on this outcome.
Regarding my two sons. At some point during the past 5 bleary years, the thought dawned on me that I didn’t need to have children, that I didn’t need to be a parent, that I could have avoided this whole parenting Sisyphean task and been just fine. This is the sort of realization that I could only come to once I was eyebrow deep in being parent because that’s just the type of person I am, but yeah, I’ll say it again: I could have lived a fulfilled life without being a father.
And writing. Well, writing is hard. It’s not glamorous. The pay is shit. The rewards few. When you strip away the artistic romance of the endeavor, you’re really left with slogging away word by word and wringing your heart and soul over the deformed structure and hoping that someone somewhere can look at the mess you made and think it’s worthwhile, too.
These three lessons—that I don’t need to be married, that I don’t need to be a father, that I don’t need to be a writer—are true. And they’re real. Any of us who happen to be married and or have children or who labor at writing can stop doing these activities at any time we wish. You know this as well as I do.
It may not help you to acknowledge this reality (and don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of fear in even voicing the giddy liberation that quitting evokes), but for me, it’s encouraging because it reminds me why I won’t quit my marriage or why I won’t abandon my children or why I won’t stop writing. I need to know I can quit because I need to also be reminded that I’ve chosen this.
I chose to be married to the woman I love, and I chose to be the father of these two boys whom I literally can’t imagine living without and I chose to be a writer. When you strip out the idealism, and you get to what at times are shitty moments by any rational standard, I have the power to choose how I act and react, how I behave, how I fail.
Failing or losing, these are outcomes. My wife could finally wise up and end our marriage. My sons could loathe me as the worst of all fathers. I could never complete my novels or they could linger forever on my computer, unread and unpublished. But these are results.
It’s quitting that’s the choice. We can’t choose if we lose, but we can choose if we quit.
The way to honor our dreams is to accept the difficult work that is our moment by moment responsibility.