What Makes You Smile?

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When I finished my workout this morning at Fit4Lady, I joined a few other post-workout women at the large table for a cup of coffee. On the table was a sign up sheet. I glanced at it, discovering it wasn’t a sign-up sheet after all, but a question: What made you smile today? The grammatical incorrectness of the gym name always makes me smile, but I couldn’t very well write that down without pissing off a whole lot of Dutch lady. The two girls at the table playing brain-teaser games while waiting for their mom to finish her workout had already made me smile, so I wrote that down. I was only the second to answer the question, but the day was still young.┬áNow that I’m home and preparing to start my work day as a writer, this question comes back to me in present form. What makes me smile? My puppy playing in the sunshine, my child, the gift of health, that first mug of coffee. These are all givens. But 2019 also puts a smile on my face. How can the concept of a year make you smile? In this case, it’s because of the label I have put on 2019. It is my gift year.

A friend recently used the term gap year to describe my current state and this definitely got me smiling for more reasons than one. When I hear gap year, I think of a young adult taking a year off to travel the world after she has finished school and before she starts her career. Here I am, in the middle of my life (God willing), taking a gap year. The point is to simply enjoy and learn to take a full inhale and exhale without having to think about the next client, the next project, the next paycheck or, for that matter, the next stage in my career. But that’s not quite true either. This experimental gap year is the year of writing: a gift from my husband, a gift to myself.

My smile is full and genuine when I think of this gift. It’s about writing, but about creating space in my life to enjoy what is most dear to me. I love having time for my son when he comes home from school. I love that I can volunteer to help a friend with her documentary project (can’t share the details yet) and that I can play housewife in our egalitarian marriage, enabling my husband to embrace a strange new role of ‘the main financial provider’.

In this new, albeit temporary role as writer housewife, I can actually open up my cookbooks that have been getting dusty on the shelf and peruse them until I find an adventure worth taking. That’s the nature of my gap year.

Cookbooks are not the only thing being dusted off and opened up. Characters that have been trapped in my head or left dangling mid-sentence on a page are now getting attention. Problem is, they all want my attention at once. I’m trying to tell them to be patient, but telling a character who has earned monk-like status for all their patience, to continue to be patient? Patience is hard, but important for all of us, fictional or otherwise.

Stories require patience before they can come to life; even when you have the time to write them.

My current WIP requires a lot more research than anything I’ve previously undertaken. When it comes to writing, I’m a pantser. That’s someone who likes to write by the seat of their pants: spontaneously, when moved by the spirit, by the muse, by that flow of inspiration. Far as I’m concerned, research and pantsers are like oil and water; they don’t necessarily get along.

I was having lunch with the same friend who dubbed this my Gap Year. She asked how my writing was coming and I described the pantser/ research conundrum. She smiled knowingly and shared the following story:

When she was pregnant with her second child, her daughter kept asking when the baby would be born. She wasn’t willing to wait any longer.

“Why can’t you just have him now mommy? I want to play with him now.”

“He isn’t ready to be born. He’s not yet fully developed. He needs time for all his body parts to form, and that takes a lot of time. We just have to be patient.”

“Your story is just like that baby,” she said. “Research is just an unavoidable part of the growth process. The creative side of you just needs to be patient.”

I could have hugged her. Instead, I squeezed her arm and told her she was brilliant. Or maybe I’m making that up. But I definitely shared my enthusiasm for her analogy. It’s an obvious one, but she’s the type of person who can share this sort of thing and you can truly hear it and take it in.

img_6953My gap year might have a deadline, but I’ve made a commitment to myself and to all the projects I undertake this year. I will not force you. I will let you develop at your own pace. Yet I promise to give you the attention and love and time that you deserve. It is up to you if you choose to be born.