I’ve been gone. Literally, and mentally, for about 10 days. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you will know I have been in a state of bliss. Seriously. I was in Hawaii, a place of magical sunsets and mysterious beauty, a place where the smell of saltwater and plumeria mingles in your nostrils, where your tongue is flooded with savory, moist, sensuous flavors, and your mind is captured by rare and treacherous beauties. It’s Paradise built on dangerous black lava fields and volatile ocean waves.
The funny thing about being gone is that I now have to come back. While on the Island, (Yes, I thought a lot about LOST too, while hiking. No smoke monster sightings though.) I found it within myself to let go, and hold on to the experience at hand. When you work on a book for 18 months with almost no breaks, soaking up other experiences becomes difficult. The lives of your characters can take you over.
Before we left for Hawaii, I was frayed. I was worn out. The last two years of my personal life have been filled to the brim with change. We moved to New York with our then two-year-old. I wrote a novel and then revised it four times. We flew back and forth from New York to Texas 14 times. We moved back to Texas, bought a house, and sent our son to school.
There wasn’t a moment in the midst of that where I didn’t also have to find a way to make my son’s world consistent and stable. There wasn’t a day where I didn’t wonder what the hell we were doing? There wasn’t a day in there that I wished I could go back to a simpler time in my life. To a time before change became my normal.
It did take its toll. When I finished this last draft, the agent I’ve been working with (who happens to be a good friend and supercool chick) advised me to give my brain a break. This was hard advice to take, and in a lot of ways, I think I would have ignored it if not for my time in Hawaii. The week before I left on that trip, I had a panic attack at the dentist. I freaked out about traveling without my son (who had informed me he would not go to Hawaii with me), contemplating not going at all. In that moment, the need for control became more powerful than the possibility of new experiences. The reality of missing my brother’s wedding, was outweighed by the chance that I might take a wrong step.
With grace, and wine, I got on that plane and got to spend 9 days with my brother’s new ohana. The open arms we were received with, the beauty and kindness I met at every turn, began to melt away the hard shell. The shell of survival. The weariness created by yanking myself up again and again even when I didn’t have the strength. The passion it took to press through four (often MAJOR) revisions. The challenge of living in two places, and then leaving one, and then not always feeling at home in the other. The loneliness created by realizing that while I was changing, so was everyone else, and now very little is the same.
What was left was softer, and more recognizable. It was someone closer to being ok with living and breathing and not always moving. I went parasailing with my brother a couple days before the rest of our party arrived. Flying over the deep blue water off the Kona coast, the wind whipping my hair wild, I felt strangely at peace. Settled. And I realized it wasn’t going to kill me to feel that way.
What’s funny about that is I know it doesn’t last forever. I know a part of me must be restless, must be unsettled, must be searching. A part of me will never cease the need for new discovery. That part makes me a writer. But that part can’t always be in control. That part doesn’t stop to stare at the sea just because it’s beautiful. That part can’t sit still and finish a meal, or listen rather than speak.
So, as I reemerge into the world, I am trying to hold that in my head. As new words begin to fill new pages, and new characters begin to surface, as I try to place a finger on the next story I want to tell, or the way to continue the story I am already telling, I remember to look out. To see the stories developing in front of me, not just inside me. To be inspired, but to be available. The writing cave is somewhere to go, when necessary. That isolated space, where nothing can take you away from your world, is vital. But it’s not somewhere to live.
When I got home, and I saw my son’s face, and I listened to his stories about his time without me, I was glad I could listen. I was glad I didn’t feel the need to open my computer or worry over word count. I was glad that, for just a little longer, I was free.
Many times the life we choose can force us to sacrifice that freedom. The concept that we can have it all, all the time, is a false one. We can’t. Some days I can’t write because I have laundry to wash, or a son to engage, or a house to maintain, or a friend or a sibling or a parent that needs help. There have been times when that made me angry, when I wanted, secretly, to be alone in the world so I could be surrounded by my characters without responsibility. I’m not proud of that, but I won’t pretend it’s not true. And the best I, or you, or anyone can do is recognize that without grace we are all colossal failures.
Try just once, to live on island time. To sit too long at a cafe. To read a book when you should be ironing. To listen to a stranger who just needs an ear to bend. To say mahalo, thank you, even when you’re not feeling it. There will always be time to be unsettled, but giving your roots a chance to establish is how you grow.