This post over at The Rumpus came to me less than a year ago at a time when I had almost given up on a dream, no, THE dream, and since then I have constantly returned to it to anchor me through the massive waves of doubts and indecision that almost always seem to accompany any ambitious pursuit. It is thanks to this piece that I have come to name that, which has troubled me on so many sleepless nights. That relentless, almost maddening, internal plea to create, to fashion something out of the tangled mess that my thoughts always seem to be in, that, which Cheryl Strayed (the person behind the Dear Sugar columns) refers to here as the second heart.
I sat like that too. Thinking of only one thing. One thing that was actually two things pressed together, like the back-to-back quotes on my chalkboard: how much I missed my mother and how the only way I could bear to live without her was to write a book. Mybook. The one that I’d known was in me since way before I knew people like me could have books inside of them. The one I felt pulsing in my chest like a second heart, formless and unimaginable until my mother died, and there it was, the plot revealed, the story I couldn’t live without telling. My debut.
Sure it was several months in the making, but just recently, after much time spent traipsing between being overwhelmed with zeal and being paralyzed with fear, I finally got myself to sit still, pen touching paper, in what I can only hope to be the first steps in a dance that will be carried on to great length, with deep thought and candidness of feeling. My every stroke keeping in time with the second heart and its beating.
The fear still persists though, presenting itself in short bouts of doubt and writer’s envy, things that can, and had in the past, all too easily stopped me on my tracks. But there is no escaping the second heart, as Ms. Strayed clearly points out – there is no other way but to meet its call with courage, willingness to put in work, and complete surrender.
But I was wrong. The second heart inside me beat ever stronger, but nothing miraculously became a book. As my 30th birthday approached, I realized that if I truly wanted to write the story I had to tell, I would have to gather everything within me to make it happen. I would have to sit and think of only one thing longer and harder than I thought possible. I would have to suffer. By which I meanwork.
At the time, I believed that I’d wasted my twenties by not having come out of them with a finished book and I bitterly lambasted myself for that. I thought a lot of the same things about myself that you do, Elissa Bassist. That I was lazy and lame. That even though I had the story in me, I didn’t have it in me to see it to fruition, to actually get it out of my body and onto the page, to write, as you say, with “intelligence and heart and lengthiness.” But I’d finally reached a point where the prospect of not writing a book was more awful than the one of writing a book that sucked. And so at last, I got to serious work on the book.
I’d finally been able to give it because I’d let go of all the grandiose ideas I’d once had about myself and my writing—so talented! so young!I’d stopped being grandiose. I’d lowered myself to the notion that the absolute only thing that mattered was getting that extra beating heart out of my chest. Which meant I had to write my book. My very possibly mediocre book. My very possibly never-going-to-be-published book. My absolutely no-where-in-league-with-the-writers-I’d-admired-so-much-that-I-practically-memorized-their-sentences book. It was only then, when I humbly surrendered, that I was able to do the work I needed to do.
My work is far from complete, and I know that for as long as it takes me to finish my book I may also have to keep on returning to this post, if only to soothe me, shake me, remind me. In that same vein, I share this with everyone, regardless of whether it is writing he/she seeks to do or something else, but who like me also happens to be plagued by the urgings of a second heart.