It’s the glad New Year, and folks are rethinking and regrouping and re-everything-ing. I promised a post on how to re-enchant your life. Alas, I’m not going to be able to deliver. But we are offering another book give-away! (See details at the end of this post.)
So I sat down to write this and realized I can’t tell you how to re-enchant your life—I can only tell you how I added enchantment back to mine. So I’ll do what I do—I’ll tell you a story…
We’re sitting at a fancy lower Manhattan bar before dinner—it’s our tenth wedding anniversary—and he leans in close.
“Laura-girl, what are we going to do with you?”
I ask huh? with my eyes.
“You’re not happy.”
Oh, that. I stare into amber-colored liquid. I know Luke doesn’t mean we aren’t happy—we’ve already established that we are. It’s the last night of a s’wonderful, marvelous trip—our first time together in New York, a city we both adore. There have been long walks in the park, breakfasts at a tiny French café, a trip to the reading room at the library—the big one with the lions standing guard outside. And that 1920s marble bathroom at the Waldorf!
On the plane ride home I read a New York Times piece about the hardships and high costs of living in the city and why even die-hard urbanites are calling it quits. I assess our situation, the one with the twins and a special needs baby and a mortgage and a penchant for having our own washing machine.
“That dream is officially dead,” I announce, plopping down the newspaper. “I’ll never be a New Yorker.”
Another one bites the dust.
It sounds silly now, but back home in suburbia, I mope for a week. Oh, my heart.
Fast forward two years: We are hiking a mountain trail—in the style that we hike (slowly, avoiding uphill routes, me wearing a dress and cardigan and impractical shoes—do you see what a good New Yorker I’d be?). It’s early April—the rhodos are about to pop and the laurels already have and there are fresh green ferns unfurling. Sometimes it’s easier to say things when you’re walking single file—Luke’s in front.
“I’m happier,” I say. “I mean, since I’ve started writing.”
He smiles back at me. “I know.”
That was six years ago. I was forty. At three, I begged to be taught the alphabet to unlock the mystery I so wanted in on. In the third grade, I announced to my teacher, Ms. Smith, I would someday win the Newbery Award. The next year, I wrote the school play. I became a newspaper nerd in high school, studied journalism in college, got a gig as a reporter. And then I had kids. I used them as an excuse to not write. The Not Writing lasted eleven years.
Truth is, I was chicken and couldn’t fathom I had a story to tell and who has time for that and well, just too bad. Life happens.
Eventually I got sick enough of my scaredy-pants self–and angry enough–to act. I went to the bookstore and grabbed a random book about writing. I read another. And another. For good measure, I read a few more.
The first book: No Plot, No Problem! by Chris Baty
The best book: Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle (Lanier and I both treasure the late Madeleine L’Engle, author of (the Newbery Award-winning!) A Wrinkle in Time, Camilla, A Ring of Endless Light, and much more. My mother took me to hear Ms. L’Engle speak at the local library when I was a kid. I was hooked–on writing, on ideas, on her.)
If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
Page After Page by Heather Sellers
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Then Lanier and I—after years of being friends but not telling each other we wanted to write—made a dare, and I wrote a novel. In six weeks.
My fingers haven’t stopped flying since. So far, I haven’t met with much professional success. Still, the worst that can happen? No one notices, but I get better.
And: I did it—I’m doing it.
Other stuff happened, too.
I will live and likely die a perfectionist, but I won’t let my crazy standards drive me to an early grave. (Or prevent me from having a heaping dose of fun.) When I started writing, I read another writer who said she had to force herself to ignore the dishes in the sink and just write. I worried—I can’t do that. Over approximately 232 lunches and 789 cups of tea and maybe a gin and tonic or two, Lanier and I talked about how to ignore the dishes in the sink. I never learned how. (I don’t think she did, either.) But I figured out a few tricks to outsmart myself, like leaving my house to write at the local coffee shop. I started squeezing chores into the cracks, knocking them out during times when it’s too chaotic (whenever Sadie is at home and awake) or when I am too weary to write but not too tired to wipe crumbs from the counter.
Mondays used to be Laundry Day. Eight loads. It was soul-crushing. Now I tackle a load when the pile gets too big or we run out of socks–whichever comes first. I’m infinitely more pleasant–nay, sometimes downright charming–on Mondays. (Ask Luke.) And Mondays, when school glorious school is back on, are darn good writing days.
I also stopped: running endless errands (let me count the ways I love thee, Amazon Prime!), doing everything myself (Luke likes the grocery store), or inventing a different meal seven evenings a week (leftovers, getting the twins to cook, and the occasional take-out never hurt anyone–except for that one time–I’m looking at you, Golden Buddha).
I learned to compartmentalize. The upstairs is often a mess of dog hair and wet towels thrown on the floor and hole-puncher confetti. So I close the doors to the children’s rooms, or, better yet, ask them to. (They happily oblige, much preferring to shut their doors than vacuum.) I keep my bedroom (master’s on the main), the kitchen, and the living room neat and orderly. Three rooms. Three and a half if you count the bathroom. An apartment, really. (Like New York!)
I opted out. This comes naturally for an introvert–I never was one to volunteer to head a committee. I want to lend a hand, but I don’t want to be piffling or inefficient or ineffective or any of those in- words. When the kids were younger, I was room mom again and again—and a heckuva good one—with the caveat that I would skip the three-hour school-wide room mom meetings and ignore most room mom mandates. (I also failed to read–or open–the two-inch thick binder they issued.) Our classroom would march to the beat of a different drum. Teachers loved it, the kids got more, and I stayed sane. At the end of the year, I got a plant. Or a scented candle. And I logged dozens of hours spying on my children in their educational environs.
I kissed shame goodbye. (Though not entirely.) This is a process. But there has been progress, for sure, because I scratch my head at the Laura of her twenties and thirties who struggled mightily to fit into molds—going to big, loud women’s church retreats (I hid in the restroom a lot) and weekly women’s Bible studies (ditto) and saying no to next to nothing. (You want me to bake four dozen peanut-free, wheat-free cupcakes? Wait, no dairy, either? Coming right up!) Those were the Try Hard years. But when your husband screws up the courage to challenge you on your unhappiness, you realize something’s gotta give. I started listening to the small voice that was saying: break the rules. Don’t sweat the stupid. Find your own way, as long as nobody gets hurt.
The books that helped:
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy by Timothy Keller
The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron
I ask myself what will make my heart soar. Every. Single. Day. Such a thing may smack of selfishness. (I prefer the phrase self-care.) I wondered, would the world stop spinning if I pulled on my rubber boots to putter around the garden or stole twenty minutes on the hammock to savor how the silver maples’ leaves look like lace against sky? Other weird stuff I do for kicks: packing a picnic lunch for one, writing letters by hand, wandering old cemeteries in search of good names for fiction (Claude! Annamae! Walter!). For six months, I took piano lessons, playing badly. (One day my teacher told me she was quitting to spend more time with her young family. The next week, I found out she’d taken on three new students.) I mucked stalls to help pay for horseback riding lessons, riding badly. I do the earth’s most awkward yoga, and I bought a granny-style bicycle with a basket. My bicycle makes me granny-tired, but it looks nice on the porch. These days I pretty much refuse to clench my jaw and endure an entire day, to huff about, to be slave to my to-list, and to resent my lot–and my people. I daresay my Maker doesn’t want me succumbing to a grind, either. I wasn’t doing gratitude very well during the Try Hard years. I played at it, treating thank you like any other should. I didn’t get serious about being present until–that magical number again–around forty. The books that helped:
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Still, it ain’t all happy dances and open highways. Dreams hurt. Do I want to be Emily Dickinson, scribbling away in secret, forever? Not especially. Would I like my books to get published? You betcha. Does waiting and hoping and rejection ache like nothing else? Uh-huh. (I was awarded 99 rejection letters before I found a literary agent. I keep the snail-mail rejections in my desk drawer–they are like certificates of honor, each one having stung, but, hey–look at me–I survived!) Once in a while, I crumple on the couch and complain. On my better days I tell myself it’s good for me to want. I’m alive, and for a long time–not so much.
p.s. Ah, the give-away! We’d love to gift one of you with a pristine, hardcover copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. This warm, wise book is balm–and inspiration–for anyone who creates, which is anyone who breathes. Golden Hours is a brand new blog, having launched on Thanksgiving eve. Lanier and I have been touched and honored by the kindness of this growing community, and we have counted chronicling Christmas in this space as a blessing supreme. Help spread the word about Golden Hours by picking a post you like and sharing it on Facebook or re-posting one of our Instagram pictures. Send us a comment to tell us you’ve done so, and presto! you’re entered in the drawing (January 13). We’ll wrap the book up pretty and mail it to you.
I’m also keen to hear how you add enchantment to your life and learn about any books that have inspired you!
p.p.s. Have you seen La La Land? If you like Golden Hours, you’ll love La La Land. (If you are human, you’ll love La La Land.) The film is perfectly enchanting–it’s about shimmering dreams and wanting with a capital W. Friends, get to the theater toots sweet. You’ll leave vowing to twirl more.
“Here’s to the ones who dream
foolish as they may seem
Here’s the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make.” ~ La La Land’s Mia