For a while I had a quote from Anne Lamott on my refrigerator: “As we live, we begin to learn what helps in life and what hurts.” I’m afraid that many of the stories we tell each other every day hurt, not because they are necessarily untrue but because they do not contain the possibility of hope or change. I’d like to tell some stories that help. They may be purely joyful or they may contain some sadness or pain because without those we wouldn’t need help.
I believe help surrounds us in many forms: the generosity of a houseplant that continues to thrive despite my best efforts to neglect it, that last streak of pale yellow rinsed from the sky just before dark blue gives way to night’s black, the perfect gooey sweetness of a well-toasted s’more. And perhaps most importantly, community.
Communities are like weeds–they spring up all over the place in uncontrollable and unpredictable ways. Last night, I attended my first hobnob. The couple who organizes these gatherings uses the etymology to explain the evening to newcomers: “in the sense ‘drink together; drink each other’s health.'” The practice is to show up, munch on whatever arrives, and chat with whoever comes–no stressful preparation for hosts or guests.
I confess that I went mainly in search of single, straight men in their late thirties or early forties, of which I found none. I did, however, meet a number of delightful men and women, gay and straight, in their fifties and sixties. Among them was a man, we’ll call him Tom, whose son is a poet and who overheard me talking about the novel I recently finished. (Kudos to the host and hostess for creating such a welcoming atmosphere–revealing my secret novelist identity to strangers still scares me.)
Tom found me later in the evening to ask about my writing, and I gave the elevator speech description of the novel’s plot. In return, I had the privilege of hearing the love and admiration in his voice as he talked about his son. Tom is a retired physician, and his son’s life as a writer–working as adjunct faculty, going through the process of submission and rejection–is a new world for him.
I think parents may worry, and with good cause, when their children announce they want to do something as financially risky as writing, but Tom is thoroughly impressed with his son and the lifestyle he’s chosen for himself in spite of, or perhaps because of, its difference from his own. He enjoys discovering who his son is, and I imagine being in the presence of that enjoyment would raise anyone’s spirits; it certainly raised mine.
At the end of our conversation Tom said to me, “It’s nice to know there’s someone like you here.” Talk about a ray of light in the darkness. My current litany of self doubts runs something like this, “No one will ever buy this book, especially since I don’t spend enough time sending out query letters, and what’s this crazy blog thing and how can I have time to do any of it between my day job and exercising?” So knowing that someone besides my mom (sorry, Mom) thinks my existence, both as myself and as a writer, is worthwhile helps, a lot. Community at work.
Thank you, Tom, and thanks also to your son for having the courage to pursue his writing and by so doing to inspire and remind me to pursue mine. For all of you artists and writers and everyone who feels as if the rest of the world has it all figured out while you find life rather puzzling, someone in your community, whether you’ve met this person or not, is grateful there’s someone like you here.