I’ve been talking about writing since I was in my late teens. But I was one of those people who needed trauma or remarkable events as inspiration. Break-ups, crazy journeys, extraordinary people catapulted me into producing any number of pages, after which I’d sputter, slow, and come to a halt. Like millions of others I have folders of poems, the odd short story, and chunks of novels written over the course of 30 years. I rarely spoke about my desire to write for fear of being one of those people that goes on and on about wanting to be a writer and does nothing about it.
So perhaps chasing the dream is a misnomer for what I'm doing, since I’ve done little chasing. It's been more like an occasional game of hide and seek with the notion. Each time I found the inclination and a good theme, I got lost or wandered off.
In the privacy of my therapy sessions over years, I lamented the fact I wasn’t writing, feeling I was meant to do it but hadn’t or worse wouldn’t. I berated myself, not going quite as far, but tempted like Dobby, the house elf in Harry Potter, to iron my hands. My therapist listened patiently, encouraging, never harsh like I was. I struggled with the end of one relationship, the beginning of another, or the messy morass in between, and often thought my life was her Young and the Restless.
I must have mentioned the desire to write to my friend Megan who asked “Do you want to be a writer Aviv or do you want to write?" If I wanted to write, surely I’d just get to it. Others have, despite adversity and complicated circumstances that make mine look like whining and weak excuses. I figured I must just want to BE a writer, not do the work to get there.
I’d characterize my life in great part as a series of non-choices, stumbling from avoidance of one thing into avoidance of the next. I wouldn’t have contemplated law, business or med school because they involved aptitude-type tests that I feared I’d fail. When I was in junior high they gave all the kids a standardized general knowledge test. I don’t remember the content, but they posted the results in the glass case outside the office for all to see. I did badly and felt mortified. I forever conflated those tests with LSATs, GMATs and MCATs and determined not to have that happen again.
I registered for Social Work in my first year at the University of Western Ontario and changed plans when I realized how far the 9:00 am class was from my dorm. I accepted, then turned down my first teaching job after a meeting in Aurora, Ontario where they freaked me out with a three-foot pile of curricular guides and the requirement to teach seven different classes a week. My trips to places like Nicaragua, Israel, Eastern Europe, Paris, Morocco have been taken primarily at other people’s suggestion.
Besides the myriad small and medium-sized decisions I make to get me through every day or week, having kids (lesbians don’t have them by accident) and taking this year off to write are the only life-altering, risk-taking choices I’ve ever made.
I’ve always been in awe of people who love what they do for a so-called living - people who manage to survive or even thrive off their passion. It’s rare. Some do it because they couldn’t do anything else, some found themselves there by, or despite, happy, complicated or difficult circumstances. Regardless, it’s a privilege I never anticipated I’d share.
Not that I have a lot to complain about. My work for government, bureaucratic silliness and random imposition of political will aside, was often engaging, of social value, even fascinating now and again. But it was never something I burned to do. Since I wasn’t burning at all, or only occasionally in the chair across from my therapist (which felt more like the burn of low-grade shame) I felt I should be satisfied.
I can’t remember what made me decide to enroll in the government employees' self-funded leave program, but as it got closer I started telling everyone I was taking a year off to write – finally holding myself publicly accountable to produce something.
So now I’m doing something I love, albeit NOT making a living. Not yet, anyway. I’ve asked for another year off - without pay this time. Once you’ve done something you love it feels impossible not to keep doing it.
If the dream is to write, not to be a famous writer, then there’s no need to chase it. Just wake up, do it, and sort the rest out as I go.