“Write as if you were dying. . . .”

Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?

~Annie Dillard

***
Oh, my. No pressure! But really, I know I should be looking at it that way, especially now. I have to keep trying, keep pushing past all the fears, and do the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do before it really is too late.

Why, some days, am I so afraid to write? I have no idea. Well, I do, but I don’t understand it. More to the point, I don’t understand why I let it hold me back. I want everything I do to be perfectly done – only then is it acceptable. I have not done things, not taken up hobbies or interests, because I knew I could not do them well at the first attempt. Limited myself, in other words. Why?

I could say that it was the way I was raised. My father – a high school dropout himself – used to belittle my achievements in an attempt to urge me to do better.

“Look, I got 98 out of 100 on this test!”

“Where’s the other two?”

My grandfather was the same (I guess my father came by it honestly), but he was kinder, in his own way. He really did treat me as his favourite, and when I was very small, told me that I really needed to be getting to school soon. This was so important to him, and I was important to him, so he wanted it for me. When I started Sunday School, probably around the age of six, I remember running to tell him. His response: “Well, that’s no good. It’s not real school.”

When I finally did start “real” school, he made sure that the occasion was marked with a special gift. My whole family had been out the day before that first day of school, but when we arrived home, a brand-new red plaid metal lunchbox was waiting there for me, left by my grandfather. We were very poor, neither of my two older sisters had lunchboxes, and I felt so special.

First day of “real” school, with my treasured new lunchbox

And I guess I decided that I had to show I was worthy of it. I’ve been trying to prove it ever since.

When I was in college (and an adult, by the way – I didn’t go to college till I was in my late thirties, graduated from Barnard when I was 41), I remember once checking my homework for an astronomy class, making sure my graph was properly labelled, proud of the coloured pencil work I’d done on it to make it look good. A young man sitting next to me looked over at my notebook, then gave me a look equal parts exasperation and resignation. “You’re an A student, aren’t you?” he asked me mournfully. In my mind, the only answer to that question was “Isn’t everyone? Doesn’t everyone want to be?” I agonized over the few Bs that came my way, and even cringed a little at the couple of A minuses I received. They just weren’t . . . good enough. I quit taking Chinese as a language because I couldn’t get anything higher than a B or B minus in it. And when I graduated, I was sure that those Chinese grades were responsible for the GPA that was just a few tenths of a point from “summa cum laude” and placed me in “magna cum laude” instead.

The point being . . . I think I have to get it “right” or not do it at all. Second point – I do NOT have all the time in the world, and I SHOULD be writing like I was dying, instead of telling myself that I cannot write anything until I’m sure it’s perfect. It’s way past time to get over this.

To this end, I started Morning Pages again today. I have always had such resistance to things like this, journalling in any form. It seems . . . ridiculous to me, a waste of time. Once again, the A-student syndrome rears its head. Why would I want to write something that no one will ever read, and judge, and that will not be perfect? What’s the point? The point is to write. Something. Every day, no excuses. Using whatever means will get me there, and then going on, writing more.

So that’s my goal – has always been, really, but I need to be serious about it. I don’t know how much time I have left. Why am I wasting it, trying to be perfect?

An awesome writer. I should listen to him.

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