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Monday, May 23, 2011

Why do we chase our dreams?

Writing poetry has always been my first love. When I was a little girl, I wrote because I loved the way words could be strung together to create worlds or images. Seemingly unrelated words form a canvas that evokes more imagery and emotion than the most descriptive prose. But back then, I just thought it was pretty. Now, I appreciate its power. Over the four decades of my life, I've often used writing as a catharsis. As my fingers type away, my worries and fears and unresolved pain bleed through my fingertips onto the keyboard and, ultimately, the screen. It allows me to explore the crevases of my experiences and manipulate the endings through fiction, giving me a sense of power and control over some of the most terrible things: my little brother's death, my mother's disease, the loss of my sense of self. Until just a few years ago, I limited myself to short stories and poetry. Pieces I could complete in an hour and shelve. Akin to a good cry.
But eight years ago, my daughter, Abby, was stillborn. The pain of her birth/death paralyzed me. I couldn't speak about it. I couldn't speak about her. I couldn't share the details of our taking her ashes to Pebble Beach and scattering them in the ocean. Each day was a struggle to simply breathe. But I felt an obligation to our family and friends who stood by us. I wanted to tell them of our experience and share it with them. More importantly, I promised Abby that we would never forget her. So I began to write. For two months, I pulled off the scabs and wrote without censor. Honest and raw, I allowed myself to feel for the first time in months. What emerged was a short memoir. Its length reflects the shortness of her life.
I've asked myself one question many times over the past few years as I've written, re-written, edited, shared, added to, and almost scraped The Beauty of Grace. Why not self-publish this one, too? I self-published Abby and my first novel, In Search of Solomon's Wisdom. I wasn't taking a short-cut or naive about the publishing industry. I just wanted them in print so I could share them with my family and friends. In Search of Solomon's Wisdom is fiction, but its main character dies the same way my little brother did. I wrote it to explore my own questions about why he died, and to deal with my anger at him for dying. I self-published both books so I could go on about my life.
Then, The Beauty of Grace bloomed in my mind. With the chaos of raising small children, running a household, and being involved in 8,000 things, Grace took much longer to finish. As it sits at 300 pages in my laptop, it gnaws at me. I could go the same route and self-publish it, but I want this one out there. I want to go into Barnes and Noble and see it sitting on a shelf. So in answering my own question, "why not self-publish this one, too?" a new question has surfaced: "Why does anyone pursue their dreams?" Why write, paint, dance, sing? Why does anyone choose to pour their heart and soul into a pursuit that, to achieve commercial success, requires enormous effort, endless criticism, and almost impossible odds? Is it because we believe that what we have to say is so important? Or entertaining? Or is it because we arrogantly think that our ideas deserve public debate and discussion? The only answer I can fathom is simply because I have to. Writing is a big part of who I am and to achieve commercial success, i.e. traditional publication, would validate my writing. And, therefore, would validate a piece of me.
Are you chasing your dreams? If so, why? If not, why not?

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