A former student of mine once sent me an essay she’d written in a college class that began, “I asked God to give me a break.” She was a lovely girl, a straight-A student. Sweet, earnest, with a flinty streak of determination that I loved to watch in action. She had been raised as a conservative Christian and was active in her church.
She was a good, solid writer in high school, but she had trouble engaging fully in the mess of creative process, especially when a piece took a turn and she found herself making an observation or asking a question that made her strong faith waver.
I remember writing in the margin of her journal, “God gave you a questioning mind. Why would He have done that if He didn’t want you to use it?”
College cracked her mind open in that wonderful way it does, when it works—and made her the writer I always knew she had it in her to be. The essay she sent me was about the evolution of her conservative childhood faith into one that embraced the questions and contradictions of a person fully awake in the universe.
I loved that she asked God to give her a break so that she could do whatever she needed to do to make that happen. If I believed in the kind of God that grants requests, I would ask him to give me a break, too. But from myself.
Seriously. I would like to take a break from feeling so driven about—everything. At least for a while, I would like to write without ambition, for the joy of it—just to see where writing would take me—instead of constantly wrestling with the puzzle pieces of a novel, obsessed with trying to put them together when I know that crucial ones are missing, not to mention the fact that the shapes of the ones I do have keep shifting. Plus there’s no box with a picture on it that shows what the completed puzzle is supposed to look like.
I love writing novels. I really, truly do. But right now, I feel weary of the long process, the constant clutter of people and places in my head.
Lately, I've been thinking about a summer day a few years ago. Steve was gone, fishing, and I’d just returned from a trip and hadn’t gotten back into my routine yet. For a whole Sunday I just did whatever I felt like doing.
Mainly, I remember being on my bike on the Monon Trail and being so happy. It seemed like the world was offering up all sorts of things as I rode along to make me see this was how life is supposed to be. There was a man with a parrot on his shoulder! There were babies and dogs. The trail felt like a big parade and I was in it.
I remember thinking, is this the way some people live their lives? You feel like riding your bike, so you just…do? Or watch a movie, go to a museum, dig in the garden for a while? What would it be like not to be thinking constantly that you should be should be attending to some made-up world in your head, trying to wrestle it into words?
I’d like more days like that in my life.
So, it’s official. I’m taking a (summer) break.
(If I can.)