# of pages written: 4½
# of days left to write 1st draft: 104
I go to the gym a lot, so by now all the employees at Willy’s World of Fitness know me. When I come in, they type my name into the computer and say, “you’re all set.”
Today, that phrase echoed in my head as I walked to the locker room. You’re all set. It made me imagine myself as red Jell-O that’s been poured into a decorative mold and placed in the refrigerator. Over time I’ve firmed and hardened. I am no longer a liquid, able to take on any shape that I please. I am all set.
The other day, Bernard and I were talking about careers. “I wish I could have just one focus in my life,” he said. “Then I’d know exactly what it is I want to do and just go for it.”
“I used to think that same thing,” I told him. “I used to wish I was really good at one thing instead of decently good at a bunch of things.”
“Exactly,” Bernard said. “It would make life easier.”
“But the problem is, what if you do that one thing all your life, and then, all of a sudden, you can’t do it anymore?” I started thinking about my brother, who is a graphic artist and spends ten-plus hours a day on the computer. What if he loses his eyesight? What will he do then?
“Or,” I say, “what if one day you just decide you don’t like what you’ve been doing anymore? You want to do something else, but you don’t have anything else.”
I told Bernard about how I’d tried to find a non-teaching job a few years ago. Everything on my resume screamed MATH TEACHER. I went in for interviews, and all the people could see me as was a math teacher. They looked at me like, “what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be teaching math?” I felt like I had hardened into the shape of a math teacher without really meaning to. I guess that’s what time will do. And once you’re all set, it’s very difficult to change shape.
I just started reading a novel called The Hottest State. It’s by Ethan Hawke. That’s right, Ethan Hawke the actor. It’s not a biography or anything. It’s literary fiction, and so far it’s pretty good. I feel like it’s very easy to make fun of this – Ethan Hawke, the actor, trying his hand at writing literary fiction. Ha ha, how ridiculous. But isn’t that the same thing I’m trying to do? Eva Langston, the math teacher, trying her hand at being a writer. Ha, ha, how comical.
Sometimes it’s really easy to point at someone and accuse him or her of trying to change shape. “That’s not who you are,” we say. “That’s not what you do.” Just be yourself, people say. But what if we’re not sure who that is anymore? What if we think that who we are might need to change?
Do we want to be set in one shape for the rest of our lives?
* * *
A week or so ago, my friend Corey sent me this cartoon from the website Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner. You should read it, but basically it says that it takes approximately seven years to become an expert in something, so over the course of your lifetime, you can become an expert in a lot of things. You don’t have to settle on just one job or one hobby or one way of living.
You can have lots of shapes, he says. You can let your old self die and then be reborn, over and over in the same lifetime.
The question is, when you’re all set in one shape, how do you get out of that shape and remold yourself into something new?
* * *
Nikki and I are still slugging through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. The last thing I read was about gumption, which, by the way, is a really fun word to say. Gumption is that drive or passion we feel for a task that makes us keep working at it and not give up. For example, I do not have very much gumption when it comes to reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
One of the things, Pirsig says, that makes us lose gumption is when we feel like we’re almost done, and then we realize we’ve made a mistake and we have to take everything apart and start all over again. It’s so frustrating and disheartening and overwhelming that we want to give up.
I think this is what keeps us from changing . I’m all set, we think. In order to change shape, I’d have to melt myself back down to a liquid, which might be scary — I’ll be so viscous and changeable, I’ll hardly know who I am. Then I’ll have to figure out which new mold to use and go into the refrigerator, and after that it will take a really long time for me to start feeling firm in my new shape. It seems like too much work, and I’m too old to go back to a liquid state. I don’t want to start the process all over again. I guess I’ll just stay as I am.
For example, I’ve been plugging away at my juvenile fiction fantasy novel. But I’ve also been thinking that I need to explore nonfiction writing. For many years I thought I was a fiction writer, period, but maybe it’s time for me to change shape and consider non-fiction. Maybe, even, consider writing articles and other freelance-type stuff as my job.
So I started researching how to find paying, freelance writing work, and every link sent me to another link sent me to another article with more links, sent me to another website until I was goo-goo eyed and overwhelmed. I experienced a total drain of gumption and went to the gym.
I know how to submit fiction and how to find agents for fiction and in general feel familiar with the world of fiction-writing. The thought of having to start the process all over agin and learn the ins and outs of writing freelance nonfiction… it’s scary. It’s this whole other mold…
But you know what? Jell-O jiggles. It has a shape, but it moves within that shape. There’s our answer!
Maybe, when we’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of changing our mold completely, we can find some wiggle room in the shape we’re in. I’m already writing. Is there room in my shape as a fiction writer to do some nonfiction writing, too? Probably. We all jiggle when poked.
P.S. If anyone has tips for me as far as how to find work as a freelance nonfiction writer, please let me know!