# of writing contests entered: 1
# of literary mags submitted to: 2
The other day I was talking to my Ukrainian student, Natalia, about baby showers. I’ve been to a lot of them, and they are all pretty much the same. We wear binkies around our necks and play games like taste the baby food (is it bananas or strained squash?), and we look at melted candy bars inside diapers and try to tell the Snickers from the Butterfingers from the Baby Ruth. We eat strawberries from a fruit tray and drink sparkling lemonade and watch the mother-to-be open her pastel-wrapped presents. The word cute is uttered approximately sixty times a minute.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s what a baby shower is.
Speaking of other events that involve showers, my friends Cory and Melissa are getting married this October. “Have you started planning the wedding?” I asked Melissa on the phone yesterday.
“No,” she groaned. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing or when.”
“I think there are websites,” I suggested, “that help you organize and plan.”
“Ugh,” she said. “Those websites are overwhelming.”
It’s true. According to the wedding planning websites, you need approximately a million things for the reception, including, but certainly not limited to, a photo booth, hand-stamped place cards, and a chocolate fountain at the dessert table.
“I keep thinking this is what a wedding is, it has to have all these things,” Melissa said. “I have to keep reminding myself that it doesn’t have to have anything. It can be whatever I want.”
“Exactly,” I said. “If you want the groomsmen dressed like newsies, that’s your prerogative.” (This was a desire Melissa had expressed earlier, by the way, not a random suggestion of my own.)
“I know I don’t have to have a traditional wedding,” Melissa sighed. “I know I can do what I want. The problem is, I don’t know what I want.”
* * *
We’ve all had this problem before. We’re not sure what we want, so we do what everybody else has done before us. We take the well-traveled road because we don’t know of any other way.
I keep thinking that there is only one path to being a successful writer. That being a successful writer is getting an agent, publishing best-selling, prize-winning novels, and having the novels made into movies starring Johnny Depp. I keep obsessing over the idea that I have to get an agent and publish novels. But maybe there are other ways to finding a successful career in writing.
Because, in fact, there ARE other ways to do just about anything. I’d taken for granted the baby showers had to be pre-birth and involve baby food games, but when I talked to Natalia she told me in the Ukraine they wait until some point in the child’s second year, and then the family has a modest celebration.
For everything you think has to be a certain way, there’s someone who’s broken the rules. Take my friend Degra’s baby shower. She invited men and women, the cake was black, and we played bizarre games like “bobbing for babies.” (Yes, it was a bit morbid to see a bucket of water with plastic baby dolls floating face down in it, but it was also hilariously awesome.) Or take my friends John and Angelyn’s wedding. Angelyn walked down the aisle to the Imperial March from Star Wars, and we all drank tall boys of PBR at the reception. When it comes to weddings and showers, and your life in general, you can pretty much do what you want as long as you have the gumption. Don’t think “this is how it has to be;” instead, think “what do I want it to be?”
That doesn’t solve Melissa’s dilemma, though – that she doesn’t know what she wants. And that doesn’t solve my problem, either. I can’t get it out of my head that what I want is an agent and best-selling novel. Although what if I only think that’s what I want because I don’t know of any other way?
Maybe everything I’m doing these days – writing this blog, going to conferences, submitting to magazines, experimenting with different writing styles — is my way of hunting around in the under brush for a new path. Maybe I’ll discover a winding and weed-choked road that will lead me, eventually, to a successful writing career. What is it they say about the road less traveled? Oh yeah. It makes all the difference.
And to Melissa, I say, slap some newsie caps on the boys and pop the champagne. We’ll have a great time no matter what.