A BIG GROUP GROPE. It’s the image that popped into my head after a friend wrote seeking some writing advice. A thoroughly politically incorrect term, of course, as well as dated, the grope provides an even more disturbing image, I guess. Which is why I love it.
My friend reported being a bit unsure of the territory she was moving into. A new kind of book for her. A new genre. How nice, I thought. An adventure. No, how terrifying, she said, and how unsure she felt making the move even after many highly successful books. And we batted it back and forth before this image of the grope settled into my crazy head.
She said she was feeling lost. Yeah, I bet, and challenged her to give me a list of areas in her life where she did not feel a bit lost, since it seems that the kind of person who chooses to write full time for a living — like she and I — is more of an improviser than not, and that improv is never about being sure what might come next.
I don’t think I operate with total confidence in any arena of my life. And on my good days, I’m damn grateful for that lack of assurance, since the risks I take and their attending thrills come from some otherwise seemingly low-stakes endeavors that don’t leave me pining for jumping from planes, skiing in the Bugaboos or swimming with sharks.
Giving my life a quick scan, and looking for areas of total confidence, I come up with, ah, none. Parenthood is best lived at a state of wonder, and marriage, with its hefty call on the skills of improvisation, pantomime and compromise quickly loses its appeal when anyone takes it for granted or gets too comfy. Teaching is utterly about being open to whatever comes through the door, of course. And then there’s writing, where we get to start fresh every day in this factory of one, as I oh-so-affectionately refer to it. How to write memoir presents particular challenges, of course, since knowing that we have on us all we need to write could create a particular form of terror. Or not.
If I were someone who slammed into each moment with confidence, I’d work for Goldman Sachs or something right? I don’t.
I write. And in doing so I begin each day with a grope into the unknown.