I always look forward to this first working day of January with great hope and excitement. The year feels yet unblemished, and not even the knowledge that it will be blemished (and probably soon, given that I’m a human living in reality) can touch that. And I come into this year with considerably more energy than I did when I entered 2012, so that feels good. Like most people, I have goals and resolutions and longings for what 2013 will bring and become, and what I can make out of it. Some that are specific and task-oriented, but mostly about internal shifts that I hope will change how I experience life.
One of those shifts has to do with how I think about and conduct my writing life, which is something I’ve been working on during this break from signing contracts.
While I was on vacation this past week, I re-listened to the episode of This Creative Life I did with writer/director Scott Derrickson*. Around minute 34, I’d started talking about how I’d lost the romantic relationship I used to have with writing and I asked Scott if it felt fresh for him, how he kept that alive.
Scott talked about how Hollywood is an industry built to cycle you out. He said: ”For me, what’s kept [the relationship with the creative work] fresh is reckoning with what it would mean to be cycled out and having to go get a real job. … You have to get up every single day and give it a reason to keep you in… anything I gotta do I’m gonna do, I just want to keep doing this for a living.”
At first glance, that sounds like a kind of fearful approach to work, and Scott did say that fear can be the negative side to that. But there’s a fire of passion in that, too, and on the positive side of it is gratitude. He talked about being grateful that he gets to write and direct movies for a living and have a place in the business.
Going back to what I said about romance, he said: “It’s ingratitude that destroys that romance.”
Think about that for a minute.
As I listened again to that part of the conversation (and once more this morning), I thought about passion and romance and how that relates to marriage. To friendship. To God. I thought about any relationship that you maintain over time, including the relationship with writing (or whatever your vocation may be).
My early years of writing were driven by passion and desire, and yes, also fear–the fear of not getting something I wanted. The fear of that feeling I’d get when I’d read published books that I didn’t think were very good, but knowing I was slacking in my own efforts to get my work out there.
In the first year of dating my husband I worked every day to make sure the he knew that I was interested in him–all my romantic energy was pointed in his direction. He did the same for me. Part of that was a fear of losing something we knew was good, that we wanted. But also grateful wonder. And I feel that with new friends, that grateful wonder, and I feel compelled to invest, give, stay connected. That’s a kind of romance, too. When people have a religious conversion experience there’s an intense gratitude. Wow, the creative force of the universe actually looks upon me with favor, grace, and kindness. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
The thank-you comes because the memory of how it felt to believe you were just in a spiraling void of despair is fresh. When I was able to quit my day job six years ago and write full-time I was awash in gratitude. Because the memory of not having a writing career was fresh. When you first fall in love, the memory of feeling alone and unlovable is fresh and you boggle that someone could see you as you are and claim you anyway. If you’ve gone awhile without connecting in friendship and you suddenly do, the memory of not having that friendship, of being bored or sad or unknown is fresh. You’re grateful.
Then time does its work and what was new is familiar, and perhaps contempt is bred in the unswept corners, the unmaintained habits of appreciating the lover, the friendship, the career, the salvation.
“It’s ingratitude that destroys that romance.”
The romance of a long-term relationship is different than that of a new one, obviously. The nerve endings may not crackle. The pulse may not speed up. It may take more work to see beauty in what has become the everyday. The more I think about what Scott said, the more I think the heart of a long-term romance is in fact gratitude. I get to do this job. I get to love this good person who loves me back. I get these awesome friends. I don’t have to despair that life is meaningless. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
That’s the internal shift I want to keep close to me in 2013, especially as I transition out of sabbatical mode and back into work over these next few months. I want to guard against ingratitude, and maybe be a little more friendly to a productive kind of fear. I just want to keep doing this for a living.
*Speaking of the podcast – the next episode will go up this Friday or Saturday after a slight delay for the holidays. Happy New Year!