big apple of ambition

Recently, I friended an old high school acquaintance on facebook who turns out to be a creative director in an amazing ad agency in New York City.  Like Don Draper status with Emmy-winning commercials and fancy ties.  I looked down at myself, sloppy and tired, brushing the cookie crumbs off my pants.

Is this really where I wanted to end up?  Is this the woman I thought I’d be?

My mind was consumed with thoughts of the past as I unloaded the dishwasher.  Memories of television and fake eyelashes and In Touch magazine photo shoots.  People doing my make-up and eating at fancy places I could never afford. I thought of poor Martha Stewart, who didn’t like us much, but had such fabulous collections of things and a bubbly, youthful laugh.  I thought of the endless cabs and the fleeting second of fame and what it was like to feel special in this world.

I yearned to live there, then.  The Big. Ol. City. where the lights were always burning and air thickened in the summer – a mixture of urine and exhaust and pure, uncut talent. “What’s a working girl to do?” I’d say to myself as I rounded 24th Ave, my future yet untold.  Maybe I’d meet my husband for drinks, or coffee, or try that new vegan place uptown. My hair would be blond and my legs lean.  It’s not like everyone can run off to the Hamptons when the temperature rises.  I’d gut it out.  Because I’m a southern girl, and I can handle it.  I’d find my place in that rat race, settling down in a nice hole somewhere, munching on crumbs.

I remember being on an interview, sitting down with a bunch of marketing executives on 6th Avenue, my first child belly-flipping around in my abdomen and making me nauseous.  She was just the size of a bean then.  I think she was trying to tell me something.

My son suddenly awoke from his nap crying, ruining my perfectly good daydream about Dean & Deluca chocolates.  His pacifier had fallen to the floor and tears were streaming from his red, tired face.  The moment I picked him up, his arms curled around my neck like I might leave him forever and this was our one last embrace.  His head of thick, blond hair buried into my chest, and he let out the most peaceful coo.  I stopped what I was doing, carried him to my bedroom, and let him lay on my chest for a solid hour and a half.  He turned his head and sighed and flipped a few times.  I think he was as happy as he ever was in his whole two years of life.  As I lay there, rubbing his back, I let my mind rest on what might have been.  Or what I might have missed.

I chose this life.  You can hear the katydids screeching their evening refrain in the oaks and wonder if the tomatoes are getting enough water.  I eat farm eggs and bake bread on Mondays and hang clothes on the line.  Instead of going to court or summarizing deposition transcripts, I ask my husband about his day.  I make sure the toilet bowls are clean.  I find time to write. It’s the life I wanted, and one I fiercely fought to have.  But it’s not cosmopolitan.  No one cares if you wear designer jeans or have red underbellies to your high-heeled shoes.  No one in Austin even wears high-heeled shoes.  Why would you, when flip flops are much more comfortable, and you’re just headed out for Migas anyway?

My son woke up and we played the tickle game.  I did laundry.  I made macaroni and cheese with a breadcrumb topping.  My son wore one of my old hats and tried to dig ice from a Whataburger cup, which made me laugh.  My daughter and I stayed up late eating warm banana pudding.  My husband was out of town, so I let my daughter cuddle up in our down comforter with me, turning over sometimes in the middle of the night just to touch her arm.  Just to make sure she was still there.

Somehow I don’t think I’d get these memories living in the land of great hopes and expectations.  I’m not sure my soul would be rested enough.  I’m not sure my children would find their way.   It’s not home.  It’s not warm and inviting with room to breathe.

This is the place I want to live.   This is the life I choose.   Thank you, God, for leading me here.  For letting me float inside this quiet peace, amidst the wildflowers and artists and fields of expired ambition, gently blowing away with the wind.  Past the inland sea oats, whispering by the Indian blankets.  Far off into the hot, Texas sky.

brown paper stories

I hate to use the word artist to describe myself.  I’m not covered in tattoos and don’t work a night shift at IHOP.  I’m not struggling to make ends meet, recovering from a drug habit, or walking around with paint on my elbows.  I’m a lawyer, for goodness sakes.  The amount of artistry it takes to craft a well-rounded, persuasive argument is only appreciated by a select few.  To everyone else, lawyers are just suits whose mouths open and shut and money comes funneling into their pockets every time they answer the phone.  As if.

But even now that I’ve made a conscience decision to walk away from practicing law, it’s hard.  Hard to call myself a writer.  Hard to create things simply for the pleasure of creating them.  I feel a need to aim that ambition, the same one that fueled me through honors classes and bar exam courses and clerkships, directly into the heart of the creative process.  It’s not good enough just to write.  Any fool with a laptop can do that. I need to be validated.  I need to be paid.  I need for this to mean something.

But art is subjective.  What makes one person laugh or cry or want to call their mother might be pure drivel to another.   My husband read a blog post once that I found particularly emotional and decided to point out an inverted quotation mark.   Thanks, dude.  Glad that hit you right there in the ticker.

When I was writing my novel, I stayed up into wee hours of the night pouring my heart into the story.  I went away for writing weekends.  I traveled to Upstate New York and rode cabs alone in Manhattan and hired babysitters in the stale Texas heat just to finish.  It took almost four years of painstaking rewrites and hundreds of deleted pages.  An editor helped me comb out the background narrative and useless rookie mistakes.  But then, I expected my hard work to pay off.  I would find an agent.  I would get published.  My words would matter.  

And yet here I sit, after putting two children to bed and wiping off kitchen counters and throwing in yet another load of whites.  I don’t have the look of an artist, sitting here in black-rimmed glasses and an oversized t-shirt, with a box of triscuits and a jar of peanut butter by my side.  I instead resemble a slightly-crazy person, ignoring reality and doing what I didn’t think possible:  I’m giving in to my instincts. I’m not published.  I don’t have tangible validation.  And yet I keep on going because I simply cannot imagine a world in which I have to stop.  I put my hands over my ears when that small little voice starts screaming in my head.  No one cares.  Quit while you’re ahead.  You’ll never make it as a writer.  Damn you, little voice.  You are meaningless.

I thought perhaps I’ve not been praying enough, or listening enough, or being present enough in this writing process.  I stopped myself tonight, standing right in front of the microwave, and prayed that God would reveal to me the best path.  How I should be reaching people.  Or perhaps learning not to care so much about what those people think.  After all, I can’t move mountains.  My name might not be in marquee lights. But I can certainly speak with passion – words driven straight from the heart that was formed and blessed by God in my mother’s womb.  My heart is ravenous with emotion.  My soul is aching to be heard.  My hands tremble at the thought of writing about sadness and joy in a way that has never been done before.

And then it comes to me: God’s listening.  I create simply for the joy of creating.  My words are an offering and a sacrifice, and I can imagine no other audience that matters more.

I am an artist. I offer up these small gifts, my brown-paper stories filled with sparkling words.  And that matters, even if no one else is paying attention.