I pulled out an old journal of mine this past weekend and flipped through it. It's from when I was seventeen years old -- a pretty good year, actually, because I'd mostly gotten over the depression after getting kicked out of boarding school. I was homeschooling and had tons of spare time, so I did a lot of writing, reading poetry, sewing medieval dresses ... all the sorts of things I love to do, if I haven't got anything else going on.
Around that time, my spiritual director had told me my vocation was marriage, and I, having more or less accepted it, spent a lot of time wondering on how that jived with the sorts of things I wanted and liked. I had big dreams! I wanted to write poetry! I wanted to be a published novelist! But an older woman I knew, who had told me that she too had had big dreams, never fulfilled any of them, because she got married and had kids instead. I worried that that would be me.
I wrote this about it:
Why is it that no one ever gets what they dreamed about? Sure, they like what they get, but isn't that worse? To slowly sink down, and not even want to fly anymore.
Reading that was something of a shock. I thought -- would I disappoint myself? Not just because I haven't gotten published yet (which I was so sure I would have) but because I'm pretty happy about my life so far despite not doing much writing?
Well, maybe. I'm a little disappointed myself that I don't write more. Writing fiction is challenging, you really need to dedicate a lot of attention to it, and I'm almost never not distracted. And as for poetry -- yikes. Though I didn't write great poetry then, either. Poetry is hard and I've kind of accepted that while I can be poetic, I don't write the level of poetry that I like to read, and that's okay. I can write it for fun, or I can use the poetic way of thinking to write better prose.
But on the other hand, kids are awesome and I don't really have any regrets on that count. A person is always better than a poem. And my kids are extra special and wonderful, so I can't say at all that it was a bad tradeoff. I didn't know how happy they'd make me, so I couldn't see that side of the tradeoff when I was seventeen.
Maybe part of the reason I was so obsessed with poetry at seventeen was because I was so horribly lonely. I didn't have a lot in my life that I had control over, so I would retreat into my fantasy world and build castles in the air. I liked to write romance stories, because I was romantic but didn't yet have any real-life romance.
And the worst of it is, what I was writing was kind of awful. It was naive and lacked any ring of reality. I clearly didn't know what I was talking about. If I hadn't spent the past decade-plus living life, I think my writing might well have stayed like that. You can't write good fiction if you haven't experienced the ecstasy of love, the pain of loss, the burden of duty or the fear of death. You have to have something you understand that you can write about, and I had very little.
My kids taught me so much. They made me a libertarian, just by showing me how deep-seated the human desire for freedom is, so that any system which fails to account for it is doomed to failure. They taught me about non-violence and how the only way to make hate and anger stop was to choose not to participate. And along the way I grew gardens, read agrarian manifestos while nursing, learned to spin, and discovered a sense of strength and power in myself that I didn't know I had -- realizing that I can do a great deal more than I ever would have thought.
That wasn't something I think I could have learned if I had kept my heart in a box in the hopes of writing down all my Big Thoughts right away.
I still hope I get published someday. I hope I have time to write all the novels sloshing around in my head. I hope I reach a part of my life where I have more freedom than I have now.
But for now, at twenty-nine years old, I'd like to reassure seventeen-year-old me: Don't worry, life is bigger than you think. There's more to it and bigger dreams than you've yet dreamed. You will never be able to fit in every single thing you've wished for in one lifetime, but that's all right -- you can fit in quite a bit, and some of it will surprise you with how special it is.
When you grow up and have kids, no, you won't have the free time you have now, where you can spend all morning learning Elvish and all afternoon writing. But you won't be lonely, either. You will be in charge of your own life, then, and you will be loved and respected. Your kids will pile into your lap sometimes and you'll wish for a little space -- but at the same time, you'll know that your love is all they need, and that will make you feel like you matter now, not in some future day when you've done something big.
Don't be disappointed staring into the future, kid. I haven't done everything you dreamed, but I've done things you wouldn't have ever dreamed, and it's all been good so far. Keep believing in me, and maybe I'll get to some of your dreams in the end.