Monday, February 3, 2014
Things That Matter
It's been over a year since I turned in my thesis and unofficially finished grad school. I'm not sure what I thought would happen after that, but this year was not it. I barely had time to breathe after my advisor signed off on my stories before I ended up in a flurry of medical worries. Last December I spent running from doctor to doctor, ultra-sound to MRI to biopsies and, in January, just days after returning from my thesis presentation, surgery.
I might have harbored dreams of surgery recovery that involved the required off-my-feet recoup time being blissful non-stop writing time, but that didn't happen. Instead, I slept. And watched bad TV. I researched some literary magazine and submitted my short stories to a few, and played with a few beginnings of new novels that didn't go anywhere. I job hunted for a job that wasn't there.
I thought I'd have time. I thought all this time I'd spent writing and reading for school would suddenly be open time I could do amazing things with. Turns out, time is like a hole in the sand near the ocean. You can scoop out the water that's in it, but more water will keep pouring in and filling it.
Finding the time to write became harder the harder writing became. I second guessed everything I wrote. Instead of hearing my own voice, I could only hear the voice of my advisors, whispers that kept my fingers hovering over the keys rather than pummeling out words. With all the demands of the day, was it worth it to stare at a screen for hours on end, only knowing I'd end up deleting it all anyway?
I wrestled a lot with the purpose of writing. Why was I doing it, anyway? While the piles of ideas stacked up in a folder, scraps of characters and plots and themes, none of the stories really mattered in the scheme of life. They were just stories. And I wanted what I wrote to matter.
After graduation ceremonies in June, I returned to a tutoring job with an online tutoring company working with college and grad students on their essays. I love it - best job I've ever had - but it doesn't pay much more than working at fast food and I don't see the same students over and over, necessarily, and I wondered a lot: Am I making any kind of real difference?
I suspect most people at some point ask themselves, Am I doing something that matters?
Stories themselves matter, I know. They matter because they help people see from another point of view. They help people empathize and broaden the scope of their thinking. They provide escape and enjoyment in what might otherwise be a life burdened with demands and worries. Stories let people know they are not alone.
I know all this, and yet, every time I sit to write, I wonder, "Is this worth it? Am I writing something that matters?"
I don't know the answer to that. But I keep writing. I keep at it because I love it. Because I am compelled to. Because I think I have a story to tell, if only to myself.
And when I get frustrated that I have no time to write because I am running my kids to band concerts and helping them with homework and cooking dinner and answering a million questions that fly at me every time I sit to write and cleaning clothes and tutoring some panicky college student through a med school application essay, I think, "This matters. All of this. Investing in people always matters."
The truth is that no matter what we do for a living, what fills the hours of our days, what really matters is how we do what we do, and how that impacts people. People matter.