I write this on the airplane, flying home from Arkansas then Boston, exhausted from long days of travel and speaking, but also light with the joy of so many embraces with strangers now friends.
But when we travel among friends, relatives and strangers, even sitting at home at our desks, we are given so much conflicting news, even about ourselves.
What do we do? What do we believe? Try this:
So you discover this morning from a reputable source that a grand nephew twice removed through divorce and adoption--thinks your writing (or your sculpture or your music or your novel) is second-rate and your last book was “whiny.” You don’t know him, and he doesn’t know you, but your relatives who know him a little bit nod sagely at his words and believe him, though they’ve never read what you’ve written or only read certain parts, the parts they are sure about them.
Worried, you decide to try therapy to make sure you’re not harboring ingratitude or a pathetic victim mentality. Or, as a cheaper option, you consider hiring an editor for your next manuscript to eradicate any possible language that might be interpreted as “victim-y.”
After this decision, which you feel good about, you think, you get an email from a woman who says your last book is the best book she’s ever read and she wants everyone in the world to read it or at least to see it stocked it in all the airport books stores, and would you send some more books with your autograph and maybe even a family photo? You smile, breathe deeply, read the email over several times and block off time to do this.
Later that day you hear that someone thinks the scarf you wore at last night’s event was “derivative” and rumor has it that you might have even looked fat in that purple paisley dress when you gave your presentation. Stricken, you drop the scarf in the trash, a bit sad because you did like it, after all, and at dinner an hour later, you eat only salad because you know it’s not just the dress.
While picking at your salad and checking your email, you stumble across a comment on your recent essay condemning you because you were a bit too mystical to see God in that heap of dirty laundry. You vow to deepen your theology, maybe even enroll in an online degree from a Reformed seminary. And just before you leave for your evening event, you check Facebook and discover that some friends are angry with you for not including them in your latest writing project and others who asked to be in your manuscript are bitterly complaining about their inclusion.
Saddened, you head to your seminar that night, after carefully choosing slimming clothes and a plain scarf. You speak with all the passion you have left after such a day and some people cheer and cry, and afterward a woman tells you you’re better than watching a movie, while an elderly man in the back row falls asleep in the middle of the most dramatic part.
And after many such days, you lie awake on your pillow finally knowing what the unforgiveable sin is---or, rather, the unlivable sin and you vow you will no longer do it, you will no longer commit the terrible sin of belief. You will no longer believe rumors of madness and mysticism, rumbles of inadequacy and girth, nor reports of laud and praise. You know they are all true in some way, and they are all false in some way as well, but mostly, you know, they will kill you with redirection and indecision.
In such times, you dose yourself with Ann Lamott:
"Yet, I get to tell my truth. I get to seek meaning and realization. I get to live fully, wildly, imperfectly. That's why I'm alive. And all I actually have to offer as a writer, is my version of life. Every single thing that has happened to me is mine. As I've said a hundred times, if people wanted me to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better."
“My pastor said last Sunday that if you don't change directions, you are going to end up where you are headed. Is that okay with you, to end up still desperately trying to achieve more, and to get the world to validate your parking ticket, and to get your possibly dead parents to see how amazing you always were?”
And you suddenly know it’s true: the world will not validate your parking ticket so give it up and return to the life you’re supposed to be living. Your one “wild and precious life” given to you not to be hoarded but to be given away. And when you give it away, however kind you try to be, and whatever form it takes---a painting, a song, a poem, a knitted scarf, a letter, a wooden box----because the world is a crazy place, this will always be true: Someone is always waiting to shoot your moon. Just know that some will be angry, some will bless you, some will betray you, some will be mean and small and some will be grateful and love you for life, till death do you part.
In all the betrayal, admiration and lights, here is what you do:
You work at loving them all, and you keep on writing (or singing or sculpting or knitting or designing).
You will not be hushed, not by hurt or by hate; you keep on writing.
You will not keep trying to satisfy insatiable people; you keep on writing.
You will not listen to critics in the shadows afraid of their own lives; you keep on writing.
You will not let praise erode your stability; you keep on writing (and rewriting.)
Don't let anyone shoot down your moon. Tell the truth. Please God. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. And for the sake of us all,