The Book

I am participating in the Writing Contest: You Deserve to be Inspired. Hosted by Positive Writer.”

I have never quite fit in.  Oh, I tried to, like every other adolescent girl on earth that dyed her hair blue in eighth grade to be cool, but usually ended up in a sobbing heap on the couch convinced that something was terribly wrong with me.

So, at eighteen, I joined the Navy. It would be impossible NOT to fit in, I thought.  I wore a perfect uniform, tied my shoelaces from left to right, and said “Yes, Sir” at all the right times. I was a living model for the U.S. Navy Regulations, or what we called “The Book.”

There was comfort in The Book.  If you interpreted and obeyed it, you remained safe and justified in the name of God and country. Abandoning anything that resembled the genuine me, I gladly assumed the identity of Sailor as defined by The Book. The Navy quickly rewarded me by promoting me up the line for wielding its pages and paragraphs with such expertise.

As much as I loved The Book, it failed me on many occasions. For all of its detail and precise language, it lacked any guidance on human-ness. It left me uncomfortably empty when informing the grief-stricken parents of the prior high school football-hero that their son died choking on his own vomit after a night of binge drinking in a filthy foreign port rather than heroically at the hands of a terrible enemy. It failed to instruct me on how to comfort the mother overflowing with grief and guilt because her infant was in the care of an auntie three thousand miles away and her empty arms ached for her child. No mention of the proper way to destroy the career of the brilliant young man with a promising future because he carried a few extra pounds , which was a direct violation of The Book. But I muddled through. Eventually, I became the one that senior officers sought when compassion, empathy, and feelings were probably appropriate, but not necessarily dictated by The Book.

When I left the service, I went in search of a new volume to guide my life. I tried the Academic Book, because it promised me financial success in return for a few years of study. I tried the Corporate Book, because as long as I positively influenced the bottom line, that book would support me. Each one left me disappointed and unable to abide by its guidance. I had once again failed to fit in.

Sharpened pencil and paper in hand (I am a writer, after all), I began to honestly list my strengths and weaknesses to uncover an appropriate post-military life purpose. I kept returning to the one skill that I could solidly count on: I’m a people person. I am naturally gifted in connecting with and understanding people, which ended up on my resume under “soft skills.”

Then it clicked…I’m a people person. Who likes to write. AHA! A writer who knows about people! Bingo! I’ll be a writer! Zeroing in on my new tribe, I joined the community with all the enthusiasm of a puppy on a chew toy; reading the craft books and joining a writing group. I even published an essay in an anthology—my dreams of being published realized, at last. Lacking the courage to quit the day job, I stuck to writing as an enthusiastic hobbyist, intent on writing the all-American novel part-time.

After years of writing without accomplishing anything tangible, my fault-seeking brain convinced me that writing wasn’t a glass-slipper fit. Convinced that I would never write anything that could conjure an early morning sunrise so beautifully that the reader would drop a grateful teardrop on the page as a thank-you, my mind told me to be practical and get an MBA, not a MFA. Stop struggling, it said, make it easy on yourself. Simply adopt someone else’s book and live by it, it urged. I listened. I understood its very reasonable advice, but never quite gave up hope of going to the ball.

Death has a funny way of forcing you to reevaluate your life. When my close friend Michelle died in a house fire and all my grief was spent, I challenged my mind’s stance. Like a good parent, it was trying to explain to me that writing was a dream, and practicalities took precedence. Michelle had dreams like me, but also had to pay the bills like me, so she worked in the next building for ten years and kept her dream in her heart, where it died in this reality.  Even if I never publish, the yearning to leave a written legacy was still burning in my heart. So I ignored my brain and turned to my heart for comfort. At least it was honest. It taught me three important lessons that my brain could never realize:

First, all of the books that I’ve read and followed in my life have taught me much, but none of them provided a full, happy heart or the intuitive ability to touch another soul, which is more important to me than a salary.

I made a vow to the Universe to never attempt to fit in again. Life is much too delicious and amazing to walk through it as a zombie. I guess it’s a human thing to want to belong, but even more deeply human to refuse to. With God as my witness, (thank you, Scarlett O’Hara), I will never be normal again.

Lastly, I am writing my own book now—literally and figuratively.  My characters will bravely face and appreciate experiences chocked full of success and failure, joy and heartbreak, adventure and boredom. And so will I. I may not ever publish the all-American novel. But that’s not why I write. I write because it brings me wild joy in a place where I finally fit in—on the page.