On the recommendation of a good friend, I am reading The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs, the great-great-great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson. It’s a beautiful memoir about cancer and loss. You’d think this would be a depressing read but quite the opposite. Her tone is light, and her ability to tackle death with curiosity and humor is inspiring. She weaves in and out of American Literature references and quotes from Montaigne, a French philosopher, quietly threading her needle through the past and present.
It’s a breath of fresh air, a compelling and poetic read about the ordinary, mundane, and heartbreaking stuff of life.
Throughout the memoir, Riggs references one particular quote from her ancestor, Emerson: “Do what you are afraid of.” None of us are strangers to this quote. We’re told this in different ways and at different times.
For me, this aphorism has been a constant companion throughout my teaching career. You see, I am afraid of teaching, for the most part. So many things about it are completely terrifying and unnatural to me: standing up in front of a group of strangers, being the authority in the room, handling the (mostly) occasional disruptive student, being an authority, standing up in front of… Okay, I think you get it.
During my first year of teaching high school, and then again, when I went back to the classroom to teach at the community college, I carried a steady supply of Pepto Bismol in my briefcase for the predictable nausea that would commence 20 minutes before my classes began. And for some strange reason, I kept going, deciding this was the profession for me.
That initial terror would burn off each morning, you see. It would evaporate like dew. Ultimately, I found that teaching provided a way to share my passion for reading and writing and offered me the role of counselor that I’d always been good at. But “do what you fear” has often filled the thought bubble above my head.
For the coming year, new things trace the horizon of “doing what I fear.” I am understanding more and more that I have become afraid of turning off Facebook. And I have become afraid of writing only for myself. I have become so caught up in the likes and the shares and the words of praise, when they come, that writing for myself happens less than it “should.” You see, most of the great writing happens for my eyes only, until I am ready for an editor or two to view it. This is a process that can take weeks or months when given proper time to marinate. Like a good stew.
This isn’t a good-bye letter, my friends. It’s more of an acknowledgement that I have been going through some internal changes that require some air. For me, this means spending less time plugged into the social media outlets like they are my IV drugs.
I want more time with books like The Bright Hour. More time to be a mom. More time to organize my pantry and hang pictures in my house. I want more time with my in-laws, whom I miss after having just returned from their New York home. (And even though I don’t know how to make that work, I want more time to consider how it can.) I want more time to pull out my dusty sewing machine, to get back into making handbags. I want more time to go through old journals, to inform my present day writing. I want more time to sit with new dreams and new directions I feel emerging. I want more time.
Happy New Year, my dear, dear friends, those I have known for lifetimes and those whom I have never met. May you have the gift of time.