I don’t know what I’m doing.

Just thought I’d be up-front about that. In case there was any lingering doubt.

It’s been a while since I wrote here. My blogging seems to cycle through seasons–sometimes I have a lot to say, and sometimes my head is full but nothing makes it onto the page.

I’ve been busy these past few months, and that is part of the reason for my silence. I finished a revision of Vessel, the novel I’ve been working from, and have been receiving feedback from critique partners. Once I’ve heard from everyone, it will be time to sit down and look at all the perspectives together, trace the golden threads that run through the middle. And then comes the hard work–revision. Every time, I face it with a lump in my throat. Can I make this story as good as it deserves to be? Am I enough–enough to tell this tale, to speak this truth, to bring this story into the world? I’ve revised several novels over the past several years, and every time I approach with trepidation, feeling like I’m about to poke a hibernating bear with a sharp stick while simultaneously opening a can of worms. A book is never truly finished. And I suppose that’s the idea. It’s never perfect, but at some point it is good enough, and then you release it into the wild and it begins to live, and that is not an end but only a beginning.

The manuscript project: The Book of Vessels

My manuscript project is “finished,” too–it’s bound and looks like a real book. I guess it is a real book. As with novels, though, there is an eternal, infernal temptation to tinker–to go back and cram in more marginal notes, to add some little creepy-crawly illuminations in the margins. One can never have enough dragons. I started making this book because it appears in Vessel, and in order to write that story, I needed to know what was in this book. So I wrote it, and then made it–because in the story, its physicality is as important, in some ways, as its contents. No, I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. But if you stop by, you’re welcome to play with it. I’d love for it to get all fingerprinted and scuffed-up. Then it will really be real.

Beyond the realm of writing, there is newfound political involvement–a local state delegate race. I’m way outside my comfort zone with this one. Invoking the warrior-spirit of my M.A. advisor, who reminded students every semester that “A certain discomfort is necessary in order for learning to occur,” I’ve signed on as the captain of phone calling in my county. This intimidates the everloving heck out of me. But what actually scares me is bequeathing to my children a world that I didn’t fight tooth and nail to protect, champion, and love. So here’s my PSA–if something scares you but you know you should do it–do it. Do the thing. The hard thing. The thing that makes you a little queasy to think about. Those stomach-squinching things are the things that will save the world. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing. Even if you’re afraid that you might not be enough.

I’ve also been making faerie crowns for the four seasons because I am a serious adult who does serious adult stuff. Ahem.

Midsummer faerie crown.

Gardening, lesson prepping for the fall, brushing up my French, trying to learn Irish, and hanging out with family and friends have filled the rest of the time. I feel productive. But I still don’t know what I’m doing. I’m busy, and the busyness feels good and constructive, but I never know if it’s enough.

Sometimes I suspect I’m one of those people who looks like she knows what she’s doing. This is only an appearance. Pay no attention to the woman in front of the curtain. The one behind it is wandering around bemused, like some half-starved hermit in the desert, benevolent but a little wacky. She’s the real one, the one who doesn’t know what’s for dinner even though it’s past time to start cooking, the one who isn’t sure she should be allowed to raise children, the one whose dreams and confusions both are so big that she can’t quite contain them, the one who questions her enough-ness approximately every five minutes.

I’m struggling with the state of the country right now, with threats to people’s lives and health and jobs and safety and basic human rights. With threats to the world we all share and all the wondrous beings that inhabit it. Am I doing enough? I’m struggling with the path I’m on–is it realistic to work part-time and write, hoping that my writing will lead to a career? There are no “sure things” in this writing life. I can’t decide whether it comforts me or terrifies me that published writers all say the same thing. I grapple almost daily with whether I should get a full-time job that will alleviate financial stress but eat away at writing time. I know a lot of writers work full-time and write, too. Sometimes I feel like a failure because I’m not doing that. Sometimes I feel like a failure because I’m forty and have been submitting novels for about seven years and nothing has come of it. Well, not nothing. I’ve learned. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning (said the woman who made a book for funzies and is studying Irish with no earthly idea what she will ever do with that knowledge). But it’s draining. It wears away at me to keep striving toward a goal that is not guaranteed, to keep working toward becoming a professional novelist when the odds of publication are minuscule. I don’t know if my books are good enough to find a publishing home, to find their readers, to let me quit the day-job and still pay the bills.

I wonder if the people around me think of me as some benevolent-but-quirky hermit who’s kind of oddly charming in her refusal to grow up and get a real job. I wonder if my kids see me as following a dream or tilting at windmills. I want them to dream big, but I don’t know that I’d wish for them to be writers. At a stage when my friends’ careers are expanding, solidifying, going places, I’m still a part-timer with a slightly eccentric hobby. And I don’t know what’s for dinner. I do know that I am fortunate to have enough in the fridge, even if I don’t feel enough-enough to pull off a culinary wonder or even a culinary non-disappointment.

I don’t know what I’m doing, so I think I’m just gonna own that. Maybe not knowing what I’m doing is what I know how to do. Yeah, I’m gonna go with that.

But first I’m going to go figure out what’s for dinner.


10 thoughts on “I don’t know what I’m doing.

  1. I’m so aligned with you on so much of what you’re saying here, Brenna! I, too, am tinkering in the final stages of a “finished” project. But lots of the other stuff as well — notably, our humanity. Thanks for putting it into words.

  2. A wonderful entry! Thank you for sharing your honest feelings about life–from dreams to career aspirations, and even family concerns. I truly relate to this post on so many levels and believe that it could not have come at a better time. Please follow the advice you share to us, to continue to do those things that may scare you but feel right! I’m want to try to be brave as well. I certainly do not know what I am doing either, but maybe this is a struggle we are all meant to share? At the very least, it is nice to know that someone else has many of the same concerns as I do 🙂

    1. Thanks, Renard (that is a fantastic name you have there!). I watched a LOT of YouTube videos on bookbinding, and then kind of ignored half of what they said and made up a bunch of stuff. 😀

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