Two decades ago, in the autumn after my oldest son was born, I walked by myself into the woods, and I sat down on a log, and I said to myself, forming each word with deliberation, "It's time for you to realize that you will never be a writer. It's time for you to find something else to do."
Two decades ago, I thought my dreams of a vocation had sputtered and died. I had been writing mediocre stories, I was unable to finish drafts, I was receiving rejection after rejection (with good reason; the stories weren't worth publishing), I had no writing friends or mentors. . . . The fact that I also had a wailing colicky infant didn't seem to be any part of the issue. I'd already been writing bad, unfinished, unpublishable stories before he was born. It wasn't his fault that I was hopeless.
I had intentions about that walk into the woods. My deliberate face-the-facts announcement to myself was meant to be a step toward honesty; I would shed my illusions so that I could move on into a prosaic adulthood. But it was a horrible moment. I remember so distinctly the sensation that I'd emptied myself, like a glass; poured the dregs of myself into the leaf litter below my feet.
This morning, two decades later, I look back at that moment and see that I was trying to do something brave. And perhaps that ritual emptying was truly what I needed. Perhaps, by shedding one illusion, I made space for the unknown to enter my life . . . the unknown that turned out to be poetry. I was telling myself to live in the present: to change these diapers, to wash these plates, to milk these goats. They were the stuff of my days, and they were also my poetry, but I didn't know that yet.
I received an email yesterday, in which my correspondent, whom I don't know personally, cited various reasons for why I might be interested in a particular job: "your experience, savvy, ideas, ambition, strong sense of purpose, and just the right degree of gravitas, not to mention sense of humor, that this work requires."
Gravitas! Savvy! The words make me laugh. I am the person who falls over chairs.
Yet I can't stop thinking of my 29-year-old self, sitting on a log in the woods, murdering her daydreams. Someone needs to put their arms around that girl, and let her cry.
P.S. More comments are appearing on the Rilke entries. If you're following along with that project, you might want to continue the conversation.