It’s one of those days.
When I taught a Junior Achievement class called “Real Jobs, Real World,” I used to ask my high school students to imagine they had the job of their dreams. It supported the lifestyle of their dreams. They loved every minute. (I cheated a little – I emphasized the part about “of your dreams” with a video of stunt cyclist Danny MacAskill practicing his moves, riding his bicycle off a wall and up a tree, among other things.)
Then I asked them if they thought, when they had that job, that there ever would be days they just did not think they could go to work. I asked them if they thought MacAskill ever felt that way. Always, the answer was, “No.”
This was the unit on motivation. It was the reality check, the “think it through” class. I wanted them to choose carefully, because I know about those days. No matter how much you love what you do, sometimes it just doesn’t come together. Those times, you need a reason to get up and do it anyway.
I love to write. I love to tell stories, to surprise, to make my audience laugh or weep – maybe even get mad. I want them to feel more than they did before. In the best cases, I may be able to shed a little bit different light on a subject, get one person to see something just a little differently. But some days, the latest twist of the new short story drives me crazy, or the layout of the Wire won’t work. Some days, I have no earthly idea what to say in this note, and I fear it will be pure drivel. Some days I question my ability, and some days, I just flat don’t want to do it. But I do. Even if it’s drivel, I write something.
This morning, I heard the news on NPR of the death of Marie Colvin in Syria. Ms. Colvin was a journalist – a woman who wrote. She spent much of her adult life on the front lines of war, recording what was happening, particularly to the civilians caught in the crossfire. She was, as are all war correspondents, well aware that her job could cost her life, but she kept doing it. She lost an eye to shrapnel in Sri Lanka in 2001; she put on an eye patch and went back to work. There were stories she was put on this earth to tell, and no one else could tell them the way she would.
This morning, NPR anchor Steve Inskeep asked one of Ms. Colvin’s colleagues, London journalist James Hider, why she kept going back. Before the poor man could answer, I was shouting at my radio (it’s a bad habit, I know), “Because she was a writer!”
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure there are no Marie Colvins in my house. I haven’t yet run across a story I’m willing to die for. If ever I do, you’ll be the first to know.
But I get it. If you’re a writer, you just do it. Even on the days when you’re pretty sure you can’t, you do.
I think we’re special, we women who write. We tell stories our own way – stories no one else can tell. We bear witness to the little details of the heart as well as the sweeping horrors of war. Even the best of us – like Marie Colvin – probably wake up some days thinking, “It just is not worth it. I can’t do it today.” And then – if it’s our dream job, if it’s what we believe we were put here by the Universe to do – we knuckle down and tell our stories anyway.
Days like today, I feel very small. Marie Colvin exposed the tragedy and the lies of war up to – even on – the day she died. The best I’ll ever do is maybe get someone to stop and think twice about a dearly held preconceived notion.
But I also feel honored. Marie Colvin was a woman who wrote. I belong to that universe, too. My stories are smaller, less earth shaking (an understatement if ever there was one), but they are from the heart. And my stories, for the most part, are short fiction – but they bear witness to the truth as I know it.
This is one of those days I’ll remember when I have one of those other days, when I wake up and think, “Not today.” I’ll think it, sure – and then I’ll put on my shoes, make my cup of chai, and go do my job, telling stories. Being a woman who writes.