A Little Scary in Some Parts

At 7:00 A.M., I was surprised to see my boss already at work. Instead of our usual chitchat, he said, "Come in, please," and closed his office door. I had sensed it coming, even mentioned it to friends. "You? Ridiculous!" they all said. Still, I couldn't shake the uneasy feeling that, for weeks now, every morning my desk seemed a few inches closer to the exit.

By 7:20 my boss and I were standing awkwardly in the parking lot, lifting cartons into my car: all of my framed photos, potted English ivy, my extra pair of winter boots, and a pencil holder my son made in third grade.

I have had two writing lives: delicious bookends on either side of a grinding stint in corporate America. I began my second writing life that morning when I was unceremoniously dumped by a publishing company. How's that for ironic?

My first writing life began no less tumultuously -- by giving birth. Before my son could sleep through the night, I was keeping a notebook filled with poignant anecdotes and sage advice. Write what you know? Sure! Write what you love? Yes!

By the time my first writing life ended with a divorce, I had a hefty clip portfolio, which I thought would help me find a "real" job. At my interview with a textbook publisher, the CEO gently pushed it aside, as if to say, "That's very sweet, but we don't care about that stuff in our business."

I got the job anyway and made more money in my first month than I had in a year of writing that stuff. I bought suits. I traveled to meetings. I met deadlines. I wrote every day (and lots of weekends) as part of my job, but I missed the joyful writing I had come to love.

As soon as I drove out of the parking lot that morning -- unemployed -- I began to flesh out my second writing life. It had three guiding principles: Simplify my existence, write with passion, and never work under fluorescent lighting again if I could help it. For me, simplifying meant a smaller house and a little less of everything else. Writing with passion sounded wonderful, but I still needed a day job. I chose wisely -- one that allowed me to move physically and gave me chances to observe the world. And I kept my promise about fluorescent lighting. Now I get up hours earlier than I used to. I write until dawn comes, then revise for another hour. As I go about my day, I look for moments that can translate onto a page, as soon as I find the right words. Turns out they're everywhere.

Today was a pristine park afternoon. Half listening to the refrain of kids on the playground, I was jotting down little wisps of ideas. A boy, about ten, sat down next to me. I could see his dad off to the side, watching expectantly. The boy held out a stack of copy paper that had been mercilessly stapled down one side. The cover read ROBOTS in block lettering, with an ambitious illustration and a blue-flowered border.

The boy said, "Hi. I'm a writer. I have this book for sale if you'd be interested." I was, and for $1 it was all mine. "It might be a little scary in some parts," he warned. I began leafing through his work, complimenting him on his choice of adjectives and his drawing skill.

"Is it hard to be a writer?" I asked.

"Not at all," he smiled and took off for the swings.