Just Breathe

If you're a writer you may have noticed that it feels good when you receive an acceptance letter and it feels bad when you receive a rejection letter. You may also have noticed that it feels good when you read a positive review of a book you wrote and it feels bad when you read a negative review of a book you wrote. This experience might also repeat itself when you check your Amazon ranking or if you do or do not see your name on the New York Times bestseller list.

But if you're a writer you may also have noticed that when you close the door to your workroom, and you sit in your favorite work chair, and you slowly forget about your day and all the people you have to please or instruct and you gradually remember the story you want to tell, that you slip into an alternate reality. It is not only the reality of the story you are dreaming in your imagination, it is also a reality in which there is no good and bad, there is only that which belongs in your story and that which does not.

It's a very pleasant reality if you can stay in it for a couple of hours. Gone is the question of who is better, gone is the question of whether you are good enough or smart enough or talented enough, gone is the question of what the future holds or what that person thought of you. Instead there is only one question: What interests me most? It is an effortless question to ask because the answer is as close as your own curiosity. All those other questions are torture by comparison, the answers as unknowable as next year.

Then you leave the reality and you are back in the world of acceptance and rejection and book reviews and bestseller lists. I have lived in these two realities my whole life. For many years I accepted the contrasting realities as I accepted that ice felt cold and fire felt hot. It was not a comfortable division, as most of my time was spent in the world of good news and bad news, but what could I do? That's life, as they say.

Fortunately, time is a patient and consistent teacher. After many years I had to admit to myself that I loved the stories I was telling. That's why I was telling them. I did not love those stories because someone else loved them anymore than I loved a song I heard because someone else loved it or I loved my wife because someone else loved her. I loved what I loved because I loved it, whether it was a person or a song or a story I was telling. It was the only natural and effortless relationship to love.

It was, in fact, as natural as breathing. But when I finished a story, I had a habit of holding my breath until I learned what other people thought of it. It wasn't natural or effortless, but I could still do it. When someone told me they liked the story, I exhaled, and I felt better. When someone told me they didn't like my story, I held my breath a little tighter, and I felt worse. It was as predictable as the heat of fire and the cold of ice.

But if I want to live, I have to breathe. No one can give me my breath nor take it away. It remains mine to hold or release. I cannot give it any more than I could give my heart to another; I can only share what I find when I ask my heart what interests it most.

You can learn more about William at williamkenower.com.