Coming Together, Again

“Coming back together, again, for the first time.”
– Melissa Salmons (Teleplay Writer, The Irresistible Blueberry Farm)

blueberry

The Irresistible Blueberry Farm is not the type of film I gravitate toward. It aired on the Hallmark Channel and that is just not my scene. But, I was sick that day… curled up in a quilt on my couch and channel surfing with zombie-like enthusiasm. The movie had just started as I flipped past, catching a fleeting glance of actress Alison Sweeney. I flipped back.

I like Alison. I started watching Days of Our Lives while at university, out of curiosity, because 3 or 4 times a week I would get stopped around town while strangers exclaimed how much I “looked just like Sami on Days of Our Lives.” I have been a fan ever since.

Alison or not, I couldn’t find something else I wanted to watch. I wasn’t in the mood for anything I recorded earlier in the week and perhaps, at that moment, I was feeling too poorly or complacent to even check Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon.

In the story, Ellen has everything she’s ever wanted. She has a loving family. She’s a successful attorney in New York City. She’s in a fulfilling relationship with a handsome man from an upper-crust family who is running for political office. She’s had no false starts. Ellen’s grandmother passes away and her final wish is for Ellen to deliver a letter to a gentleman in Maine, an old suitor from childhood. Of course, nothing goes as planned. Ellen falls through an ocean dock and is rescued by a good-looking stranger (This is Hallmark, after all.), learns some surprises about her grandmother, and is forced to face that maybe there really was a false start in there somewhere.

My choice certainly wasn’t a masterpiece. It also wasn’t a waste; so much so that I bought the Kindle version of the book, The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café by Mary Simses (not my normal reading material) – only to discover, despite similar sentiment and a rather faithful retelling, the teleplay one-upped the novel by anchoring the story in a crossword clue with a hidden meaning:

“7 Letter Word: Coming back together, again, for the first time.”
And… no, the answer is not “reunion.”

The moral of Ellen’s story is that it is possible to be content in life, happy even, and still be living in someone else’s skin. It’s the classic “be true to yourself” trope. As a book lover and someone who majored in English Literature, I’ve encountered it over and over again. But this time it stuck with me.

Reverberations.

I have reached a point in life where I need to begin planning where I go and what I do next. You see, I never planned to be a mom. I certainly didn’t dream of being a single mom, but I live each moment of my life for my boys. My own plans were derailed by an unplanned pregnancy at age twenty and, while there has been a large amount of pain and struggle in my adulthood, I am now content – happy even. Just like Ellen.

For the last 22 years, I have done everything for my boys. The driving force behind all my decisions was how to best support them. Every move. Every job. Finally earning a college degree at 39. But, my boys are no longer boys. They are young men who will be 22 and 17 this year. The empty nest is imminent and I spend a lot of time looking at myself in the metaphorical mirror and asking, “Who are you?”

I have been living in someone else’s skin for so long. I suspect who I am is an odd mishmash of the carefree white African tomboy and the woman forced into hyper-responsibility long before she was ready. I don’t have the answer – yet, but I have faith that I’ll figure it out.

I will always have my boys, but this is my moment and I’m coming back to myself, again, for the first time.

The Twenty-Year Wait

“… I had an idea for a book and I knew it was a real one.

I tried writing it, and realized that it was a better idea than I was a writer. So I kept writing, but I wrote other things, learning my craft. I wrote for twenty years until I thought that I could write The Graveyard Book—or at least, that I was getting no better…

I wrote it as best I could. That’s the only way I know how to write something. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be any good. It just means you try. And, most of all, I wrote the story that I wanted to read.”

Neil Gaiman, 2009 Newbery Medal Speech

GraveyardBook

The Graveyard Book was the first Neil Gaiman novel I pre-ordered. As soon as it arrived, I read it aloud to my two sons. They were 13 and 8 at the time. I was 34. We regularly read together as a family, but the tale of Bod and his friends in the cemetery captured our attention like no other before it. We laughed. We waited in suspense. We cried. We skipped bedtime in order to finish because we couldn’t bear going through another full day without knowing the ending. To this day, it is one of my favorite books.

At the age of 25, Neil Gaiman knew—absolutely knew—he had a splendid idea for a novel. He chose not to write it because he determined the idea was stronger than his writing.

I have always surmised that Gaiman is the unpretentious, down-to-earth sort. He seems genuinely grateful that he gets to tell tales for a living, but it takes a special sort of person to admit to himself that his talent does not yet muster up to his idea. What would have happened if he had pursued his idea for The Graveyard Book twenty years ago? Would it have been a success? Perhaps. But, it certainly would not be the same as it is today.

Reverberations.

Everything Gaiman learned while penning novels and comics and essays and poetry and non-fiction went into The Graveyard Book. He poured the knowledge and experience of a generation into 312 perfect pages. It was a decision that earned him awards and accolades. It was a decision that gave us, the readers, a better book.

I feel it is safe to say that most of us, as humans, have blindly barreled into something we feel is our destiny to do without pausing to think if it is the right time. “If I don’t do this right now,” we think, “someone will come along and do it before me. I will miss my chance.” This is especially true in the arts. Someone else will compose this hit song. Paint this landscape. Make this movie. Write this bestseller. Someone will do it. I must get there first.

Competitive machinations are creative kryptonite.

You simply cannot challenge the unknown entity that is “someone.” If Gaiman has taught us anything through this revelation, it is this: Create for others, on the timeline of the establishment, and the generic will likely follow. Make art for yourself, when the moment is right, and — sometimes — masterpieces happen.

 

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