I sunk into the soft blue cushions on Toni’s sofa, my left leg crossed under me and my right stretched out toward the shag carpet. Her brown eyes held a bit of sparkle, that hint of a smile that reached down to the edges of her lips. “If you could do anything, what would you do?”
The question, even though I knew it was coming, still caught me off guard. I’d asked her what she’d do, and her reply had been simple: “What I’m doing. I love my job.” She works as a trainer at the credit union, and helps people better understand how to use their financial assets. She also trains much of the staff who creates and manages customer accounts as well as informing them about how it all worked. For her, it was a fulfilling job, where she felt like her work and play had merged into one. I, on the other hand, had yet to find that perfect balance, where work and play become one, where one’s desire and dreams have finally been realized. Her question invoked a sense of sadness that I had yet to achieve such a clarity between those two worlds.
“Would it be research? Or something with space?”
I thought about that addition to her question. As a young child, I wanted to be an astronaut. How I checked out numerous tomes about astronomy and space from the library. I read through text that was often too complex for me to fully understand, and I traced my fingers over images of stars, nebulae, supernovas, and planets. When asked as a young child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d respond, “The first person on Mars!” Except, that wasn’t all I wanted as a child. I’d nearly always laugh and add, “And I’d be the first to write a novel in space!” I just assumed that even on such an epic journey, I’d still write.
So although, my first impulse was to say yes, it would be with space, I paused and remembered how much I’ve written over the years. “Writing.” I said finally. “Writing and traveling. Staying in places for a few months, and then moving on.”
Toni’s eyebrows raised. She hadn’t expected that answer. “What would you write? Fiction?”
“Both fiction and non-fiction.” I could never stop writing about the world I’d created — Elivera. There was still a treasure trove of stories waiting to be unleashed from that universe, but at the same time, I couldn’t travel and not write about what I saw. I’d done that from a young age, writing about what I saw no matter where I went. I always had a journal with me, and often I ended up awkwardly carrying it into places where I never did pick up my pen to write. Friends would ask why I brought it, and my reply would always be, “You never know when inspiration will strike.” I like to be prepared.
“Would you combine them?”
“Not really. I would write fiction, but I’d also have a travel journal. Detailing what I saw, the people I met, their stories, and even sometimes dialogue. I used to do that all the time, still do to some extent. Starting writing when I was very young. I think my oldest journal is from when I was seven.” I still have all those journals in a large green tub with two back wheels. The lid no longer secures tightly anymore, so I tape it down if I have to move it to avoid a flood of journals cascading down the stairs of my apartment building. At the moment, the tub sits in my living room as a TV stand.
Toni reached over and grasped my arm briefly, her hands warm to the touch. So I told her about my journals. About how I wrote, how I detailed the world around me. How I’d even write after a big climb to the top of a mountain or a tree or a bluff. There at the peak, I’d unleash the torrent of thoughts about my surroundings onto those pieces of paper, and when the cascade had ended and my mind had emptied, I would look up at the vista and let the wind pour through me, cleansing my soul and invigorating the entirety of my body and mind. Those high spaces provided a counterpoint to the drudgery of everyday life, and although I don’t often have access to climbing opportunities, I still find ways to experience that splendor, even in the low valleys and amongst the forests and crops of the plains. There, on a rock or a fallen tree, I’d sit, write, and release myself into those journals. I’d let nature sweep through me and replenish my spiritual and emotional energy.
“You know, something?” I paused to look around her living room. Her house was a small house, but comfy with the warm color tones of her pictures of nature – trees especially, some more abstract and some realistic. On the right wall near her door, we had hung a chalkboard we’d made ourselves, and on it she’d written: ‘Hello… my name is Toni.’ I’d drawn the mountains at the top of the chalkboard and the grass at the bottom as well as stems and leaves to the daises she’d drawn to either side of her name. She had helped color in parts of the mountains, while I colored the sky a light blue. A symbol of her love of nature. Our project we’d finally finished together just last Sunday.
“Know what?” Her higher alto voice held a slight tremor to it, and she leaned forward a bit. In her right hand, she clutched her wine glass tightly, her knuckles a tinge of pink and white.
“When I don’t write, it’s a sign something is wrong.” I met her gaze, my blue eyes and her brown eyes. The faint freckles on her nose and cheeks seemed more pronounced in the light of her lamp, the sun having set an hour before. Her long, curly hair hung in ringlets down her front and back, and her left hand twirled the auburn strands, a habit she’d done nearly all her life. I laid my hand against her lower leg, which rested over my right knee. “And I haven’t written as much last month.”
“A sign of something wrong.” Toni repeated the words, and the smile in her eyes faded, the crinkles at the edge of her mouth deepened, and her tone held a touch of sadness that tilted her pitch lower. “You were afraid to face something?”
“Yes. But I’ve started to write again this month.” It struck me then that Toni had hit the problem on its head. When I don’t write, it’s because I am afraid to face a truth.
That conversation with Toni, last night, served as a vivid reminder that I must continue to write no matter the situation, no matter the roadblock, no matter the hardship. I must face the truth and write through it. I must let the winds of time sweep through me, cleansing me and rejuvenating me, even at the most painful moments of my life. I cannot deter from this path, but I must write my way through it until the day comes when the end is before me. Then, and only then, may I place my pen atop my journal and embrace what is to come.