Woulda Coulda Shoulda

I once said to a priest, to whom I went for career advice, “You know how people write down ideas all the time for things to write and do?”  And I was met with a blank, but kindly, stare.  Before he said, “No.  Not everyone does that.  That’s a clue to YOUR calling.”

Well I’m buried under the scraps of paper, grocery receipts, margin notes, scrawlings on my own skin, post-its, notebooks with illegible scribblings (done at traffic lights).  And when the pile is growing and the ideas are only forming and not getting expression, I am becoming buried psychically too.

I tell my nearest and dearest, if you don’t see me writing (or see proof thereof), steer clear.  I’m safer to be with when my head isn’t exploding with ideas, images, unexpressed words.  Not that anyone wants to or needs to hear all my words. That’s what writing (and tucking much of the product away) is for.

But while I postpone, let life intervene, delay, wait, get distracted, other people are writing my books.  And I am bugged by that.

Take, for example, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.  I have talked about that topic (the relationship between white children, their mothers, and the black maids who served in their homes in the South) for 15 years.  I wrote my Masters’ thesis on the topic.  I interviewed, researched, cried, wrote, challenged myself and my culture, excused myself and my culture… and turned in that thesis, duly graduating and going on to the next thing in life… but always wanting to turn my lengthy academic tome into something creative, winsome, right.

So when I went to a reunion of college friends recently, and the subject of that book came up, and they good-naturedly teased me, saying, “Did you ghostwrite that book?  It had to have been you,” I was pulled in several emotional directions, with a headache-inducing “woulda, coulda, shoulda” angst.  I should have.  I couldn’t have (don’t lean towards fiction gifts).  Stockett did it beautifully, and I should just be thrilled that someone did it.  But I wasn’t.  I was jealous.  Mad. Frustrated at myself.  Flattered that my friends knew my passion for the subject, that they thought (if only remotely) that I could have written such a great book.  In short, riddled with regret and disappointment.

We can’t write every story.  But we can write the ones we’ve lived.  The ones that are bubbling up so vigorously and completely that we choke on them.

And chances are that even in the muddle and piles of paper with ideas on them, the ones that have to be written will rise to the top and scream out for attention.

May I be paying attention on that day and not focused on the lesser stories, or those that aren’t mine.

~ by Cary on November 13, 2009.

2 Responses to “Woulda Coulda Shoulda”

  1. I feel very much in reading this as though we are kindred spirits, and you are a wonderful writer and I miss you, Cary! Hope you have experienced some little glimpses of restoration this fall in the midst of changing seasons, life changes, etc. 🙂

  2. […] wrote about this book several weeks ago (https://holyvernacular.wordpress.com/2009/11/13/woulda-coulda-shoulda/ )… and the best compliment I can give it is that I’m disappointed that I didn’t […]

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