“Everything else about the three-years-ago scene was different, though. That time I was not in Rome but in the upstairs bathroom of the big house in the suburbs of New York that I’d recently purchased with my husband. It was a cold November, around 3 o’clock in the morning. My husband was sleeping in our bed. I was hiding in the bathroom for something like the 47th consecutive night, and, just as during all those nights before, I was sobbing. Sobbing so hard, in fact, that a great lake of tears and snot was spreading before me on the bathroom tiles, a veritable Lake Inferior (if you will) of all my shame and fear and confusion and grief.”
This is an excerpt from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.
I didn’t want to read Eat, Pray, Love. It was the hot new book at the time, and the book club I was part of was all too ready to jump on the bandwagon. It was already in the air about how this book touched people, or inspired them to be better people, or inspired them to change everything about how they lived life.
I had no need for this in my life, I was happy. I wasn’t searching. My marriage was in better standing than most, my kid was adorable, and every day I did the thing that I’ve always wanted to do. I rolled my eyes at the idea of going off on this soul-searching adventure. What the hell was Elizabeth Gilbert going to teach me?
And then I read the above quote. Here was this woman with this perfectly good life, and she was sitting on the bathroom floor, sobbing over how stuck she felt. I remember a small smile escaped my lips because I too tend to take refuge on the bathroom floor at 3am and let the whole world crumble. It was interesting to me that something that I do, which I labeled as being weird and weak, was so human that I found it in a book. That this woman, who is heralded so relatable by the masses, just made me relatable too.
She also admitted a flaw that she had, which I happen to share. And through the way she believed this flaw was viewed by other people, I realized exactly how the world saw me. From that moment on, I made it a point to never do that again. In one sentence of a book I had no desire to read, how I interact with everyone around me changed forever.
Since then, I’ve made it a point to never dismiss the idea of learning something new. And since then, picking up those soul-searching, life-changing, better-habit-making books isn’t something I roll my eyes at anymore. You never know where the next gem is hidden.
Right now, I’m in the middle of a class hosted by Judy Blume. Of course, as you know, she’s a children’s book author. Possibly THE children’s book author. But the class came across my desk and I didn’t turn the idea away.
I figured, if within 29 classes, I couldn’t come up with one thing I learned from Judy Blume that I could apply to my own writing, then maybe I should rethink my career.
I’ve never met her, and know nothing beyond the fact that her fiction books are the stepping-stones to the basic soul-searching, life-changing, better-habit-making books of the Elisabeth Gilberts of the world. The children, tweens and teens she brings to life are as human and as real as you and me, and so are their problems.
About a quarter of the way into the class, Judy started talking about the craft of writing and how she goes about keeping her notes and getting her ideas.
Now this is Judy Blume. THE Judy Blume.
I thought she would share this brilliant masterpiece of work she called plotting. I thought she would talk about the importance of creating deep and layered characters.
But, what she shared was so adorably human: her scribbly notebook. I wasn’t expecting the great and amazing Judy Blume to say something so human as to she writes everything down, lets it sit and be a mess for a while, and then makes something out of it. She brought me to that place where I thought that I was weird and weak (in this case, unorganized and unprofessional) and made me understand that a scattered mind is perfectly good place for a writer to be. That I don’t have to have an overly complicated system in place to be successful. That I don’t have to close off the world and only rely on my own imagination for inspiration.
I took my hot mess to this class, hoping that Judy Blume would show me a way to perfect and organize and utilize. In turn, Judy Blume taught me how to own my hot mess and make something out of it.
She made the craft of writing relatable.
And like with Eat, Pray, Love I know that how I handle the craft of writing from this point on will be forever changed.
Ten years ago, if you were to tell me that I’d always some kind of soul-searching, life-changing, better-habit making book in my hand I would have laughed at you.
What was there to learn?
Except for the extraordinary art of being human.
These are the moments I understand down to my toes why at 87, Michelangelo said,
“I am still learning.”