Almost five years ago, I was trying to decide if I should post A Gift of Ghosts to Amazon. I never really considered doing anything else with it: it was post to Amazon or let go, not start hunting for agents or rewriting or anything like that. I was well aware of the many things wrong with it, from an opening where she looks in a mirror to its lack of a real plot. But I liked it. I thought of it as not so much a novel as a puzzle box, something you keep opening (reading) to find out what’s farther in. My dad called it an “entertaining onion,” which I love as a description. And I’d let a few other people read it and they’d mostly liked it, too.
When I finally did decide to post it, I’d come up with a five-year plan: I’d write a million words, aiming for ten novels, and if I was earning $1000 per month at the end of the five years, I’d consider whether I wanted to take writing seriously. I also planned to finish graduate school, get my master’s degree in counseling, and find a job for my internship hours. Right about now, I ought to be about ready to open up my private practice, being duly licensed and all that.
Life is weird.
That five-year plan was my very first five-year plan. I’m not someone who started college with an idea of what I wanted to be doing and my career–which worked out really well for me, actually–never came with associated goals. I didn’t flounder, but I always knew what I was doing made sense for the day I was in. Even when I hated my job, and there were times when I did, I was very clear with myself about why I was doing it. But it was never with an idea of where I wanted to be in five years or what my goals were. My goals were to do good work, be a good mom, and end the month within budget so I could take my kid out for Chinese food or maybe sushi now and then.
So here I am, having completely failed to accomplish my five-year plan. No million words, nowhere close. No ten novels. No degree. No license.
On the other hand, wow. The past five years have brought me so much. Some amazing friends — it’s hard to believe I hadn’t even met some of the people who make my life so much richer now. Some intensive self-discovery and growth. Some radical changes in diet and health — I couldn’t have imagined, ever, how much better I would be feeling physically. That it was even possible to feel so much better physically! If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t tell myself to write more and faster, but to get rid of gluten sooner. And, of course, adventures and travel and a stray dog and… joy. Lots of joy.
I sort of want to create a new five-year plan, not so much because I think I’ll accomplish it, but because this moment of looking back, of reflecting on what I aspired to and what I accomplished, is maybe what five-year plans should really be all about. I didn’t achieve what I hoped to achieve. In that sense, my five-year plan is obviously a big fail. But I am so filled with gratitude for what I found instead. My past five years were hard and painful and frustrating and challenging and so, so, so rewarding. For my next five… well, I’d really like to skip some of the pain. Maybe a lot of the pain, in fact. But for the rest… I guess I’ll be thinking about that.
But first, it’s back to Grace!