I have over 100 unfinished posts in my drafts file. They are in various states of completion, some no more than a title or a few lines, others much longer, but lacking something. I have a reminder hanging up that reads “What is the story you want to tell?” I ask myself that question so often you might think I’d get closer to finding the answer, but there isn’t one answer, there are thousands. Each time I sit down to write I am searching for an answer; the story that I need to tell today.
It’s been a while since I woke at 4:00 a.m. with my mind too busy to allow me to fall back to sleep. This morning words and ideas are swirling through my head, none enough to form a clear story worth telling. I keep notebooks all over the house, in my bags and even in my car so I can jot down ideas when they occur to me—if I don’t write them down immediately they evaporate as quickly as the dreams I try to hold onto as I wake. I might be able to grab an image or a feeling, but they become too wispy to catch, too vague to articulate.
All the words that wake me, bombard me and keep me awake are useless. They don’t bring me clarity. I have secrets and stories I can’t or won’t share and sometimes it’s those stories that are so insistent I can’t form another one. Those are the days I struggle most, and the mornings I wake before dawn. I am unfinished and I wait for my own story to find its way to me. I look for it in books, in my own writing, in my own face, and in the faces I see looking back at me. I look for it inside, but just as often find it outside.
A while ago I happened upon Elizabeth Gilbert talking about passion, and the trap set by the passionate. First, she talked about people who find a passion, early and spend a life dedicated to that. Then she spoke the others who take a winding road to get where they are going. The hummingbirds she called us. Those who go from interest to interest, following all sorts of paths fueled by curiosity and willing to move on, sometimes because we’ve been shoved, other times of our own volition.
I am such an individual, taking a circuitous route to my present life, and not done with my journey. When the movie Eat, Pray Love came out, like the many Gilbert devotees I saw the movie with a friend. We were both captivated by the scene that takes place in Rome when Elizabeth and a group of friends from the Eat portion of the film/book are discussing defining words. Starting with cities, but working their way to their own personal words.
My friend told me she thought my word was joy, and though I was pleased and flattered to be seen that way, the word I felt was a better one is search. I have spent a lifetime searching for all kinds of things from balance and sanity to financial security and love. I think of myself as someone always looking for a better way, the right fit, answer, story or job. Ms. Gilbert may see me as a hummingbird, but I see myself and my life as a rich mosaic that is forming a pattern I am only beginning to make out.
Some days I feel certain and confident, others I look around and wonder how did I get here, and where the hell am I headed. On the good days, I look back and think I have accomplished, learned and grown a lot. Other days I feel stuck and scared and unsure how to take another step, or if I do in what direction. I look around and everyone else seems immune from my strain of neurosis, they are moving forward in a sensible and linear fashion while I wonder where I left my map.
We are nearing then end of February, and it’s always right around now that I start contemplating my upcoming birthday in March. Each successive year reaching my birthday feels like a bigger accomplishment, and as long as I’m here, I remain unfinished. If I view death as the finish line, then I should embrace all my unfinished business as a way to forestall the inevitable. It may be time to cull through all those drafts to delete the stories I’ll never complete and finsh the ones worth telling. Until then the stories and I remain unfinished.