Tomorrow marks the beginning of a new year. This year, more than most, I’m looking forward to a fresh start. If you’ve stopped by looking for the cyber equivalent of fireworks and champagne, or maybe a cyber touch of rainbows and unicorns, you won’t find them here. Not today. Not this year.
2014 was bookmarked with the death of two friends I’d cherished for decades. One died at the start of 2014 and another one just a few weeks ago. Their departure has left me in a contemplative state of mind. It’s weird when friends take the celestial highway ahead of us. There’s disbelief and shock. There’s grief. There’s also the sense of one’s own mortality spinning ever closer. For me, there’s also thankfulness that I was lucky enough to know them. Bob and Larry both gave me a boot in the butt when I most needed it. They were change agents on my writer’s path.
I met Bob before I’d written anything other than news copy. He was music director at the radio station; I was news director. He had a wicked sense of humor, and wisdom beyond his years. When things started going south for me and I knew it was time to quit, I told him what I wanted more than anything was to write.
“Why aren’t you?” he asked.
“What if I don’t get published?” I said.
“So what? Do it anyway,” he said.
“I don’t know what to write about.”
“You’ll figure it out,” he said. “Fiddle around. Have some fun.”
I quit the station, spent a few months fiddling around, and then we moved – very suddenly – to Winnipeg. I met Larry, and his wife, Lois. We connected through a non-denominational spiritual group, and we met every week to talk about . . . well . . . stuff. The big stuff. The small stuff. How we could be better at all of ‘our stuff.’ By then, I was working in television which fed me rich ego cookies but didn’t satisfy my soul. Since we talked about soul type stuff, I again mentioned my desire to write. This time, I mentioned a specific story – a time travel romance that was so quirky and out there, I wasn’t sure how I’d sell it.
“So,” Larry said. “What does selling have to do with it?”
“I’d like people to read it,” I said.
“Maybe only five people will read it,” he replied. “Or maybe 500,000 people will. Why should that matter anyway? What should matter is the joy you have doing it.”
We moved back to the coast. I started that book and I finished it. But I did nothing with it. I started other books, and finished them too. Some were published. One was launched in Winnipeg, and I flew back for the event. Lois and Larry came. They asked about my time travel. “It’s written,” I said. “But I haven’t done anything with it yet.”
“You will,” he said. “When you’re ready.”
Whenever I saw Bob, he’d ask about the writing too. He was happy for me that I’d taken the leap and followed my heart. In the last few years, we talked about the changes in the industry and how they were impacting authors. As a friend, he was supportive. As a musician, he could relate. But at the end of the day, for Bob it was about making the music, not worrying about distribution or sell through, reviews or awards.
Larry was a musician too. Like Bob, he was dedicated to practising his craft, and he loved to perform. Though they never met, both Larry and Bob were all about enjoying the process, about having fun in the moment. Neither of them lived in a bubble; they understood my writer’s need to make a living. They acknowledged that love doesn’t pay the bills. That some attention had to be paid to the business side of art. But too much attention to that goal detracted from what they believed should be my most important goal of all: telling my story the best way I could and letting go of the results. They weren’t writers – or editors or agents or publishers – yet they taught me an essential publishing truth: the story should always come first. Anything else could be worked out later.
There’s a saying that’s popular these days about someone being the kind of friend you can call up in the middle of the night and they will come and help you hide the body. That, it’s suggested, is a true friend.
Maybe. Or maybe not.
Larry and Bob were true friends, but there’s no damn way they’d help me hide a body. They’d come in the middle of the night – of that I have no doubt – but after one glimpse of that body, they’d pick up the phone and call the cops. Then they’d stand beside me no matter how bad things got and no matter what I’d done. And they’ve love me in spite of it. They’d do it in the same way they called me out on my fears about writing all those years ago without making me feel small for having them.
Their belief in the people they cared about was genuine and absolute. They saw your best self. Even if your bad self was rocking the dance floor.
In the next week or so, I’ll be heading to Bob’s funeral. It’s a reminder for me to live life while I can. To enjoy my writing process, to have fun in the moment and to let go of the results.
Whether you’re a writer or a reader, or whether you stumbled over this blog by mistake, I hope 2015 is rich with all the things that count: time with whatever work brings you pleasure, time with family who love you unconditionally, and time with friends who can propel you down whatever path you choose with the occasional loving kick in the butt.
It helps if they take calls in the middle of the night. And if they can watch your bad self rocking the dance floor once in a while too. Trust me on that.