Last night, I dreamed that I had returned to the small company where I did technical editing for three years, under the supervision of two autocratic co-owners. In the dream, one of the owners called me into his office to let me know that he had surveyed my output for the past couple of months, and by his counting I had edited all of about three pages of material. Of course, I was mortified and apologetic. For context, in real life I did very well at that company. I moved from temporary worker to permanent staff within a few months, and by the time I left I had become a fill-in supervisor, helping to train new editors, and was being groomed to replace my immediate supervisor–the head of editing and production–whenever she decided to leave or retire. I left on good terms, for reasons of my own, and was told they would be happy to have me back.
But last night’s dream illustrates an unease that has plagued my whole working life. I feel it whenever I consider devoting more time to writing, which means daily. Part of me cares very much about whether I’m seen by others as productive; I want that conventional acceptance and recognition. But another part of me knows that however much recognition I receive, satisfaction will always elude me if I fail to do what I believe myself created to do: write. Write fiction, essays, poetry, plays, whatever and wherever my artistic impulses and craft lead me. I have long lived in the electric current pulling me toward each of these two poles. Even when I manage to spend time writing, the demand of productivity and success, of justifying my artistic desire by making money at it, has sometimes stultified my effort.
Here near the end of my fifty-first year, moving inexorably toward the end of my life, the question takes on more urgency. Make no mistake: I’m in good health and have every reason to believe that I have decades more of time. But I know that this time will inevitably run out some day. And I have to ask myself, as we all must ask ourselves someday, when will I choose for the rest of my life the life that I desire? And what will it feel like at the end if I don’t?