Posted on May 16, 2013
I wonder which came first: the fairy tale or the human yearning for happily ever after? As a child, I remember being perplexed when the stories of love averted ended right at the first kiss. How did those people manage to get along after they sorted out all of the rags-to-riches, unfit shoes, unconscious-in-a-forest-of-dwarves and the other dramas that made the elusive prince so compelling and seemingly all-powerful?
Ron Koertge’s Cinderella’s Diary offers an amusing glimpse into what “ever after” might actually be like once the glass slipper settles and the party guests go home.
I remember in my early years worshipping the poets and writers I loved to such an extreme that they seemed more mythological than human. Publishing a book in this paradigm was more like a magic spell through which the girl scrubbing cat vomit out of the carpet somehow becomes the kind of person worthy of — what? Love? Existence? It seemed that somehow the approval of others (via my name on the spine of a book) would make me a different, better kind of person.
I was wrong.
As it turns out, I was the same old me once I’d written my first book — just a far more exhausted and terrified version of me. (An introvert who’d always written purely for my own satisfaction, suddenly, I had to face the fear of people actually reading what I’d written and having opinions about my work that were entirely out of my hands.)
The report from the post-publication trenches seems to be universal: Having completed the herculean task of writing a book, there is generally the post-partum emptiness of no-longer-writing followed by the rest-of-your-life commitment to marketing the book. There’s more cat vomit to be scrubbed, bills to be paid, and so on. Spoiler alert: Happily Ever After as we may have imagined it never arrives.
So, what’s the point of all this writing and publishing if it doesn’t get us to the right ball and chosen by the perfect prince?
As I see it, the real sweet spot in the writing life is Happily Ever During. What makes the writing life worthwhile is the way in which staying fiercely committed to our work lets us inherit ourselves. When we are engaged in writing, there are no princes or balls necessary. Everything we need is happening right there on the page, moving through our fingers. Our entire universe is contained and complete. There is no need to be pining for some fantasy state of being, some pinnacle of accomplishment that we imagine to be an improvement on the ecstasies of wrestling with language in the here and now.
Happily Ever After is fantasy. And fantasies can be fun, but you can’t plant a garden in them. Even if you get exactly what you thought would make your life perfect, chances are good that your happiness is not as dependent on such an outcome as you might think.
Happily Ever During is reality. And you get to decide, moment-by-moment, how it’s all going to go down. And every unexpected harvest will be your own.