Sometimes the words get stuck. They tangle themselves up in our neural pathways. They catch on our rib cages, or sink into our lungs. They burrow into our spines and make nests in the cozy little nooks between our vertebrae. We know they’re in there. We can feel them inside us. But they just won’t come out.
The list of possible reasons for this is near endless. Sleep deprivation, sensory distractions, doubt, despair, chaos, and the siren call of all the should-be-doings rattling around inside our skulls.
I want to focus on that last one.
Recently, I took some time I probably should have been doing something else with, and made a list. Most people assume I love lists, because I like to be so on top of things I get vertigo, and lists can be ladders. But I also hate them with a fiery passion that makes the sun look like the flicker of a candle right before it runs out of wick. I hate them partly because I’m a rebel (no stinkin’ piece of paper has the right to tell me what to do!), but mostly because my lists shout about things I should be doing.
This list I made was of the dreaded To Do variety, but it was comprehensive. It included dates and deadlines, non-deadlined things that were still Very Important Indeed, things I need to do for my husband, my children, my church, my writers’ guild, my extended family, my Lion’s Club, my school PAC program, my household duties, my conference committee, my critique partners, my friends who emailed me happy birthday in August who I still haven’t replied to because of the shame of having taken this long, and my . . .
Me. Yeah, my me. I actually made it onto the list once or twice. Stuff like “Pluck monobrow,” and “Play the piano—you miss it.”
Guys, I read the list in its entirety and then started to laugh, and not just because I giggle every time I admit I have a monobrow. I laughed because the life I was chasing is, quite literally, impossible. And maybe that should be discouraging. Maybe that should lead to the kind of despair that chokes my words down so far my toes get heavy. But instead, I reveled in the sweet, blissful freedom of realizing that I cannot possibly achieve the level of accomplishment I’m aiming for, that it’s not just beyond inherently flawed me, it’s beyond any human person’s ability.
So, unless I can figure out how to stumble into/earn the superpowers I’ve been craving since I was six years old and had my first “I can fly!” dream, I now have permission to aim to be less than my unrealistic expectations. I can aim for happiness and self-respect instead. Aiming for more by aiming for less. It seems counterintuitive, but it isn’t.
Having experienced my “Impossible Life” epiphany, I still get panicky. But less than I used to. My words still claw at my insides, trying to get out, weighed down by “list items” (whether I actually write those lists or not). Sometimes though I smile, sit down in front of my laptop first thing in the morning, and ask myself, “What’s possible today?”
And the answer always includes, “Letting some words out.”
What’s actually possible for you today? Is today a “write all the words” day? Is it a “work the day job and sneak some words in during lunch break” day? Is it a “I have energy to put on pants today and that is all—that is enough” day?
Our possible changes from day to day, and sometimes from hour to hour. And everything can change when you give yourself permission to live a possible life.
Kimberly VanderHorst is a YA author who cherishes a love for all things quirky and strange. Claims to fame include running Prism Editing, co-hosting the annual Pitch Slam contest, and serving on the committees for the annual LDStorymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards program. Despite being a city girl with a tendency to cuss a lot, Kimberly is married to an LDS minister and lives in rural northern Canada. There, she helps raise their four lovely daughters while pretending not to be afraid of the neighbour’s chickens.