I’ve been feeling rather melancholy about the difficulty of connecting with a longtime friend whose path in life has diverged greatly from mine. Friendships, particularly long-distance ones, tend to roll this way: you get married, and gradually you notice that you’re hanging out more with couples and less with your single friends. You have kids, and it gets harder and harder to connect with friends who don’t.
Particularly vexing in this situation is the fact that, when it’s my turn to talk, I find that I have basically nothing of interest to say about anything, unless your tastes run toward the obsessive details of pediatric regularity or lack thereof. Then, too, there is the awkwardness of attempting to explain to someone who knew you Back in the Day that your husband, children, and church Are. Your. Life. Yup, that’s about all there is to it. Nope, nothing else going on. Really, nothin’ else to declare.
It’s rather ticklish to explain oneself to someone who doesn’t have children, isn’t even married, and has a different understanding of faith and vocation. Yeah, being at home with these kids drives me crazy. No, I don’t have any plans to stop having crazy-making kids or to get out of the house. Yes, (even if you’re too polite to come right out and say it), I’m aware that this doesn’t make any sense to you and that you’re concerned that I’ve become a brainwashed fanatic, a complete lunatic, a dimwitted doormat...
Pondering this dilemma, I recalled one of my favorite scenes from The Writing Life, in which Annie Dillard finds herself stumbling through an explanation of how very much she often despises her vocation (of writer), though she couldn’t live any other way:
Whenever an encounter between a writer of good will and a regular person of good will happens to touch on the subject of writing, each person discovers, dismayed, that good will is of no earthly use. The conversation cannot proceed. From such chastening encounters I have always learned far more than I intended.
Let’s CSPP MadLib it:
Whenever an encounter between a Concordian Sister of Perpetual Parturition and a regular person of good will happens to touch on the subject of [vocation/having another child/staying at home with the kids/contraception/etc.], each person discovers, dismayed, that good will is of no earthly use. The conversation cannot proceed…
See how well it works? I’ll include most of the rest of the scene as she wrote it; just substitute “CSPPer” for “writer” and CSPP-related things for “writing” and “write,” and there you have a very apt description of the dilemma:
This neighbor, who crewed on a ferryboat, was one of the world’s good, sane people…One rainy day, this member of the real world gave me a ride home. I invited him in for a minute, and somehow all hell broke loose.
Politely, he asked me about my writing. Foolishly, not dreaming I was about to set my own world tumbling down about my ears, I said I hated to write. I said I would rather do anything else. He was amazed. He said, ‘That’s like a guy who works in a factory all day, and hates it.’ Then I was amazed, for so it was. It was just like that. Why did I do it? I had never inquired. How had I let it creep up on me? Why wasn’t I running a ferryboat, like sane people?
…But I rallied and mustered and said that the idea was to learn things; that you learn a thing and then as a matter of course you learn the next thing, and the next thing….As I spoke he nodded precisely in the way that one nods at the utterances of the deranged. ‘…And then,’ I finished brightly, ‘you die!’
At this we exchanged a mutual and enormous smile. Still nodding and smiling in perfect agreement, we ended the visit and walked to the door.
A difference, of course, is that we at CSPP may frequently be amazed to find ourselves in our vocation, but not for lack of enquiry; rather because our inquiries increasingly convicted our hearts that it must be so.
MadLibs or no, The Writing Life is solidly in the Book, Recommended category.