I met a pretty woman the other day. I couldn’t guess her age…45 to 55, trim, well turned out. With my usual tact I blurted out, “You’re PRETTY!” She responded gracefully, as she is in a career where she often works with small children. “Thank you!”

I asked her if she always intended to hold the job she now does. She smiled and said, “No. I studied art in college. I was going to be an artist.”

The next words still haunt me.

“But then I had three kids. Y’know? That was the end of it. I was the kind of artist who would work straight through a weekend on one sculpture, never stopping, but you can’t do that with kids, you know? So I decided to be a mother instead.”

Cold. Cold like a pear in the mud of my heart.

I have had a fear for years. It started when a woman in her 50’s picked up on of my literary magazines that I had no hope of ever getting into because I can’t decipher the rhythm of a genre where all the stories are about people who eat pears or fix fences in the rain and then contemplate the mud as it relates to an ex-wife for 15 pages….where was I. Picked up one of my literary magazines and said, “I always wanted to be a writer.”

There is one thing, ONE. THING. I know how to do well. Everything else I do; every activity that composes my active life, from cooking to card games to picking out clothes to motherhood to scrapbooking (I don’t scrapbook but if I did this would apply)…I know 15 people in my own immediate circle who do that thing better. In general, I am a schlub.


I can put words together. Given enough time to edit and refine, I can slide exactly what is in my brain into your brain. I can write.

That pretty woman could make art. And she wanted that ability to be the masthead of her identity. She wanted it in her life so deeply that it’s shrapnel is still inside her, and comes to the surface, 25 years later, with the only the slightest push. “I always wanted to be an artist.”

Do you have to stop when you have children? Or when you lose your job? Or when your class-load is heavy? When you’re diagnosed with fibromyalgia? Are our deepest desires that disposable?

I always wanted to be a writer. I’ve never been able to stop wanting it.

3 thoughts on “Shrapnel

  1. When I was in acting school, one of my professors told me that the only (ONLY!) reason to pursue a career in professional acting is if you HAVE TO. If you simply cannot imagine yourself doing anything else, if you cannot imagine a life without it. That means you should do it, and you will be successful because you must be. But if you can see yourself teaching, or selling real estate, or being a mother instead, then you should just go ahead and do that instead. I think I understand what she meant (and I didn’t HAVE TO be an actress, I just didn’t). Maybe it works like that with writing too. And since you’ve always needed to do it, you probably always will.


  2. Do you have to stop? No. But not everybody is good at changing their paradigm to fit into a life that has more than just “artist” or “writer” or in my case”poet” as its defining characteristic. In the artist’s mind, if she couldn’t devote an entire weekend to the sculpture well then, she just couldn’t sculpt. I would beg to differ and say that she could sculpt but not the way she used to. Maybe she never tried to fit it in a new way. Maybe she did and it didn’t feel organic to her… maybe she didn’t NEED to sculpt the way she thought she did.


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