My life is a sea of ifs.
What if I’d published this collection? if I’d studied harder? If I hadn’t shot off my mouth at home? What if I hadn’t eaten too many potato chips and drank too much Merlot?
On my thirtieth birthday, they all rise up like the ghosts of Christmas past, whispering. If, if, if, a hollowed-out word that sits next to me in the coffee shops, follows me on my nightly walks, snuggles too close to me.
I procure the biggest whiteboard possible. Eliminate ifs. Draw up concrete whens in lavender marker. No red markers bleeding with psychological pressure, thank you. I lay out goals and visions.
I start up a movie club on Meetup. For week after week, I post and spread the word, until one person joins. Then another. Then a couple more. We meet weekly at my place to devour movies, the merry six, discussing the absurdity of The Big Lebowski, the themes of malaise in Office Space, the notions of pressure and expectation in The Graduate. We laugh in unison, relishing the shared moments in shared spaces. And we love dissecting disagreements and debate. It’s a weekly given, Friday nights at six without fail. There’s something soothing in that motion, in the knock of the door at a minute or two past six, at bodies congregating, at the pop of wine bottles, the jostling of arms, the rising laughter.
I also start writing again. A word. Fifty words. A hundred. I set schedules, abide by them to a T, spread my stories to the world, even though half of them are dark in nature. Some find homes, others drift, with one editor questioning why I write about runaway mothers. The truth is there’s something about darkness that holds intrigue, something about expanding folly that highlights so much.There’s more value in dissecting a mother in a jukebox fight than some family always watching The Sound of Music. And didn’t Tolstoy say happy families are all alike?
I’m tempted to make a snarky comment. Did I touch on a nerve about your mother? But I’ve stored so many grievances over people smiling, over annoying Taylor Swift songs in coffee shops. I’ve stored so many visions of taking over the world, talked, but never even tried. So, I just store the words on a board of proof. Proof of something. Proof of a when, of time X when I submitted and response time Y, when the story was passed on back.
Of course, the rejections pile up. And the movie club talks about branching out. Expanding our ranks. What if we moved somewhere else? What if? And what if we branched out to TV show discussions too? What if we met every other week? And I try to hold off. Talk about the complications of things. But they promise me it’ll be fine. It’s fun to complicate things, redraw the lines. I hang in, until one member threatens to leave. Then another. A what if rises? What if they all evaporate? What if I feel the motion of both gaining and losing all in a short space? Thoughts of empty rooms fill my dreams at night, visions of me, clinging to a sofa proclaiming a thousand reasons for sticking with things.
So, I take that leap, smile. Promise to branch out. I look to the whiteboard, try to form the new words, try to smile at new spaces to be formed, even as the what ifs keep whispering. I write, a word, then another word, stringing together, things forming with slowness each minute, into what, I cannot yet say.