(A big thank you goes out to Jen Violi for allowing me to share this blog post! A wonderful reminder to everyone out there who feels he/she has missed the boat on writing his/her book. It's never too late.)
By Jen Violi
Last night I had a little airport drama that gifted me with an insight and made me want to write to you immediately. So here I am.
My flight from Pittsburgh to Atlanta was delayed enough that when I got to Atlanta, I’d have about seventeen minutes to get from one end of Terminal A to the other end of Terminal B. Anxiety showed up early, before we even landed, not wanting to miss a good party and wanting to ensure I didn’t forget I had a sprint ahead of me.
After a full, fun, and emotional visit with my family and feeling a new sense of anguish about living so far from my mom and sisters and niece and nephews, coupled with the knowing that I still love living in the Pacific Northwest and don’t want to move, I was ready to get home to Portland. I wanted my own bed and Mike’s open arms. I had a class to teach the next day, too. I didn’t want to get stuck in Atlanta.
When we landed, I strapped on my heavy backpack, clutched my slightly less heavy carry-on to my chest, and I booked it–down the escalator to the train, train ride, running up two escalators only to realize that my gate was at the very far end of a very long corridor.
I hoofed it as fast as I could, noticing that the last gate on the left was all but empty. As I got closer, I waved in desperation to what looked like a flight attendant standing at the podium. I felt hot and out of breath, and frankly, old. I wasn’t sure she’d even see me.
She waved back, like she was looking for me, and relief rushed through my chest.
When I got there, she said, “You made it, Jennifer!” Of course she knew my name, since, you know, every other passenger was already on the plane and ready to go.
“I moved your seat closer to the front,” she added with a kind nod, taking my ticket and handing me a new one. “Still an aisle, but you don’t have to go as far.”
“That’s so nice,” I said, touched and surprised by her thoughtfulness.
A second flight attendant said, “Welcome aboard,” with a warm smile. She seemed genuinely happy to see me and not at all put out as she ushered me through the door and closed it behind me. My breathing slowed.
On the plane, I did have an aisle seat, in the slightly-extra-leg-room zone no less, with no one in the middle seat. I glanced to the back of the plane, where my assigned seat had been. It was crowded and loud back there. Throughout the plane, others were still getting settled, putting stuff in overhead bins, and thankfully, not all staring at me because I was late. I was so grateful to have made it, to be there.
The guy in the window seat tossed an uninterested glance my way and went back to his Kindle. I frowned, a little. The flight attendants had set the welcome bar pretty high. But I didn’t really care, because I’d made it. I was on my way home.
I sat down, fanned my shirt away from my wet skin, and took a deep breath. As usual, after a big spurt of physical movement, I had a moment of clarion insight, and my mind started to write.
I knew in that moment that what had just happened to me was key to what I offer in my work with and support of writers. In the classes I teach, in mentoring, on retreats, in editing. I don’t mean that I want you to sprint through an airport and get sweaty. Mostly I mean the part about how those gracious women greeted me.
I know how it feels to be late–late for a plane, late for a party, late to figure out who the heck I am and what I’m doing and being, a late bloomer in general. It stinks to feel like everyone else has gotten to some grand adventure first, that they’re all in the place you really want to be, that you might not make it at all, that you have such heavy stupid baggage to carry, with stuff you probably don’t even need anymore, and wondering if you have enough energy to get there or if you should just give up and stay in proverbial Atlanta.
I didn’t start writing my first book until my early thirties and didn’t have it published until closer to forty. Now I’m in my forties and regularly slip into puddles of low self esteem about not having published another one yet.
Yes, it helps to be kind to myself, to go easy, to remember why I need and want to write, etc, etc, etc. And I practice that. But you know what also helps?
The graciousness of others. A welcoming committee. People who make it easier for you to be there, no matter when you arrive.
On the four and half hour flight from Atlanta home to Portland, I realized that that’s at the heart of what I most want to be and do for writers. Especially those who, for whatever reason, feel like they’re coming late enough to the flight that they’re not sure they’ll actually make it on board. I want you to feel welcomed into the adventure of words, of writing a book or whatever you want to write. I want you and your voice to feel met and seen with love and kindness and encouragement. I want your process to have breathing room and leg room, for kicking or dancing or napping, as needed. I want you to feel at home.
If you happen to be one of those writers who’s showing up “late,” what I want to say to you today is this:
I see you running with all your baggage down the corridor, and I’m not thinking you look stupid or weak or old. Not at all. I’m thinking you look strong and brave and determined. And holy crap, the stuff you’ve had to carry? That makes you a warrior. Yes, I see you coming. See, I’m waving back?! We’re not going to leave without you.
It doesn’t matter who else is on the plane already or how long they’ve been there. It doesn’t matter if absolutely everyone but you is on that plane. It doesn’t matter if some guy on the plane looks at you like you’re the last wilted rose of summer or some other inconsequential flower. I’m thrilled that you made it.
I know it hasn’t been easy to get here. That you’re struggling, out of breath or inspiration. Maybe because of where you’ve come from or what you’ve had to carry, or where you have yet to go.
It doesn’t matter. You made it!
And I moved your seat closer to the front.
Jen Violi is the author of Putting Makeup on Dead People, a BCCB Blue Ribbon Book, and finalist for the Oregon Book Awards. As a mentor, editor, and facilitator, Jen helps writers unleash the stories they’re meant to tell, from blogs to websites to award winning books. Find sanctuary for your story.