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The Write Question

What would you do if you knew you could not fail? I’ve heard this question before—at church, in an occasional motivational business seminar, on my Gmail quote of the day. I’ve never had an answer. I’ve never really understood the question.

I mean, I’m doing it ... my life, I mean. I’m doing my life. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m making the most of my business degree; I’m getting out of bed everyday and making sure my children are clothed, fed, and are dropped off and picked up on time. I’m checking their homework and making their lunches. I’m grocery shopping, taking care of the dry cleaning, balancing the checkbook, tithing, doing the laundry, shaving my legs, brushing my teeth, and coloring my hair. And then I do it the next day and the next day and the next. And most days I do more than not fail at these things. Most days, I do these things so well I don’t even have to think much about them. So it seems perfectly clear that I’m doing my life and I’m not failing at it. 

But the question still nags. Why? Why does this question plague me so? I think because, for me, the question really should be what would I do if I knew I could succeed? Ahh, now we’re getting somewhere. The question is still not exactly right. Let’s tweak it a bit more. How about what would I do, that I’m not already doing, if I knew I could succeed? Okay, the question almost makes sense to me now. Let’s fine-tune it a tad bit more and see what happens. Let’s go with what would I love to do, that I’m not already doing, if I knew I could succeed? The answer: write.

I’ve almost always known the correct answers to the questions that my life has presented me. There has been one notable and very painful exception and it changed me forever. The circumstances surrounding the loss of my first son and the choices I made for him taught me more than I believe it to be possible to document in one lifetime. However, one of the most important lessons his loss taught me was about questions. I learned very delicately that if I am having difficulty answering a question, I am probably trying to answer the wrong question. And so it is with this question.

I have never been able to answer what I would do if I knew I could not fail, because I was doing exactly that at which I would not fail. I know this is a bit of mental u-turn, but stay with me. The distinction I’m trying to draw here is a critical one. The question my life is currently asking of me is what would I passionately, lovingly, surrender my life to if I would succeed beyond my wildest dreams. That question, I can answer, not because I have the right answer, but because it is the right question. The short answer is to write. The long answer with all the messy details of getting from point a to point b, I’ll figure out as I go. Sometimes the short answer is all you need in order to choose your path ... getting on the right path to begin with is the hard part.

Last week, the music blogger of the Dallas Observer made note of an article I wrote about my sister who plays flute in the rock band, The Polyphonic Spree. The blogger knows a lot about my sister, but had never known I existed until he read my article. In his blog from December 22, he described me by saying that I was a writer. A professional writer wrote in his widely read publication that I was a writer. And since that day more than a week ago, I’ve been trying to get the question right. Pete Freedman of the Dallas Observer had provided me with the answer. I just had to figure out what question went with the answer.

So in 2009, I will write. I will write on days I’m happy, days I’m not, and days I’m just generally irritated. I’ll write on days I can’t stop and on days it takes forever to get started. But now that I am a writer and have started down the writer’s path, the rest should be easy.