Am I Waiting for My Real Life to Begin?

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Am I Waiting for My Real Life to Begin?
I used to long for my "real life," which would revolve around being a writer. For two decades, I felt desperate to write but also blocked. I started stories I never finished. I finished work I never sent out. And I let years go by during which I did neither, but fumed gracelessly over that imagined life, the one I thought should be mine, the one in which I had features in magazines, books on shelves, accolades in newspapers, prizes to my name and in which I passed my days in unmitigated joy.

But then I got my writing career on track. Not every aspect of that professional dream came true—the Pulitzer hasn't arrived; the MacArthur "genius grant" hasn't materialized. But I've had stories in publications I respect, and I've written two books, both out in several countries. So, this is it. The real life I was waiting for. Except, of course, for the unmitigated joy.

When I imagined my life as a writer, I wasn't thinking only about books bearing my name or glowing reviews. I was picturing a perfect me. The Successful Writer me: a slim, well-organized, calmly satisfied woman.

It's true that I am in good health, which I greatly appreciate. I have time to write, I have a strong marriage, and, as of this moment, one of my three kids is not in crisis. But my oldest just ended her marriage and moved 3,000 miles away. My youngest, who has special needs, has had such a rocky start to college that we aren't sure she will continue. All of that is definitely real. Inescapably so. And I am still the disorganized, ADD-afflicted, chronically overweight woman I have been for some time.

Those last details may sound superficial—and they are, compared with diseases, disabilities, divorce and death. But they point to something key about the trap of waiting for your real life to begin. Since my career began, my brother has been diagnosed with cancer. I have lost loved ones. It turns out that having a single dream come true does not define you or make for a fantasy life.

I'm 52 years old now, and this is my real "real life": worries about my kids, celebrations, failed diets, career victories, people calling with heartbreaking news and the daily gift of no longer waiting for any life but the one that is mine—complicated, loving, stressful and blessed.

—Robin Black, author of, most recently, the novel Life Drawing