“Then” is a trickster word. Sometimes it has the sweetness of memory, the overripe Polaroid colors of lost time: “I was happier then.” Sometimes it has the hopeful, hungry grasp of the future: “Come October, I won’t be working at the library anymore, and I’m going to do a lot more writing then.” When we pair the word “then” with its stronger, brighter sister, “now,” it still doesn’t hold a lot of water. “Now and then” ought to mean “all the time,” because what else is there, besides “now,” and “then”? But instead, “now and then” means “sometimes,” a dusting of confectionary sugar on the cake of life.
When I was in the my last week of high school, I wrote a poem that began with the lines:
I am waiting with a second-hand seven days long
For the end of the river to pass by my door.
|Portrait of the Writer as a Young Polaroid|
I hoped (then) that the end of high school would sweep away everything that held me back, everything that kept me from living the life I wanted to live. I imagined just moving away from home would clear the broad avenue of life before me like the men with big brooms who sweep up confetti and lost ice-cream novelties after a parade. But more than a few years later, I'm still lingering behind in the crowd. I still hesitate to call myself a writer, as I write poetry now and then and dream up characters.
Now I am again on the verge of a big life change, stepping away from a regular paycheck and a steady stream of people who definitely want what I have to offer as a librarian. It’s a bit terrifying to say I am going to try to be a professional writer now. What if I never get paid again? Then I’ll be a failure. A failure with no paycheck whose chief talent is napping.
I am going to aim instead to be a steady writer. I write, I laugh, I make snacks, I daydream. These are all steady habits of mine. I’m going to launch my ambition on that river instead, the unspectacular but surprisingly deep river of steadiness, and see how it carries me along. And if I feel anxious about the passage of time, and whether I am living my life secondhand, I will repeat to myself calmly, “Now, now… now, now.”