Dream Deferred

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One day last week, with little fanfare, I began running again.

After months of…not running.

I’ve never been comfortable calling myself a “runner” so it’s hard to admit to myself and to others that I’ve begun again. (See: little fanfare.)

The same is true for my writing. I’ve been scribbling words in one form or another since the first time I held a crayon in my toddler hand and made lines in my baby book. (I don’t know how I learned this was a thing people do; perhaps from watching my mother.)

Many decades later, after completing several manuscripts and signing more than one contract to publish my work, I still labor to call myself a writer.

My kids have no problem with it. When asked what I do (in person or on forms) they answer easily. “She’s a writer.” Or sometimes “Author.” They don’t even stutter or blush. They don’t say just or well or only.

(Can you imagine?)

They’d probably also tell people I’m a runner while I leaned in to qualify:

“I barely run. Maybe four miles around the lake. Once or twice a month. And not since May.”

The same qualifiers attend my writing.

I imagine being asked about my current project at Thanksgiving and mumbling, “It’s coming along. Please pass the sweet potatoes.”

We humans are terribly quick to down-talk our dreams, not to mention our actual achievements. For fear of failure? For fear of success? What if someone thinks we’re bragging? Perhaps we avoid naming what we want, hoping to protect our hearts from breakage.

But such caution keeps our hearts from soaring. Our wishes, tethered to the ground, dry up like Langston Hughes’ raisin in the sun.

When I turned 40, I was fortunate to have the choice to trade my beloved teaching career for something I loved more: time with my family; time to write.

Unmoored then, unsure where to begin, I decided to train for a marathon and chronicle my travails in a hilarious memoir! Imagine it. Chapter after chapter of my bungled (and hilarious!) attempts to be the best mom, wife, author, runner, human.

Easy goals.

I kept my plan a secret from everyone except my husband because I had opened up so many avenues of potential failure.

The thing is, I did complete the memoir and the marathon that inspired it. In the 18 months that followed, I ran two more marathons and wrote a YA manuscript.

My family was happy. I was happy. In terms of “going for my goals” I was killing it.

But I wasn’t speedy and I never ran more than three times a week, even in the height of my training. And I signed with an agent but I failed to sell my first two manuscripts.

I was terribly quick to point to other friends who were published or who ran better, stronger, faster.

I vowed not to run another marathon until I could finish in under four hours. Oh. And until I’d signed a book contract. That would make me a real runner. A real writer.

Easy goals.

Years went by. (Yes, years.) The pages of my third work-in-progress came slow and hard. So did the miles.

By the time I heard the long-awaited, magical words (“We have read Letters for Scarlet and we love it. We are pleased to offer you a contract”) I had almost given up.

But not quite.

A friend (a runner who is better, stronger, faster) reminded me of my training vow:

“Now you can run another marathon,” she said. To her this was good news.

But I’m not a runner, I thought. I never was.

Hell. I’m barely a writer.

Why?

WHY?

Why are we so afraid of saying who we are, what we want, what we’ve done, what we still hope to do?

Let’s stop that right now, shall we? I’ll go first. Or better yet, let’s go together.

Our dreams are waiting for us. Our hearts will survive the risk.

If you run, you’re a runner, no matter how slow.

If you write, you’re a writer, even if no one reads your words.

You can paint, sculpt, bake, sing, invent, build, perform magic tricks, play the trumpet, ride a unicycle, do stand up comedy, take a class, discover new planets, solve an equation, foster a child, adopt a pet, help someone in pain, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, walk away, or fall in love.

Do it for YOU not for anyone else.

Today. Without any fanfare.

Begin again.

***

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Last Modified on January 29, 2018
This entry was posted in Life
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51 thoughts on “Dream Deferred

  1. Simply, Julie? Well said. I’m looking at a marathon (that I haven’t yet even signed up for, yet I’ve somehow committed to running, so I should probably go & do something about that) this Sunday . . . and, well, dammit, I’m “Daddy Runs a Lot” so I should call myself a runner.

    I enjoy writing, but I seldom write . . . but when I do write, I think I do a pretty good job of eliciting the emotions I wish to elicit, and I think I do a pretty good job of telling the story I had in my head . . . so I should probably call myself a writer.

    I play a bunch of instruments, and I enjoy making music . . . and there are times that I’m even PAID to make music. But, somehow, I’m loathe to call myself a musician.

    I’ve actually been struggling with all of this, a lot, lately — I think it’s some weird take on a mid-life crisis. I’m trying to figure out how to fit *more* into my life (says the guy who has, generally, 29 minutes of unscheduled time a day), but the only way to get to *more* is to cut out the stuff that I don’t particularly enjoy . . . only the stuff I don’t particularly enjoy is what enables me to even have the little bits of which I want to have *more*.

    I need to polish & complete a few of the songs I’ve written. I need to bundle & clean up & package some of that erotica. I need to sit down & turn vivid story ideas into novels. I need to actually hit the “publish” button at johnbatzer.com and offer online personal training. When all that is done, I need to promote myself . . . which is, honestly, the part that scares me (though, honestly, is probably the one thing that I’d be best at doing).

    • Julie Gardner

      Simply, John? Self promotion is HARD. But you knew that, right? And if you think you might be good at it then OHMYGOSH get started. To everything else you wrote here, remember this:
      Your plate is beyond full and yet you already completed a beautiful comment today which supported another writer/blogger/human who has been in your corner for going on five years. You are wildly generous. Whatever you decide to embrace, I’ll be in your corner cheering and nodding my head.

  2. kim

    this is beautiful, julie…and so are you. love you xoxo

    • Julie Gardner

      Love you too, Kimmy. So much.
      XO

  3. You are a writer, my friend, no doubt about that. I think the fear of success is worse than the fear of failure, and it’s better to just kick both to the curb. Easier said than done, I know – but I’ll shout it out into the world for you any day of the week – YOU ARE A WRITER 🙂
    xox (and if I ever were to run, there would have to be fanfare, because it would be a super special event 😉 )

    • Julie Gardner

      FEAR OF SUCCESS – it’s a thing!
      Glad you’re on this journey with me through the triumphs and stumbling.
      Let’s hope for more of the former and less of the latter.
      Especially when it comes to running – 🙂

  4. I can say I’m a writer on paper in an instant. In person? Nope. But my kids? My husband? They will say it and be proud of it and I love them for it because it nudges me that much closer to doing it for myself. You are an extraordinary writer, my friend. Run on.

    • Julie Gardner

      I get that, totally; the difference between writing out the words and saying them.
      I always stutter and feel as if I have to over-explain myself when I claim being a writer out loud.
      And I like to throw in the fact that I was a teacher for 16 years, as if what I’m doing now isn’t enough.

      It’s hard to believe that we are enough, isn’t it?
      But it is. We are.
      YOU ARE.

  5. Diane

    You are absolutely correct, your returning to running is good news to me. So, for which marathon will you be training? I can’t wait to run with you. You are a runner, a writer, a wife, a mother, and a great friend. I look forward to reading Letters for Scarlet in bound, printed form. So incredibly proud of all you accomplishments!

    • Julie Gardner

      First, I should work on running the three miles around our park again.
      Then we can talk marathons – ha!
      (I always like talking about you. Writing, running, life. There’s always something to share.)

  6. I like be you, my runner writer friend. Xo

    • Julie Gardner

      Yes. “BE YOU.”
      You are extraordinary, my friend.

      What you’ve accomplished? Mind-blowing.
      One day at a time.

  7. Jamie Coleman

    Funny I knew exactly who your “runner friend” was. Another amazing post. I so love reading your work! For one, it’s so eloquent and inspiring. But let’s be honest, it’s also the only thing I read besides Pat the Bunny, Cat in the Hat, and Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site. So, I need the challenge 🙂

    • Julie Gardner

      Shoot. Did I miss the boat on Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site?
      The other titles I recognize.
      (Or, more accurately, I still have all the words memorized 15 years later…)
      You’re such a great mama.
      🙂

  8. It’s hard to proclaim something when it’s pretty much self-proclaimed. I struggle with that as well. When I was fresh out of art school, I hesitated to say I was an artist, because people followed up with “can I see your stuff?” And if I say I’m a writer, they say “oh, what have you written?” And if I say I’m a runner, they say, “oh, what have you run?”

    • Julie Gardner

      So true, your point about something that’s self-proclaimed.
      When I said I was a teacher, no one asked to see my credential.

      I’d like to think most people are simply trying to show interest or are genuinely curious/enthusiastic.
      Hopefully it’s a small percentage that is challenging you – like, you’re an artist? Prove it!

      Who knows. People can be awesome and people can be jerks.
      You never know what you’re gonna get. (My Forrest Gump or the day.)

  9. I’ve never thought of you as anything BUT a writer.

    Well … if you don’t count exceptional human being, good friend, pure loveliness, beautiful mom, want to be a dog in your home, ha ha

    • Julie Gardner

      One thing I am not: A soap maker. So I’m placing my lavender sugar order now.
      I’ll be there next week.
      (Love you!)

  10. I know for sure that I will never be a runner.
    The writing thing … still working on it … inspired by writers like you <3

    • Julie Gardner

      If you know for sure you’ll never be a runner I hope that’s because you don’t WANT to be a runner.
      Then by all means, do NOT RUN. But never hold back from something simply because you believe you can’t.

      You know what I’d be good at for sure? Enjoying a glass of wine with you.
      XO

  11. It’s hard to put those dreams into real words, because the fear can be so much stronger than my belief in myself. I’m working on it 🙂 You are doing amazing things, Julie, and I’m glad you’re taking ownership of them, one mile and one book at a time 🙂

    • Julie Gardner

      You are one of my inspirations, Angela.
      You’ve never stopped writing in all the years I’ve been reading your words; never taken a long break.
      You just keep posting even when life gets hectic. That’s so impressive to me.
      As always, I wish we lived nearer to each other so we could run together, then talk books – in person!

  12. Oh, Julie, you have done it again. Stop making me cry! Just kidding. I love it when you make me cry. You have managed – once again – to reach my heart while writing from yours.

    I am a professional downplayer. Maybe that’s what I’ll put on my next business cards. I can have multiple, current, paying clients and will still tell people that I kind of write a little… sometimes… nothing big… just whatever. I almost never, ever mention the unfinished novel.

    I relate to the non-runner running, too. Do I ever. (Though I really don’t run much anymore – my body hates it too much.)

    You are a running writer. No qualifiers needed. Well, except perhaps, “damn good.”

    • Julie Gardner

      I’m so happy to see you here, Missy, one of my all time favorite professional downplayers.
      But yours are words I always nod along to (and smile at and tear up reading).
      Knowing I had an impact on you makes me happy.
      XO

  13. You are a runner Julie. And you are a writer. A damn good one. And once again you are able to express yourself so beautifully.

    And so you do not stand alone, I WILL go with you.

    I am a runner too. (Even slower than you.)
    I am a writer as well. (And one with a publishing deal and a novel about to be published, just like you!)

    You know what else I am? So proud and lucky. To read your words and be your friend.

    • Julie Gardner

      LOVE LOVE LOVE you, my friend.
      We are in this together through thick and thin.
      What a gross phrase, by the way. I’d rather say we’re in it through Chocolate and Wine.

      There. I said it.
      Chocolate and wine.
      Yay.

  14. Reading this and reading John’s makes me glad I’m in good company.

    When people ask what I do, I respond, “I work for the school district.” But that doesn’t define me, it’s not my reason for being.

    If asked, “Who are you?” I’d respond, “I’m a mother.” But while that’s a lifetime title, a joy, a privilege, it doesn’t define me.

    If asked, “Who is Mandy?” I’d respond, “I’m a writer, a storyteller, someone who wants to spend her days in other worlds and lands with only the thinnest thread connecting her to the here and now.”

    But, in our society, identity is tied to financial success. A writer, then, seems to be someone who I can find in Target with a big red and white sticker over her name. It’s a person who can live – and live comfortably – off the sale of her words. When I say, “I’m a writer.” The response is, “What have you written?” I can point to anthologies, posts, articles. But I see their eyes glaze over as they clump me into the category of “I’m an actress/waitress” so common in California.

    And yet…

    When you publish your book, I will have no hesitation promoting “my friend, the writer”. When Cam releases a book, I rave about, “my dear friend, the writer”. When book clubs search for new novels, I point to the writers I know, the people who, in my opinion, are as worthy of the title as Nora Roberts or Jodi Picoult and more so than EL James and Stephanie Myers.

    At this point in my life, I chip away at my dream in the spare minutes I have. With work, kids who like to eat and actually interact with me, a boyfriend who likes to see me on occasion, friends who are understanding but don’t allow me to become a hermit, and a house that needs to be run, something has to drop. For me, that’s been blogging and freelancing. I still do it, when the mood strikes, but I have to be focused on chipping away at this book.

    Sometimes I think of twelve years from now…I’ve worked in PERS long enough that an early retirement is pretty much a given. I think of hitting that magic age and flying the nest at the same time my little birds do. Maybe then, my time will be my own. Maybe I’ll be able to say with confidence, “I’m a writer.”

    And don’t be surprised if this comment ends up in a rare blog post. You struck a chord in my little writer’s brain.

    • Julie Gardner

      I would be thrilled and honored to have inspired a post from one of my favorite wordsmiths.
      Blog on, my writer-friend.
      NaBloPoMo isn’t going to take care of itself…
      🙂

  15. Ann

    In this day when blogs are dying, look at the comments and resonance you inspire!! Happy to jog slog along with you through words and miles.

    • Thanks for slogging with me, Ann. Your writing and the LTYM show (and book!) have inspired me more than you know.

      Or maybe you do know. I hope so.
      I’ll be grateful to you always!

  16. Laurel Janssen

    So lovely. You write the words I always want to read. I’ll think of these the next time I run (really slowly) and write (with great effort).
    xoxoxoxoxo

    • Laurel, I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have you in my life now. Our little writers’ group is everything. You all give me the strength to be brave! (And you make me laugh. Cry. Think. Feel.

  17. Karen G.

    That was lovely, Julie. One of your most powerful posts, and that’s saying a lot. I’m not sure why we resist labels like “runner” and “writer,” when they apply. (“Sitter” and “writer” for me.) Maybe we’re afraid of the expectations and responsibilities that come along with the labels. Perhaps there’s some wisdom in the catchphrase “fake it ’til you make it”: claim the title, and your confidence will catch up. I might try it.

    • Karen,
      Given the level of respect I have for your writing (and for you as a person!) this comment means so much. I love that you’re on this road too, plowing away one word at a time.

      Plus you do it with better grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

      Mad respect.

  18. Humorous aside to this comment, autofill put my address in the comment field. Yay! Now, back to the comment itself: I’ve been thinking about this since I read it when you first posted. I guess I’m looking for a way to say — without sounding like a complete ass — that it thrills me to see someone a little ahead of me on the life journey rocking her dreams and making things happen, because I look at the people I graduated from schools with, people who are saving lives, changing the world, making big things happen, and I tend to feel like I’ve somehow failed. Damn it, I’ve published two novels. No, I am not Nora Roberts or Julia Alvarez or whoever else I’m not. I am me, and I am surrounded by so many incredible souls who are absolute inspirations, and you, friend are one of them.

    I probably still sounded like an ass, but I hope you could extrapolate the actual meaning up there. xo

    • You do NOT sound like an ass; you are my accomplished friend who has much about which to be proud! And remember this: I may be older than you but you dove into the publishing pool before me. Ive been flaing around in the water trying to catch up ever since.

      You’re an inspiration. I love your words and you.

  19. I really get this. I’ve been working on not saying author or speaker with an apologetic tone or rambling explanations. I’m actually trying confidence. I can do it with Speaker now but I’m still having trouble with Author. It took me about ten years for speaker. So, I’ve got a few more years with author/writer. I’m with you…what is that?? And just like your kids, my kids are way better at this stuff than I am. Thanks to Annie a couple of her teachers have bought my book. We need to do better with ourselves. We’re quick to own the bad but we need to own the good, too. Because there’s so much good. Your writing is the good. The great! It’s soul-stirring.

    I’m typing this on my phone by the way. Because Ben is still on the computer. Love you!!

    • Heidi,
      You are one of the people I am most grateful to have *met* since I began writing/blogging. I’m guessing Speaker is easier to embrace because in those engagements you know you’re helping others by telling your story (generous soul); not that your book doesn’t help (it does!) but saying “I’m an author” is a lifelong dream for so many people, it’s hard to admit you’ve achieved it. It’s hard to BELIEVE it.

      Especially when you’re so humble and kind.
      But you are an author, a beautiful one inside and out. I hope to meet you one day in person and hear you say it out loud 🙂

  20. It’s easy to downplay our successes when we compare them to everyone else’s. But for the baby who hasn’t taken a step yet, that first one is a huge success. Look how much growth comes after that first step.

    Oh, look at me, being all motivating and deep. When people ask me what I do, I say simply, “I’m a mom.” Because it’s the easiest thing to say that doesn’t warrant further explanation. I don’t say “writer” because I don’t want anyone to think “oh ho ho, look who calls herself a ‘writer’ – what’s she written? She doesn’t even get paid!” But I am a writer. I took that first step long ago.

  21. Man, people write beautiful comments. You inspire, my friend. Your words are true. How easy it is to play down our passions.

    Why do we do this? Me, I blame being a Lutheran and German. It’s a deadly combination.

  22. I made a promise to myself to eliminate “just a” from descriptions of what I do or what I am unless it makes sense in a self-deprecating and meaningful sort of way.

    I also believe that we don’t have to limit our dreams to the standard time frame so much of life operates under, unless of course there is some significant reason why it has to be like that.

    For example at 46 I can say I missed my window for becoming a child piano prodigy or the youngest rookie of the year in the MLB/NFL/NBA.

    But as a writer, well I can still make those dreams into reality so I have that going for me. All I have to do is start.

  23. I needed to read this so, so much. I’m so happy that you are doing what you love and heart be damned. One of my mentors tells me “Who are you NOT to ___ ” when self-doubt creeps in. l love what you said, “Our dreams are waiting for us.” Yes, yes they are. Love this so much and so happy that you are living yours, hon. xo

  24. You are a writer and a runner, no matter what the pace. I loved this!

  25. Holy Crap! On my journey to stop talking about writing and actually writing, I have been struggling with this exact thing. Other people in my life tell me I’ll do fine but they are not in my head at 2am having a panic attack because they can’t recall if words in books look like the words I’m trying to put in books. I give myself the worst feedback! Know that you are the successful writer I tell people about when they ask if I’m a writer, “No, but my cousin is!” Though I have started saying, “Not yet, but my cousin is.” Recognizing success in ourselves is sometimes the hardest thing to do.

    PS-I’m only a runner if someone is chasing me and the car is out of gas. 😉

  26. And BOOM! I love this post so much. Everything about it. Resilience. Starting again. Doing it for you. YES.

  27. I’ll be honest, I’m not even sure what led me to this post, but I’ve had it open on my laptop since Wednesday.

    I knew I needed to read it, I just hadn’t found a minute or two. Now I know it was MEANT for me. And meant for me today.

    It’s so beautiful. So so beautiful.

    I’m sharing it everywhere. I have so many friends who need to read this. Now.

    Thank you, for your openness, your realness and being raw. And for being a writer. So I could read these words. Especially this morning.

    • Thank you for sharing this, Andrea – it was exactly what I needed and I may not have seen it if you hadn’t shared!

  28. I like this so much that I’ve shared it everywhere and bookmarked it. I do this to myself all the time. I’m a special needs parent and for the past 2+ years, it has always been, “I’ll do x after the next therapy, test, milestone,” or, “Thing will get easier after y happens, so I just need to keep going in survival mode until then.”

    What I’ve come to find out is that things don’t get easier, they just change a little. Things are never going to be easy. I need to carve out time for my own goals and wellness. If I don’t, my dreams will be deferred indefinitely.

    Thank you so much for this. It was the nudge in the right direction that I needed.

  29. This post is semi-shocking to me b/c obviously you’re a writer! You’re such a good writer it’s hard to put my mind in the place of you being insecure about it.

  30. Mike

    I stumbled on this Julie and really enjoyed the read! I think it is very true: If you run at all, you are a runner. If you write at all (and I do, even if only I read my work myself) you are a writer. Most people unfortunately, only recognize a title if you’ve reached a certain pinnacle. Almost a corporate philosophy. You are indeed who you feel you are – be proud of it and keep on keepin’ on!

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