Quiet work

Remember that poster in your high school guidance counselor’s office? The one with an airbrushed photo of some generic sunrise and a caption that read, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”? At seventeen, I really did not want to hear that.

This morning at dawn I stepped outside. The sunrise was spectacular. The first words that popped into my head were, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” The birds were singing like crazy. My husband was already down in the field, throwing a tennis ball for Gracie. And my heart was full to overflowing with gratitude. The first day of the rest of my life seemed like a very good reason to stand in one place for a while, watch the sun climb up into the sky, listen to the wild symphony going on outside, and give thanks for everything.

Yesterday at 2:08 in the afternoon, I hit the SEND button and emailed the last chapter of the manuscript I’ve been working on for the last year to my editor. It took a little while for the fact of that to sink in: I did it.

I walked downstairs in a daze, went outside and sat down in a lawn chair next to Steve. And then I burst into tears. The transition from writing to being done with writing pretty much undid me. There was the relief of making my deadline, of course, but it was inextricably intertwined with the despair of knowing that the finished product is so much less than the beautiful creation I envisioned in my imagination all those months ago, before I actually got down to the discouraging business of trying to translate experience into words.

While I’ve been sequestered upstairs in Henry’s bedroom, surrounded by his old Red Sox posters and various drafts and file cards, the seasons changed. I missed most of winter, and barely noticed the arrival of spring. Yesterday, with the finish line in sight, I sat on Henry’s bed with my laptop in front of me for seven hours without even looking up. When I finally ventured out into my own front yard yesterday afternoon, it felt as if I was returning home from an extended trip overseas, or was just recovering from a debilitating illness. I’d been gone a long time. Now, suddenly, with one tap of the keys, I was back. Re-entry was just a little rocky. All I could think was, “I’m done and I failed.”

My husband wiped my tears away and gave me a sweet letter he’d written in the morning, when he could see the end was near. And then he gave me Wendell Berry’s “Collected Poems,” the most perfect gift for that tumultuous moment. I opened the book and the first poem I came to was this one, called “Like Snow.”

Like Snow

Suppose we did our work
Like the snow, quietly, quietly,
Leaving nothing out.

Such solid, simple words. Such a fine thing to aspire to. I wonder why it is that we humans suffer so with our fears and doubts about not being enough. We do the best we can, give all we have to give, and then we turn a harsh eye on the beauty of our efforts.

Today, on this first day of the rest of my life, I have practiced doing my work like the snow. Quietly, quietly.

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Congratulations, wow can’t even imagine what that would feel like (except for the self doubt part of course). I’m kind of blown away that your husband had written you a letter and gotten you a book of poems… he’s either the perfect man or you have him very well trained. What stands out most to me is that you were able to transition from this major event to just being in the moment and appreciating the simple quiet and beauty of the morning… I have a feeling your going to have a wonderful summer and I for one can’t wait to get your new book!!!

  2. What? Tears? Okay, those I expect, but where’s the Dom Perignon and the blasting of “I’m Every Woman…” and the naked dancing?

    You did not fail. You will not fail. Look what you did, Katrina. You wrote a book–a book that is going somewhere.

    I love your husband’s gesture–he knows a lot about you, kid.

    Congrats!

  3. Bravo!! I cannot WAIT to read this book. And yes, I agree with Kitch – that’s a man who knows his beloved. xoxo

  4. Beautiful, just beautiful. It’s the living in the moment that I keep trying to remind myself I must learn to do and you said it so well. Thank you for the reminder. Your husband certainly understands writers. Give him a hug.

  5. I still have an old photo album from my high school days in the late seventies. On the cover, among other phrases and drawings is the statement, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” At the time, I had no concept as to what this phrase was really saying to me. Now, some thirty plus years later, I realize what a simple yet profound statement this is, how it reminds me to live in this moment as this moment is all that any of us are guaranteed, and it makes me a little wistful for all the years in between when I didn’t understand the message in those few simple words. Today truly is the first day of the rest of all of our lives…enjoy!

  6. Congrats! I have missed you. I am glad you are back.

  7. Congratulations! I remember talking to you about the book back at CR in October and now… it’s done.

    A year ago, when you took an email break at Kripalu, we “talked” about the beauty and relevance of Desiderata by Max Ehrmann. And again, today, I quote it for you:

    “Beyond a wholesome discipline,
    be gentle with yourself.
    You are a child of the universe
    no less than the trees and the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you,
    no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

    The book is just as it should be and so are you; congratulations!

    XO
    Meredith

    ~ Meredith From A Mother Seeking
    http://www.amotherseeking.com

    A Mother Seeking…

  8. “I wonder why it is that we humans suffer so with our fears and doubts about not being enough. We do the best we can, give all we have to give, and then we turn a harsh eye on the beauty of our efforts”.

    Katrina, again your words resonate with me at the most perfect time. This is absolutely what most of us do. It’s difficult putting our work and ourselves “out there” without feeling as though our best just isn’t good enough.

    We are our own harshest critic. We sweat over every detail, and revise and redo before we finally give up and give in to the feeling of it being mediocre at best, but all we have to offer. What we don’t realize is that what we have to offer is actually better than anyone could ever hope to accomplish.

    I do it to myself every single day. Thanks for reminding me to stop and appreciate all of my accomplishments, and believe that I am absolutely capable, rather than worry and sweat over what I believe I could never do.

    Your husband sounds like a wonderful person Katrina. YOU ARE BLESSED! Can’t wait for the new book!

  9. Oh congratulations, lovely one. As for me, I’m always just beginning, so I have nothing to show, let alone left out.

  10. Congratulations on your accomplishment. I can’t wait to read your new book. The Gift of an Ordinary Day sits permanently on my nightstand, for regular reminders. I love your work, your spirit, and your heart. Thank you for be being brave enough to share your life with us. Wholehearted indeed.

  11. Katrina
    Congratulations!!!! I concur with Kathy above and so agree with her giving your own words back to you. I have no doubt that your book with be brilliant and full of wisdom. I am hoping to have it in my hands by the fall when my nest will be empty and I will be trying to figure out what on earth do I do now!?! I have been once again sharing your Gift on an Ordinary Day video and book with all my Nicki mom friends and have a new crop of fans for you. This is in addition to all her teachers who are young moms and reading Mitten Strings. All of us “old folk” cannot wait for your next book. I’m so glad you finally finished it !!! And so very happy for you to have this grand accomplishment. Huge Hug!

  12. Katrina, I can’t imagine starting a book, nevertheless writing one and then FINISHING one! And you’ve done it three times! My hats off to you. I’m sure it’s a labor of love, and the emotional “release” you feel at the end of it akin to finishing a marathon. I can’t WAIT to read your newest book!

  13. I absolutely can’t wait to read it, Katrina. Even though you might think it falls short of your original vision, your readers are going to be so incredibly blessed by your words.

  14. snow… it explains so very much about life… ever so quietly…

    congratulations… by God’s grace, you did it… smile like you do when you see that snow falling so purely, so simply, every flake new… your thoughts written down, your own, it will be a wonderful surprise to all who read and see it as a fresh and lovely snowfall! Do some rejoicing girl… dance with your beloveds for the grace of God. It is sufficient :)

  15. Melissa Sweet says:

    Congratulations!! I can’t wait to read your new book and I know it will be wonderful! I look forward to your blogs; they always resonate with me. Please feel proud of yourself. :o)

  16. Oh the feelings at finishing a novel! Crazy. What a ‘real’ post this is.
    Thanks!! You’ve really summed it up.

  17. Congratulations, Katrina!

    I can relate to your feelings, as a writer–an unpublished writer, that is : )

    Looking forward to reading your words on the printed page. Thanks for sharing your words on screen until then.

  18. Yes my mountain flower yes, I totally get those tears. The old alchemists suggested that it was out of the bitterness of tears that came the salt of wisdom. Your tears are rife with love and being loved, gratitude, humility and quiet sun that leaves out no more than does the snow.

    And of course congrats, I too cannot wait to read it. I’m also with KW—time for champagne, or perhaps a good Meursault.

    • I’m with Bruce in using perhaps the greatest YES in the history of literature to congratulate you. I can’t wait to open it and begin.

  19. melody armstrong says:

    Dearest Katrina:
    YES!!!!! You did it!! I have prayed over and over for you these last weeks before your deadline, knowing that it must have felt absolutely gruelling. I’m so proud of you –and of course thrilled for me, since I will have a new favourite to keep in my “top drawer” with Mitten Strings and Gift of an Ordinary Day!! So this definitely calls for celebration, not only for you and the HUGE accomplishment of hitting “Send”, but for all your dedicated fans. Thank you, Thank you, Thank YOU!! And now a pause, a deep breath, and the next step in TRUSTING that your book WILL be exactly what it was meant to be — for every single person who’s life will be touched by your gift!!!! I can’t wait to hear the stories. A bouquet of spring sunshine for you today!! With hugs and tingling anticipation, melody.

  20. How sweet that your husband knew you would need a special gift to help you handle this big transition.

    Congrats.

  21. Once again, I thank you for bearing your soul with us, with me. Your honesty is soul food – which is why I already know that I will love this book.
    Congratulations Katrina, and Happy Spring!

  22. Absolutely lovely. You write honestly about your reactions to work, to feeling not ‘good enough’ (or your work not being good enough), your fears and your insecurities, which are written in a way that each of us readers can feel within ourselves: our fears, our insecurities, our sorrows at not being perfect. AND YET, you remind us of what is really important. That beautiful sunrise out there, ‘the day,’ our life. Thank you!

  23. Congratulations! I am looking forward to reading your new book!

  24. I have no doubts your new book will be brilliant and not an ounce of failure. I loved/still loved the The Gift of an Ordinary Day. Whenever I see you have a posted a new blog I wait to read it until I am sitting day and I can absorb every beautiful word your write. Now enjoy the rest of spring.

  25. Surely your words, Katrina, are more than enough. Thank you for sharing yourself, and congratulations!

  26. Congratulations. I have missed your words here in this space while you were busy sharing them with only your manuscript. While you cannot imagine it now – your finished product is all it was meant to be and I, for one, cannot wait to read it.

  27. Surely not a coincidence that thousands were completing the Boston Marathon at the time you completed your own writing marathon. Congratulations! Eager to hear your more about your newest work.

  28. Oh, Katrina, congratulations! In my own meager way, I know this feeling of a work being ever in progress. I’m comforted somehow to know that one of my writing heroines struggles in this same way. Given the way that you so often comfort me with your words, I’m grateful to know that you have a partner who knows so well how to do the same for you. xo

  29. Catherine says:

    I am so, so elated for you, and yet totally empathize with your bittersweet emotions about being done. Your work is always high-quality, so don’t sell yourself short. Through your thoughts and words, we readers get the chance to reflect on life in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise. Can’t wait to buy my copy/ies! Congratulations, Katrina!

  30. I was talking to my friend this afternoon and I recalled to her that very quote, “today is the first day of the rest of your life.” I really love how things like this show up so timely in other parts of your life. Its like we are all crossing over, spilling over into each other. Selfishly, I have missed you here. You are an inspiration to so many of us. Maybe it is a little scarey to hear that we are all looking forward to your book. But we are all looking forward to your book! Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

  31. Dee Matthews says:

    Who’s better than Wendell Berry? Not many poets/writers/mad farmers-read some more Wendell! He is my favorite poet. Congrats on the book and I look forward to reading your words. Oh, and kudos to your husband-does he have any brothers?

  32. Congratulations on finishing! I’m sure it will be an incredible read!

    So true ~ we are haunted by the fear of never being enough. And sometimes we are haunted by the fear of being too much. Thanks for sharing your beautiful ordinary days with us!

  33. Very much looking forward to your next book. And thank you for sharing honestly about the process you’ve gone through… it makes your book that much more real, and that’s what people love about your books, your blog.. We love your open, honest look at life.

    Our dog of eleven years passed away on Saturday. It was another one of those transitions of our children growing up. My oldest is away at college and missed the goodbye. I thought of you and all your sharing about your sons. You capture the passage of time so well.

    Sandy

  34. Mary Lynne Johnson says:

    As always, so beautiful…and it arrived when I needed it most.
    Looking forward to your new book. My very best to you and your family, Mary Lynne

  35. Katrina,
    As a beginning writer, your words and emotion resonated with me. My first manuscript, a short story, is being published this summer and I’ll never forget the relief I felt when it was done. I have a strong desire to tackle a bigger book, but am wavering. I have been waiting to read your words of completion because I knew they would inspire me.
    Thank you for sharing your doubts and joy with others. Your commitment to your goal made it all possible and I’m sure having a supportive husband made the journey much more doable. Congrats! I look forward to reading your latest work.
    Ardis

  36. I just saw this.

    I am so happy for you.

    I understand it all and I hope that in the meantime—between then and now—you are living spring, living life, and knowing that you are the writer we all believe you to be.

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