Confidence

“Confidence is so overrated.”

I am on a zoom gathering of women writers that a guardian angel put in my path in late December or January. The group had been showing up daily since the second week of the pandemic shutdown last March. The idea was to begin their workday with camaraderie and accountability, to counter the isolation of the shutdown, to say “This is what I am working on today” and regroup a couple hours later to report on their progress (even if what is reported is a nap, a walk, a kid’s orthodontist appointment). They welcomed me — a stranger — with astonishingly seamless grace.

I come back week after week because writing takes cheerleaders. And mentors. And role models. I come back week after week to speak into existence a book that has been in process for years, and may be unseen for many more, if not forever. To make it real, like an imaginary friend they can see, too. When I feel stuck or dejected, there are voices saying, “we get it,” “this too shall pass,” and “try this.”

During one check-in, a discussion of “confidence” bubbles up. It can be elusive when what you are working on is so speculative. When thousands of hours could come to nothing tangible.

“Confidence isn’t the driver for me,” one says. “The driver for me is I have to tell this story. It’s passion.”

“Passion beats confidence every time,” another agrees.

Another says, “I don’t think I’ve ever really had confidence, but more a feeling of faithfully knowing I was meant to do something…most of the time I had no idea what would happen at the end.”

Faithfully knowing. This rings some internal bell. Faithfully knowing is stronger than intuition or a hunch, which are sometimes all you get and good enough. It is what guides us as we create — whether an essay, a painting, a meal, a relationship, or a life.

The challenge is to get quiet enough to hear that inner knowledge, and have the faith in ourselves to follow it. Voices shout over it and block it out. Fear. Anxiety. Self-doubt. They are all my voice, saying “Get real” and “Who do I think I’m fooling?” I turn up the volume on my computer and listen to these writers share what they are working on, and get back to work.

Weeds

Weeds push out between the stones lining the path to our front door. When they reach a critical mass, so shabby and untidy that even my eyes cannot pretend not to notice, I renew my campaign to eradicate them. I sit on the path cross-legged and armed with a screwdriver, podcasts and overheard conversations of passersby for company. One hour at a time, day after day, I chip away at the task from sidewalk to door. Oh, the satisfaction of seeing measurable results.

“Satisfaction of seeing measurable results” is the antithesis of my writing of late – and by “writing” I mean revising. Where Elmore Leonard claimed to have “just left the boring parts out,” I struggle to identify which passages need elimination.

If only the weed-words in my manuscript called attention to themselves the way these weeds stand out against the stones. I need only look for green and pull — the editing equivalent of deleting adverbs. (Or, as Mark Twain advised, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”)

I have avoided the more challenging weeds in my backyard, the ones that bloom alongside the roots of lavender and lilies, and braid with their stems. It takes patience, and digging beneath the soil, twisting them around my dirty fingers, to pull them out by their roots. I never get them all, and I pull out parts of the plant, too.

As I pinch and extract small shoots with roots as fine as baby hair, I find myself hoping that by some magic these hours will transform into an ability to do the same with words: to recognize what does not serve the story and will suffocate its beauty if left there, and to have the confidence to yank it out, no mercy.

As the pace of our lives Before Pandemic begins to bloom again, before extraneous pastimes take root, we can ask, does it bring meaning and serve beauty?, and landing on an answer, confidently weed away.

More Pandemic Life, and Light, One Year Later

Last Passover I thought the Jews might break the internet. I did not yet know that this “Zoom” thing could handle our bandwidth. Miraculously, it could and did. Some fifty relatives waved at each other from our own homes, believing surely we would be together this year.

That was not to pass. Rather than resume our pre-pandemic mass gathering, our familial organism divided into smaller cells spread across counties and states. Even so, I felt a real liberation from the narrow places of last year: for the first time in a year I was sitting with my parents inside their house, eating at their dining room table, maskless, and vaccinated. We chose to open a laptop to Zoom as our rabbi led a Seder from her home and we joined a congregational family of hundreds. She closed the Seder with “Next year in Jerusalem,” and we affirmed, “next year in Tarzana.” Even this felt like a step forward.

More signs of light? For my 2020 birthday, one month into the shutdown, my friend left a very special gift on my porch, rang the doorbell, then hightailed it to the safety of her car.

My birthday month has come around again, and last night we walked to this friend’s house, rang her doorbell and did not back up but stayed on her welcome mat. Five of us went up to the roof in time to see the sunset, and toast how far we have come; the world isn’t talking about where to source toilet paper, but vaccines! Earlier in the day, I had told my son that I sensed a light coming — though I hedged, acknowledging that my feelings could change in a day or an hour. Last night on that roof, with darkness settling over us, Christopher summarized the sentiment of the moment, saying, “I don’t know what comes next.”

We have never known what comes next. The last year has taught us that. I hold at bay the knowledge that anything could happen still, a fourth wave might crash over us and wipe out plans for summer or even fall. And it might not. I focus on the light streaming through my window right this moment, as real as anything.