As an author, I sometimes find myself staring at a blank page. Many of us count that as one of the most disturbing elements of the art. It’s akin to driving serenely down the highway, on your way to an exciting destination, then coming to an eight-way stop—like a danged wagon wheel—with eight different turn-offs to choose from. None of them are familiar. Which way to go? The map you have on the passenger seat does not show this place, the directions you carefully printed do not mention it.
Starting a new chapter of a story will sometimes halt me at that crazy intersection. Yes, just finished a chapter, humming along, point of view intact, characters are behaving nicely—well, not really because if they’re too nice, the story drags and no one will want to read it—and I ended the last chapter with a nice wow moment, then…screeching halt. Where to go now?
Should my character be killed off? Should she fall in love with the guy who just kidnapped her? Or should she be rescued by an alien aircraft just as the bad guy is throwing her in the trunk of his car?
Choices, choices. The blank white page of the next chapter taunts me. My fingers are poised over the keyboard waiting for instructions. What to do, what to do.
I just gave you a description of retirement.
I officially retired last March from the cancer center in my town, but kept my hand in by being available to work on call. I’d worked there for fifteen years—since 2005. My Jeep has worn a groove in the route from my house to the clinic, about ten miles away. Most days I used autopilot to get to work and back home again.
Yesterday was my last day. I told my boss I was done, that I wouldn’t be available anymore.
Empty white on the page of my life this morning.
I’ve been someone’s employee since I was fourteen—more than half a century. Ack! Now what?
Where’s the reset button? How can I install the update? Who should I hire as a mentor for the rest of my life?
In a way, I’ve already started the next chapter. I published my first three books between 2016 and 2018, and I’m working on two more. I intend to keep writing until my fingers wrap themselves around my throat and yell, “Stop!”
But there’s a curious, rather disconcerting question bumping around in my brain this morning. It wasn’t there yesterday as I auto-piloted myself to the clinic. It arrived this morning, when, staring into my first cuppa joe, I couldn’t find my purpose. I put my reading glasses on—still couldn’t find it.
Yes, I’m an author. I’m a wife. I’m a mom, grand-mom, and dog mom. Those are all important. But the act of being someone’s employee, of doing the best job I can for someone else, while enjoying the banter with co-workers, has been a core part of my identity for longer than my kids have been alive. I’m not sure how to fill that hole, what to write on that blank page.
I don’t want to rush into anything, to fill the page with unimportant stuff. No info dumps, please. No busy work just to appear…busy.
Rocking chair? There’ll never be a rocking chair for me. Maybe a souped up Camaro, but not a rocking chair, please God.
I want the next chapter to fill in the chinks of my life, to dovetail into a pleasing end, one that explains why I was here, why I was me and not someone else. Clear theme, no plot holes, no ends left dangling, and a positive arc for the main character…me.
The footprints I leave must be clear, and lead to the One who put me here.
I must figure out how to be me…in the next chapter. But today is just the first day. Millions have figured it out before me. My heartbeat tells me I will, too.