starting over


Posted by justinemusk | Posted in story, Uncategorized, Writers | Posted on 20-01-2009

As I write this I am sitting at home in Los Angeles while it seems that half the people I know are at Sundance and the other half are at the Inauguration.  I don’t mind this — I could have gone to either, if I’d made enough effort, but here’s the thing:

I am exhausted.

It has been, if I may say so myself, a hell of a year.

When my sons were younger, we once bought a butterfly kit.  We watched caterpillars transform themselves into winged creatures we set loose in our backyard.  But what struck me — kind of horrified me, actually — was the messy, bloody-looking process it turned out to be.  Turns out that that particular metaphor of transformation didn’t prepare me for the dried red stains splashed all around the mesh cage, or the struggle and pain they imply.

To put it bluntly: I got divorced.

The end of my marriage left no doubt whatsoever that it was indeed the end of my marriage, and that to carry it any further would only inflict further emotional damage on all involved.  That door is closed and there is no going back.  So I’ve been an unmarried woman now (in every way except technically, if you want to get picky about it) for about six months. Along with the rise of what seems like every negative thought and emotion that ever got suppressed in the past years — in order to keep the peace as best as it could be kept, in order to just get along — there’s also been the sweeping sense of liberation, release, new possibility. There’s been a growing awareness of the shape I’m changing into once I bust through the final layers of cocoon — and the stained mesh of the cage itself.

It really is a gruesome process.

The high points were high and the low points so low I hope I never descend that far again.  What the year distinctly lacked was any kind of calm that characterizes those points in the middle.  If the poet had it right — that poetry, and by extension fiction-writing in general, is the intensity of experience recollected in tranquility, then I gathered a hell of a lot of material.  I just needed the tranquility to work with it.

I lacked something else too, which is just as important, if not more so.  A friend summed it up in neat if devastating fashion when she said,  “You need to make choices.  You’re not making choices.”

And she was right.

There’s some cocky little child in me that wants to do and have and be everything….and write about it all.

In other words, there were times when I said yes when I should have said no.  And not because I was afraid to say no; I wanted to write every single thing I was offered, amazed and plumb delighted that I was being offered these things at all.  I wanted it so much that I denied the reality of my increasingly turbulent personal situation and the impact that would have on my work life, especially once my ex and I started wrestling with custody issues.  I also denied the growing chasm between what I’d agreed to write and what I truly want to write, somehow assuming I’d just manage to accomplish it all.

I didn’t want to make the tough choices, so I acted like I didn’t have to make any.

It didn’t work out so well.

Let’s just say that lessons were learned.

So I like that I’m submitting this piece to the site on the same day we get our new President, when a vocabulary of hope and change has galvanized the country, or at least certain parts of it.  It’s not that any of us expect the war to go away, the middle east to suddenly right itself, the economy to return overnight to the insane bubbling froth of the time I first moved to this country a decade ago.  It’s not that we don’t even expect to be disillusioned, perhaps bitterly so, once reality starts to fill up all that lovely empty space of perfect potential that Obama’s presidency still represents.  But there is the hope that maybe we’ve been through the worst, and we’ve now made a different decision, a new decision, that has pointed us in a fresh and bettter direction.

My own life is heading in a fresh direction, including my writing life.  I’ve had to streamline and shift gears.  I’ve also had to learn that the ‘no’ of quitting some things means a bigger, better ‘yes’ to the other things I now have time for.

So I am saying, all over again, a ‘yes’ to Storytellers Unplugged.  I’ve missed so many posts and been late on so many others — including this one — that I’d like to declare, today, a new start and a new sense of commitment.

Thank you, SU, for your patience with me.

Comments (5)

I dunno, Justine. Seems like you coulda timed it better if you had just snuck Easter in there for the confluence of epiphanies…

Your renewal is contagious. Thanks for the spirit and the momentum. Been there, done that, and so I have a personal take on your apt column. Freedom is a discovery, and you put the revelations well. May you ride it to the horizon and beyond.

— Sully

I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time. Every time we communicate you seem almost a different person – not always good – but definitely changing, and lately more and more positive.

This is a great post, and a good lesson is buried in it. You have to make choices. We can all learn from that…and we are blessed and pleased to still be one of yours.


Sorry about the tough times and truly glad you’re staying with us.
Consider us your SU army. –Janet

Dear Justine —

It is great to see your bubbles reach the surface, with a living human voice inside. I WUZ WORRIED ABOUT YOU, KID!!!

Be well. Choose wisely. I will be watching, as always.

Yer pal,

I was reading an article abt ur X, in Feb’s issue of GQ, and I came across ur name. So I did what every curious browser would do, I googled U 2 find that beautiful article titled starting over.. Not so innovative on the creative forefront, but so damn right on the emotional one. Indeed, the lows are so low (talking out of experience) but the upcoming highs r just as high. I relate 2 ur struggles, thow Im no mum, and I have one thing 2 tell U: respect, respect 4 a mind that never rests, a heart that never stops beating, and most importantly respect 2 starting over. Cheers Justine. May ur new life b filled with a geyser of creativity, the very elixir of life. Sarah, Beirut, Lebanon.

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