I had that dream again. I was stark naked in the lobby of a hotel with fully clothed people milling around me, and I couldn’t find my clothes or a way to call my wife to come get me. I’ve had that dream twice before, first when I was in graduate school and totally immersed in writing my dissertation, and again 10 years later when I wrote my first book, After 50 Its Up to Us.
Which might explain why I had the dream again this week. I’m deep in the middle of writing my next book. That’s a process that makes me feel like a pregnant elephant who’s having contractions. Long gestation period, lots of pain, a cute baby worth the whole ordeal.
I’m never sorry that I’m writing a book, but I’m always surprised by how deeply I’m affected by the whole process.
For the past two weeks I’ve been locked away like a monk in a monastery. Well, maybe not exactly a monastery. I’m alone in a beautiful condo in the Buckhead district of Atlanta. No cloister is this sumptuous: two bedrooms, two baths, a library, two gas fireplaces, and authentic (as in original, not reproduction) French antiques collected by the late mother/mother-in-law of the condo owners, generous friends who knew I needed a distraction-free getaway in which to hunker down and write.
The working title is “Some Straightaways, Many Curves.” It’s all about building a pragmatic and useful approach to managing our lives after 50. I’m filled with both excitement and doubts. Does the title work? Is it obvious I’m using life’s highway as a metaphor? Will I find a publisher? Will anyone buy it? Will anyone read it? What will the critics think?
As I ask these questions, I’m struck by how the process of writing the book parallels what’s actually in the book. We can build a life-after-50 plan, execute on the action steps, and adapt both the plan and ourselves as we go along. That’s exactly what I’m doing with my writing. Organizing, drafting, evaluating, adjusting, questioning. It’s hard work, and mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. Those metaphorical elephant contractions are strong.
When writing I feel more exposed and vulnerable than I do at almost any other time in my life, and that’s pain of a different sort.
And here’s the biggest question of all: Am I crazy to put myself through this ordeal? The answer is a resounding yes. I’d rather be temporarily insane than forsake all risks at this point in my life. Creativity is always about risk, and I can’t live a life without being immersed in some artistic endeavor.
I keep coming back to this great Dwight Eisenhower quote: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
Eisenhower was right. Planning means facing risk head on. My dream of the new book involves risk, too. Only in this wide-awake dream, I’m in that hotel lobby with all my clothes on.