Story Time

I've been thinking for days about tomorrow: that it will be a year and a day since I started my blog. It really does feel like there should be something important to say, some big announcement to mark this event. Or non-event. It's just an anniversary, not really a thing that is going to happen. But if this were a fairy-tale, what might I expect? I know, I know, I can hear Granny Weatherwax now. We don't live in stories; we live our lives, and that is much better than living a tale. The princess doesn't have to marry the frog; the eldest sister (that's me) doesn't have to be the one whom the shoe won't fit. We create our own stories (hurray for free will!) and thus our own meaning. But it's very hard to escape from the expectation that maybe life really is a story that should go a certain way.

For example, if I were a journalist, perhaps I would have spent the past year traveling, having all sorts of adventures and moments of self-realization, at the end of which (tomorrow) I would emerge re-born, not only thinner (okay, a little bit), but spiritually healed, no longer anxious about all of the things that I was worrying about when I started this blog at the beginning of last summer. If this were a Disney movie, I would have already earned my C, coming in a modest second, of course, after training just one year, but nevertheless showing all those uptight, more experienced fencers that it is heart, not training for years that makes one a winner. Even if I were simply a fairy-tale princess, a year and a day should be enough to transform my life, find my prince (oh, already have that one!), realize my dreams. Can't you just hear the music swelling? "Believe in yourself, and all your dreams will come true."

Ha. I do believe in myself; at least, I'm pretty sure I do. I don't tend to spend much time questioning whether I should be an historian, just whether I am as good as I'd like to be.* I do wonder sometimes about how I managed to become a fencer, but as I've mentioned before, I've tried a number of sports and none has had the ability to suck me in quite the way fencing has. No, what I spend most of my time worrying about is why I don't seem to be able to have that breakthrough that everyone talks about, that moment of realization or enlightenment when suddenly everything makes sense (how to make the attack, how to write a best-selling book). See? That was what was supposed to happen this year while I was writing to you: by the end, I was supposed to have discovered the secret of fencing and be able to describe it with zen-like wisdom. No dice.

The book is coming along, but it will most certainly not be finished by the time I have to go back to teaching in the autumn. Journalists may be able to write a best-selling book in a year, but to write an academic book good enough simply to get published, well, that takes a little longer. So no great breakthroughs to report there (although lots of little victories and just over 40,000 words as of this week). Will my book change the world? Well, yes and no. Yes, in a little way, the way everything that we make or do changes the world, but no, not in the big way I feel like it should--reinventing devotion to the Virgin Mary, teaching millions about what it means to pray. LOL! I haven't even learned to pray yet and I'm writing the book. No, I'm not writing anything close to a best-seller.

My friend Barbara tells me not to worry: that's not the kind of book that she and I are called to write. We are the ones who write the careful scholarly studies with lots and lots of footnotes that the journalists read (maybe, if we're lucky) and then (again, if we're lucky) popularize, perhaps even crediting us in a footnote or two. But why not? Why can't I be an A-rated fencer? Why can't I be an author that lots and lots of people read? Again, if this were a fairy-tale, there would be no question. I'm the princess of my own story (you should see some of the new blouses I bought this past week; by some freak of the fashion industry, the clothes are actually almost enchanting this year); I can dream myself as Cinderella or Mulan just as well as the next girl. Have I not risked enough? Sacrificed enough? Dreamed enough? Or am I just living in the wrong story?

Wrong perspective, I know. My husband tells me this all the time: "You're living your dream." Which, of course, I am. When I was 19, I dreamed of becoming a history professor; and here I am. I dreamed of having a husband and family, and so I do. I dreamed of living in a city with elegance and excitement, majestic buildings and great parks, museums and restaurants, and--guess what?--so I do. Aside from the colleges in Oxford and Cambridge, which, let's face it, are hard to top, I don't think there is a university campus that I like as much as I do the one where I teach; I'd never get any work done if I stopped to think about it every day as I rode in. And oh, yes, the reason that I lose all those fencing bouts at practice: it's because I practice at the best club in the city against some of the best fencers in the state, indeed, the whole region. Moreover, I'm one of only three or four women from Illinois who compete in Veterans at the national level; so what if I lose? I'm on the strip!

It's hard being the heroine of your own fairy-tale. You don't realize when you're actually already in the "happily ever after" part. Or maybe that's it. Nothing really seems to happen in "happily ever after." We need the sense of adventure, the possibility of change. Do I want to be in a significantly different place a year and a day from now? I'd like more of my book to be written and some of the articles that I have "forthcoming" finally to have come forth (not my problem; I've done my proofs). I'd like still to be fencing. It would be nice to have done better in competition, maybe even earned a medal for something other than showing up.** I'd like still to be writing my blog--Fencing Bear certainly wants me to! But the reality is that what I want most is mainly more of the same. I know, not really the stuff of fairy tales. But then, this is real life. And hopefully that takes a bit longer than just a year and a day.

To be continued....

*Okay, not strictly true. I do have an on-going fantasy about being an artist, but I appreciate that what I've really practiced all these years is writing. Nor, much as I would like to be, do I think I have the makings of a novelist. An essayist, yes. I would like to be able to write better about the kinds of things that I address in my blog.
**I took third in Women's Foil in the tournament at our club last week--out of three women. But we were the only three women fencing in an event of 29 and most of the guys were C-rated or higher.

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