Work in Progress

I should warn you in advance: this blog post will be a little depressing. Its title comes from a Facebook post I saw a few months ago, in which a Facebook friend, although someone I don’t know personally, posted about a friend of hers, an author, who had recently died much too young, in her forties, after the publication of her first novel. The post made me so sad — so young, and just after her first novel had been published! I followed a link to the author’s website, and there it was: “This website is a work in progress.”

It felt like a punch in the chest. Here was a woman, younger than me, who was trying to build a writing career. She had just accomplished what is often the first big step, the publication of a novel. She was in the middle of creating her website. And then . . .

It was, inevitably, a moment of confronting my own eventual mortality, of wondering how many years I had left to write in and how much I could accomplish during that time. And I thought, “I’d better update my website.” But in the middle of that existential panic, I also had another thought: that no matter how long my life lasts, it will probably always be a work in progress. There will probably never be a moment when I say, “That’s it, I’m done, I finished what I came here to do.”

I remember reading that in an interview, Jorge Luis Borges, then in his 90s, told the interviewer, “Someday I hope to write the novel that will justify me.” There he was, famous and accomplished, but he wasn’t finished yet. And then I thought, when that moment comes for me, I hope not to be finished yet. I hope I’m working on a new project, thinking, “This one is going to be really good.”

At that point, the words “work in progress” became a promise rather than a sign of failure. I thought, I want to be a work in progress, up to the very end.

Who knows how many years any of us has left. Who knows what, among all the things we create, will last. All I can hope is that among all the things I create, for however long I can keep working, there will be something — a novel, a story, a poem — that will justify me. That will mean I have done whatever the bits of ancient stars that went into creating me were meant to accomplish.

(The image is Hilda by Carl Larsson.)

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6 Responses to Work in Progress

  1. Nancy D says:

    I feel the same.

  2. We all wonder whether we will write something that strikes a long-last chord in readers ot a kitchen drawer filled with old grocery lists.

  3. I will experience my 71st birthday in a few days. I have also lived a ‘work in progress’ life, and I also felt that it was an excellent way to live life. I have finally reach the point where I have attempted so many things, and achieved so many goals, that it is time to try some of the really magical ones that always seemed too difficult or strange or unpopular or . What am I doing? Writing my first novel. It’s a screamingly beautiful experience, and perhaps the novel will be a good one, but it doesn’t even matter. These days, it is the experience of creating that is exciting for me – purpose, cost, return, etc. have receded and all that is left is the act of personal creation. I never expected to feel so free, but…how sweet. Life itself is the work in progress, and how to express the energies of life is a never-ending pleasure.

  4. Gabriela says:

    It may start depressing, but it ends hopeful. To be a “Work I’m progress” no matter what accomplishment one gets or not, it’s a life well lived.

  5. M - says:

    I absolutely FELL IN LOVE with the “Monstrous Gentlewomen” (as I call them). I found a connection with Beatrice (her love of plants) and most especially with Catherine (I was born loving felines).

    If I though the male-dominated entertainment industry would do justice to them, it wuld be a great series. But, alas, like Jennefer of Witcher-fame, they would dumb- and water-down those brilliant women. So perhaps we are better off breathlessly awaiting the next installment????

  6. I am a writer… and a double lung transplant. (I’m also a graduate of Stonecoast from before your time.) I was successful as a television writer before I got sick. Then I reinvented myself and published short stories, audio dramas and started my own comic book press. Then I got worse and had to have the transplant. When it came time, I was ready for whatever the outcome was. I had a great life. I had achieved success in my career, married the love of my life, and traveled the world. I was okay with dying. When I didn’t, I worked hard to get back into my writing life. Just this year I started having success again. It’s exhilerating. I’m a work in progress, always working to stay healthy, to counter the toxic effects of the immune suppressant drugs I have to take, and to find the focus to keep writing. Now I’m traveling the country in an RV with my husband, going from convention to convention and seeing the national parks along the way. In like, we should be constantly reinventing ourselves. As you so elequently said, we are a work in progress up until the very end, and sometimes even after.

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