I’m writing this post late on a Sunday evening because my wife and I spent the afternoon traveling from our home in Ohio to her hometown (a mere five miles from my hometown) in southeastern Illinois. We were supposed to make the trip tomorrow, but we decided to beat the snow that’s forecast for later this evening and on into the morning.
It’s cold out here on the prairie. At the Casey’s convenience store, men in Carhartt overalls pump gas into pickup trucks. Somewhere down the street, a dog barks, agitated by who knows what. The strangled voice of a man comes so sharp and clear in the cold air I don’t even stop to wonder what misery haunts him. I simply believe it—whatever it is—as much as I believe my own name. Here we are in small-town America, our country’s oft-ignored landscape, on the eve of another work week.
I remember winters when my father chopped ice on our frozen pond so our hogs could get to water. My mother milked cows in the cold pre-dawn hours, their breath and hers steaming in the lantern light. Years later, when my parents were in their sixties, my father walked two miles with my mother in deep snow because she had to be at work at the local nursing home and my father couldn’t get our car out of the driveway. Never once did it cross their minds that she wouldn’t go to work that day.
Work was sacrosanct out here in the country. Work was what we had if we were lucky. My parents and so many others were children of the Great Depression, and they passed their work ethic down to me.
Which brings me to my point. It’s never too late to begin to write. The work itself doesn’t care how old you are. Readers don’t care how old you are. No one is keeping count. If you want to write, write. It comes down to this. How do we want to spend our days? As Annie Dillard tells us in The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Tomorrow morning, here in the Heartland, people will go to work at Walmart, at the Toyota factory, in the oil fields, on the farms. Sometimes we don’t have a choice about how we spend our days. We have to labor to put food on the table, make the house payment, pay the doctors’ bills. If we do have that choice, we shouldn’t fear it or squander it. We should embrace it and move bravely forward.
If you’re like me, there’s more of a life behind than there is ahead, but time is time—each day breaks down into each hour, each minute, each second. And each second we can ask ourselves how we want to spend our lives. Do you want to write? Find a place and begin.