Twenty years ago, I traveled through Nepal with some friends. Even though we were traveling on a shoestring, prices were so low that we were able to hire a car and a driver and tour the entire country. Along one narrow, treacherous stretch of road, men were working to widen the road by blasting away rock from the mountain side. We had to stop while they worked.
As we waited, I looked out the car window and saw a young woman working in the rubble. This caught my interest immediately since I had seen very few women working in any capacity since I arrived in Nepal. Her back was to me and her long skirt and hands were covered with dust. As I watched, she filled a large basket with rocks. After she filled the basket, she took a long strap-like handle attached to the basket and put it around her forehead so that she could carry the basket on her back. I thought to myself, this is the worst job in the world! I was beginning to feel very sorry for this young woman who was doing such back-breaking work, when she turned to face me. I was shocked to see that she looked extremely happy, almost euphoric, as if she was the most successful woman in the world.
I’m not sure why she felt this way.
Maybe she was providing for her children or helping out her parents.
Or perhaps this job gave her the freedom to do things that she wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
This got me to thinking about what success really is.
Most Americans feel successful if they have a lot of money in the bank, a beautiful house and a nice car. But I have never seen anyone look as successful as that young Nepalese woman.
In second grade, I wrote my first short story. It consisted of five lines. That night I walked in front of the TV, obstructing my family’s view and announced that when I grew up I was going to be a writer.
My parents were horrified.
“Writers don’t make any money,” they said. “You’d better be a teacher like we are.”
“But words are magic,” I said.
My parents scowled.
Clearly, they didn’t believe in magic.
Looking at my family history, they did have something to base their fears on. My great-uncle was a brilliant inventor and a gifted poet. He lived comfortably on the money his inventions brought in but he was forced to give his poems away for free to the local newspaper. It was the only way he could get them published.
I stopped talking to my parents about writing but my dream of becoming a writer didn’t die. In college I took one creative writing class. It was a very traumatic experience as the students were hyper-critical. At the end of the semester, the professor singled me out and gave me some advice.
“Do nothing in your life but write. But don’t write for publication; they will ruin you. Instead find a benefactor who will support you and your art. Don’t get a job. Don’t get married. And whatever you do, don’t have children. Just write.”
Then he added, “And don’t live your life like a character in a novel or you’ll lead a horrible life.”
With that he left. I was so overwhelmed that I put my head down on the scarred oak desk and cried. For the next ten years I followed none of his advice. Instead I tried to please my parents. I wrote very little. I lived my life like a tragic character in a novel. My professor was right. It was a horrible way to lead a life.
It wasn’t until I went to Japan that the urge to write took over my life. During the day, I taught school and I had so many ideas that I didn’t have time to write them down. I practiced remembering the ideas to write down later when I had time. I could remember twelve ideas in one day but if I had more ideas than that, I lost them forever.
I did nothing at night but write. For the first time in ten years, my life made sense to me. And I remembered the wisdom that I knew instinctively in second grade.
– “Words are magic. With words, we can create unlimited universes. We can do anything, be anything. Words can heal. Words can solve problems. Words can save the world.” -K. Ford K.