a graveyard in the background, yellow flowers are in the foreground

Last Regrets

On a weekly basis, one client or another will tell me, “If I wind up on my deathbed without finishing this project, I’m seriously going to regret it.” This population of writers is, admittedly, peculiar; they share an intense enough degree of passion, compulsion, or vocation about writing to pay me good money. Or perhaps they seek me out because they sense in me a similar drive. My current projects, a grandiose credo articulating once and for all my metaphysics and a middle grade novel about a puppet theater, I care about with mama-bear furiosity. Were death imminent, along with cherishing my dear ones, soaking up the natural world, and consuming chocolate with abandon, I’d plug away at these projects.

Why? What is so important about creative work?

When I was in my twenties drafting Swinging on the Garden Gate, I would have said I wanted evidence of my existence to outlast me. A published book would become my legacy—a means for my personhood to continue. 

Now that the memoir has circulated for twenty-plus years, this reason has faded. The book itself is just an object. Sure, it comes alive when it moves a reader, but my desire to effect change like that, while certainly real, isn’t strong enough to warrant deathbed regret.

I also would have said that writing my story allowed my otherwise hidden internal life to become evident on the page. Before I died I wanted to be known, not in the sense of being famous but rather being seen by others in the full complexity of my personhood. Amazingly, the book did that and more: It helped me manifest more completely that rich complexity in my life. I came out bisexual and as a spiritual human being, to myself as to others. The book birthed me. On some unconscious level, did longing for that transformation drive me to write?

These days I know that who I become for having written is as significant a contribution as any product that goes out into the world. I suspect that need to finish my credo and that middle grade novel because both contain some essence of life I’m eager to meet. At the end of my days, perhaps fulfillment will come not just from leaving my unique fingerprint on creation but from growing as much as I possibly can into that unique selfhood. Writing is my means.

– Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

Photo by John Thomas on Unsplash