Let me begin with a confession. I cheated. I couldn’t actually remember events specific to March 18, 2010, or even the month at all. That year is a little fuzzy, frankly. But then, I’ve always had a selective memory. So I dug up emails from my old AOL address. At first, it looked as the only thing I had going on was planning a trip to a James Taylor concert in Charlotte with college friends, and my daughter’s group 13th-birthday party. I was shopping online for leopard-print plastic tablecloths and purple, custom-printed M&Ms.
Scrolling back another page revealed more. I was volunteering once a week for Hospice. My patient was losing ground fast. Each week it was getting harder to show up. I was toying with a short-lived weekly bible study, but couldn’t get comfortable praying out loud or asking questions about my faith. That stuff was between me and God. There were a lot of emails about driving—my daughter’s school carpool, her sports and social events, the orthodontist. Driving carpool I eavesdropped, wondering if—like me at thirteen—my daughter would soon be smoking weed regularly before school. But there was never the odor of pot or cigarettes, no visible hickeys. We locked the liquor cabinet. That would come later.
My time, in those days of 2010, was not my own. My daughter talked about going away to school and instead of feeling bereft I imagined whole days full of sparkly golden hours that would be just mine. While I love my family, I craved—I longed for—time for myself. Ingrained in me by my own work ethic was the belief that in order for me to deserve that time I had to produce something that could be measured—in dollars, in accolades, in brownie points. Before, that validation had come from jobs.
Ten years ago I was working as a freelance photo stylist and I had a cottage business making baby accessories out of recycled cashmere sweaters. I loved my little company. I combed Goodwill and resale shops, I bought moth-eaten sweaters on eBay. I designed patterns and took a big order from a New York department store. Then a toney shop on Madison Avenue placed a big order and all that summer I cut and sewed, sending off a box of little hats in late August. They stiffed me for the $2000 invoice. The resulting lawsuit and unpleasantness soured the whole thing and I closed the business down, feeling burned, stupid for trusting someone who intended to rip me off. I sold two huge cartons of holey cashmere sweaters to a woman in Germany. I have no idea what she was going to do with them, nor did I care. My empty studio seemed an accusation. I wanted to walk away and find the next thing that would make me feel validated.
I had not yet started writing or gone back to school, which I would do two years later, starting an English degree which would morph into an MFA program in Creative Writing. Had I been able to look ahead five years from March of 2010, I would have seen my first essay accepted for publication that month. I will never forget that moment, that ding! from my phone, and pulling over in a parking lot, frantic to read the editor’s email. That euphoria still happens, every time, and it is addictive as hell. But I wouldn’t know that yet.
Had I been able to see ten years ahead, I would have laughed—not that I had actually completed two novels and they were being published, or that I had a finished a Master’s Degree—I would have laughed at the idea that I could ever stand up in front of a crowd and read my own work aloud. That I would ever want to do that—to put myself out there, to be judged, jonesing for that validation high. Ten years ago today, I had no idea I’d become a writer.
Ten years from now, I’ll be seventy. Seventy. I’m guessing by then I’ll have grandkids and shiny new hip joints and more lines on my face than Botox can fix. Maybe another book. Other than that, who knows? Ten years is a long time.
Liza Nash Taylor was a 2018 Hawthornden International Fellow and received an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts the same year. She was the 2016 winner of the San Miguel Writer’s Conference Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared in Gargoyle Magazine; Deep South, and others. ETIQUETTE FOR RUNAWAYS is her first novel. A second will follow in 2021. A native Virginian, she lives in Keswick with her husband and dogs, in an old farmhouse which serves as a setting for her novels.