I was going to write a book.
I purchased a narrow-ruled, spiral-bound notebook to record all the details. I dated the entry, described my arrival in Chicago, jotted down the name of the suburban chain hotel and even immortalized my room number. Let’s say it was 405. Back in Room 405, after the mixer, I wrote about the following conversation. If I could find that notebook, I could tell you the name of the man with whom I shared my aspirations.
Let’s call him Dave.
It was February 2005. I was attending my AmeriCorps VISTA pre-service orientation. Training would begin in the morning. Until then, we gobbled down cookies and Cokes, eating and drinking our fill before having to live off of subsistence allowances.
I mingled with this particular group because one of the women looked like someone from high school. We completed the de rigueur introductions: name, current home town, organization we would serve for the next year. Here, we did not have to explain what a VISTA was. Free of that burden, conversation moved to books. We chatted like it was 1:00 am in our college dorm rooms.
Dave looked like he had been out of college for many years.
Not-actually-from-my-high-school woman announced she was working on a novel.
“The characters are really developing. It’s a fantasy-romance.”
Emboldened by her declaration and knowing that, in three days, I’d never see these people again, I piped up, “I’d like to write a book about this.”
Dave looked with pity, but spoke gently. “This isn’t sexy. The Peace Corps is sexy. No one is interested in AmeriCorps. Nobody knows what it is.”
I deflated. I trusted that he had wisdom in his gray hairs. I halfheartedly added, “I was going to write about how the experience changes me.”
Dave brightened, “Now that’s something people will read.”
I wrote this all down in my notebook so I wouldn’t forget.
Believing my transformation lay ahead, I disregarded the changes behind me. Over the previous six months I had abandoned graduate school, sold my house, quit my job, moved from Albuquerque back to Ohio and left behind my network of friends. Afraid of failing, I gave up on music education as a career. Looking for a new job in a new profession from another state proved challenging. Recalling an NPR story about national service, I found an AmeriCorps position in the city where I went to college. Now, here I was on the eve of training, ready to change the world, to change myself and to write a book about it.
By August, I knew Dave was right. Even I was bored journaling about the spreadsheets I was keeping or about the database I was assembling. Who would care about the number of copies made or phone calls answered that day? I enjoyed the work, felt my contributions were appreciated and hoped to stay for another year. Yet, it seemed unlikely that more time would yield page-turning material. I stopped writing in the notebook.
I didn’t know then what lay ahead just past my thirtieth birthday: I would leave my husband; I would move back in with my parents; I wouldn’t be able to stay on for a second year. My year of hopes, dreams and change became a year of moving backward. I pictured Dave shaking his head, imagined the sad “I told you so” in his eyes. Amid the upheaval, I lost the journal and all its minutiae.
It didn’t matter. I was never going to write that book.