Here in San Francisco, October is the perfect month. The weather is mild, the skies are clear, and temperatures hover the mid-70’s for three or four days in a row before we plunge back into the fog. On those gloriously warm days, people are out walking, riding their bikes, frolicking in the sand at Crissy Field or Baker Beach. It’s also a perfect time to wander around the Ferry Building farmer’s market. Yes, the produce is very expensive. I’ve gone down there with forty bucks in my wallet, believing that I could whip up entire meals with what I purchased, only to emerge hours later and slightly disgruntled, with a tiny carton of heirloom tomatoes, a couple honey sticks, and a wafer-thin slice of some fragrant Cowgirl Creamery cheese. But the market still inspires me. I can’t help but love wandering past all the stands overflowing with nature’s bounty. For a few hours every Saturday, the world is full of possibility. I feel the same way when I shop at Whole Foods. Oh, look at those figs! Why, I bet I could recreate that delicious fig and brie tart I had all those years ago, in that charming little French bistro. Never mind, that I don’t have a recipe or that I’m allergic to figs. And Lo! Those organic Honey Crisp apples are simply divine. I’ll make an apple pie! Better yet, I’ll make apple cider which I’ll bottle myself. And from now on, I’ll only eat raw foods. I’ll go to the gym every weekday and yoga every Saturday! I’ll run a marathon! I’ll dreadlock my hair and only wear clothes made from hemp fibers! And while I’m at it, I’ll take up the banjo and the harmonica (maybe the Carolina Chocolate Drops are looking for another band member!) which I’ll play when I move to my organic farm in Sonoma! It’s sad, I know. Try not to laugh. The truth is, I’m frequently seized by these delusions of grandeur, these exhuberant fits of ambition. I recognize that my pilgrimages to the Ferry Building are part of a larger plot, a scheme to keep myself lifted in the face of life’s drudgery. Wasn’t it Mel Brooks or Woody Allen who said art (or in this case, cooking) is just our way of distracting ourselves from the tedium of daily life?
But what can I say? Years ago, the twin seeds of blind faith and irrational optimism too root in my soul. Even in these difficult times filled with stories of ruthless dictators, political cynicism and corporate greed, part of me stilI wants to believe people are good, the playing field is level, that life is fair. I want to believe everything is possible; it’s just a matter of intention.
In the twelve years it took to write Queen Sugar, there were moments when I seriously considered giving up. Who was I kidding? What made me think I could write a novel? I must be crazy to take on such a daunting challenge. I’d think about all the years I’d invested and what else I could have done with that time. I’d cringe at the thought that I’d taken myself out of the job market, let my skills atrophy. Meanwhile, all the rules that were in place when I started writing had changed. The publishing world was crumbling. Independent bookstores were going under; even chain stores like Borders were struggling; people said the novel was dead.
But something always pulled me back from the brink. Call it determination, unbridled desire or sheer stupidity. Whatever it was, I knew it wasn’t time to quit. Not yet. Even when things looked bleak, I always believed in the book. Even when I wondered whether I was the person to write it, I always believed in the story.
My friend Brett wrote a magazine article about knowing when it’s time to walk away from your dreams. She makes a lot of great points, the most important and interesting of which is that sometimes, walking away from a life-long dream is a relief. It frees you up to consider new possibilities. I get that. At some point, I might have walked away from Queen Sugar. It would have been painful, but I probably would have done it. But I don’t know that I could ever walk away from writing. There are plenty of moments when it’s difficult, when I feel pressed right up against my own limitations. Ultimately though, writing brings me too much joy. I sometimes feel that when I’m in the writing space, I’m my best self. I suppose that’s the feeling that pushes me forward.
Toni Morrison once she said that as long as she raised well balanced children and wrote good books, she’d consider her life a success. I concur. I suppose it doesn’t matter what other dreams she let go.