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  • Maggie Wheeler

The Burden of the Profession


My grandfather's 1920 Underwood typewriter

It is 5:00 am.


I have been awake for about an hour. The world outside is half-light and foggy, with the full moon making weird shapes on my back deck. The effect is mystical, other worldly, semi-Ray Bradbury. Feels like I’m between worlds.


Here I sit at the keyboard, with the burden of my profession.


One of the delights of my return to the world and work of Agatha Christie for The Christie Project has been diving into her autobiography for background and reference. I read it right through years ago, and as with most autobiographies it is an amazing window into history. It is also an intriguing walk with the woman she was. Her comments and perceptions on life are pause for thought and admiration. If nothing else, it illustrates why her work has been read and loved for a century.


One passage I came across which is quoted in an entry in the Project refers to the year following her husband’s defection and betrayal. Christie was in the Canary Islands with her daughter and governess for a time of privacy and healing. Having refused to accept any support from Archie except for Rosalind, Agatha was thrown back on her own ability to provide for herself. At the time, what capital she had was tied up in their former home which was still for sale. Money was tight and she had to produce. Even though she hadn’t written a word since her mother’s death the year before, Christie slogged out the draft of what would become The Mystery of the Blue Train. Understandably, she never liked the book or her work in it, but it was successful and paid the bills.


Of that time, Christie writes, “That was the moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t like much what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”


When I read that passage, it went right through me. I immediately understood that, five books and 20 years’ corporate work notwithstanding, I had never assumed the burden of my profession. Not as a professional. Not deep inside.


Part of that comes from…well…I’d like to say humility but the honest word is insecurity. For the better part of that 20 years, I suffered from imposter syndrome, thinking that people were just being nice to me. It took a long time to accept the fact that maybe I really could write.


It’s a common problem, I know, but that has delayed the second step which is what Christie is talking about. Assuming the burden. Assuming the responsibility. Understanding that you are the one in the driver’s seat fully and completely. Responsibility…and control. Adult stuff.


It’s still foggy and unearthly outside, but slowly the light is gaining. Summer is supposed to take over again from the fall morning, and we are set to have a very hot day. My windows and fans have been open and going since I got up. The house is humid but cool and lovely. I will miss these early morning rituals when fall takes complete possession.


And in little over a week, the day arrives. The Big 60. I will assume another new profession, another phase of life. I will no longer have the luxury of feeling like an amateur at living.


The one thing I have wanted to do in the past 18 months, in this blog and in my mind, was really look at this time in life and where I am. I feel I have shown up, and while I certainly do not have all the answers, I think I’ve nailed most of the questions for myself. Yes, Agatha, even when I do not feel like writing (read: deal with life) or am not writing (read: living) particularly well.


Show up anyway. Assume the burden, the dual burden of control and responsibility. That’s when something powerful called momentum is born.


Can life begin at 60?


I’ll keep you posted. 😊

Talk next week,

Maggie

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