Sharon Randall: Writing, reading way through life
Life is full of surprises. Take, for instance, my job.
For almost 30 years, I’ve written a weekly column for newspapers around the country. I also do public speaking for fundraisers that benefit libraries and schools and community programs that help the needy. It’s a good job. I’m thankful to have it. I can’t imagine how different my life would be without it. But I never dreamed I’d earn my living this way. It never even occurred to me. Instead, I wanted to be a wife and a mother. I had no idea how incredibly difficult and exhausting marriage and motherhood could be. It didn’t take long to find that out. But when I realized what I’d gotten myself into, I still wanted to do it. The things we do for love.
After my three children started to school, I took a part-time job clipping and filing in the library of the local newspaper. I wasn’t trying to launch a career. I just wanted to bring in a little extra cash to help pay for a much needed addition to our house.
But one thing led to another, as it often does. I wrote some stories freelance for the paper’s magazine and filled in for a reporter on leave. Finally, they made me a feature writer. And then a columnist. Then the column was picked up for syndication, and the next thing I knew, I was flying to places I’d never been, talking about reading and writing and life.
If that surprises you, imagine how it feels to me. I’ve done it for so long you’d think I’d get used to it. But honestly? Every column I write feels like it’s my first. And I’m always aware that it could be my last.
When I write the opening sentence, I never know where it might lead or how it will end. It’s always a surprise.
I just keep writing, word by word, until it’s done. Then I hold my breath and wait to hear what people think of it.
A similar thing happens with speaking. I work hard on a speech to make sure it fits the topic and time allowed. And I double-space my notes and keep them where I can see them. I’ve given countless talks to countless audiences ranging in size from a few dozen to 500 or more. Meeting readers is always a pleasure. But a strange thing happens every time.
On my way to the podium, I will begin to feel like a little girl playing dress-up, pretending to be something I am not. And I’ll think that any minute, someone is going to figure out that I don’t belong there.
It’s a feeling that makes me want to kick off my shoes and run screaming for the door.
Thankfully, so far, I’ve managed to avoid it. Instead, I lift my chin and look out at a roomful of smiling faces. It never fails to remind me that I’m among friends, in a family of readers. And I don’t need to be anything but myself. If I’m lucky, at the end, people will ask not just for autographs, but for hugs. It’s like a family reunion without the fist fights.
I told you all of that to tell you this. Most everything we do in life is a work of faith. No matter how much time and effort we invest, sooner or later we realize we’re part of a bigger plan. It’s not easy to accept the fact that we’re not in control of our work or our lives, and certainly not of the lives of our loved ones. It can be humbling to admit that. But it’s also incredibly freeing.
Writing and speaking are not so different from baking a cake or painting a sunset or raising a child. We don’t need to be anyone but who we are, with all our gifts and flaws. We just start at the beginning, give it our best, let it go and be thankful for having been a part of it. Then we take a deep breath and wait to be surprised.
Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove CA 93950 or sharonrandall.com.