I believe that progress can be slow and hidden and that’s ok. It isn’t measured in the number of things I’ve checked off on my daily to-do list. It isn’t articulated when someone asks me, “What do you do?” I can’t see it in the mirror in the morning when I tuck the ten or so white hairs that frame the left side of my face under the remaining brown ones.
For almost a decade, my husband and I have been trying to find a way to do what we love. He is a musician; I am a writer. We work “day jobs” in monotone grey cubes. In return, we get health insurance and even 401K’s. At night, I sit in candlelit bars on the Lower East Side and listen to him play the cello in a rock band. At home, he tells me not to worry about the laundry piling up or cooking the perfect meal- we’ll order in. “Just write,” he says. I open one of the pieces I’m currently working on in the computer folder I’ve titled, “In Progress.”
Sometimes we are hopeful. An unexpected call comes for him to record in a studio session for a huge British band. I hear from a magazine that they’re interested in publishing the piece I submitted. Progress. But we are afraid to celebrate too soon. We don’t share the news with family or friends. We speak of the opportunities softly, as if too much animation might blow them away.
Earlier this year, while visiting my in-laws, my father-in-law and I looked through some old photo albums. I held a loose black and white photograph of him, young, with a strong, tanned face, standing in uniform under a palm tree in Vietnam where he fought in the Korean army. I turned over the photo and found the Longfellow poem, “A Psalm of Life,” in his handwriting.
“Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,?Is our destined end or way;?But to act, that each tomorrow?Find us farther than today,” one stanza says. I handed it back to my smiling father-in-law, who began his life in a small village in South Korea and eventually became a professor at a prestigious university.
I believe in quiet progress, even when my husband gets the call that he’ll only be needed for one song at the recording session, and even when the managing editor of the magazine emails me saying that my piece is “charming,” but they ran out of room in this issue.
Our friends buy spacious houses in the suburbs; a photo collage of their new babies covers the French memo board in my tiny kitchen. Some days our small century-old Brooklyn apartment feels cramped. My husband comes home late from his job, weariness on his face. I turn the stereo up a little louder. I pour wine from an $8 bottle of Shiraz and serve it with our spaghetti. And then we celebrate. I believe we are making progress.
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