Dress Rehearsal

Ever heard that saying, “Life is not a dress rehearsal”?

It’s the kind of snappy aphorism that makes for very Pinterest-worthy wall hangings and chintzy crocheted cushion covers.

And while its cloying oversimplification irks me deeply, the reasons aphorisms stick so hard is that there is usually some truth in them.

There’s no denying we only get one life, and that our life is made up of the sum of millions of small decisions we make across the course of the years.

And because there is no final performance, no climax the whole thing is leading up to, our day-to-day is all that matters.

Our daily lives are the matinee, soiree and encore.

Life is not a dress rehearsal.

But it is a draft.

Drafts are often messy, poorly-defined attempts to pin down an idea, and to make the idea interesting and meaningful.

They meander in this direction and that, working their way towards clarity, trying on this style and that structure, slowly paring away at what doesn’t fit.

Many early drafts are a source of painful embarrassment: too earnest, too complicated, too self-conscious.

Some drafts improve with time and revision; others get stuck and never reach the pinnacle of what they could be.

Some drafts go on to become fully realised, beautiful, inspiring, powerful artefacts that change the people who touch them.

Others are stuffed away in a corner, a disappointment, never to be attempted again.

But every book, every song, every poem, every script that achieves any recognition, any glory, any meaning, has been through more drafts than most people realise. Dozens, usually.

The magic of the draft is that you can always change it.

If it feels too tight, too heavy, not quite what you were hoping for or getting at — you can try something different.

It doesn’t mean you have to throw everything away. Sometimes it does. But there’s always the choice, and the ability to change what’s in front of you.

And that’s what life’s like, isn’t it?

We pick up and put down ideas for years before we settle on what we really believe.

We try on identities all throughout our life, keeping the ones that fit snugly and eventually shedding those that constrict or swamp us.

We muddle our way along, trying to create something wonderful with friends, partners, houses, jobs, until something in the universe smiles and the creation takes on a life of its own.

Drafting is about defining. It’s about grabbing an idea when it pops into your mind, and seeing if you can pin it to the page.

Not every idea will tolerate being defined. Not every idea is worth defining. But the sturdy ones will become very well-defined and as such, allow themselves to be seen.

And whether we’re writing a book or building a life, we have to define ourselves before we can do our best work.

We have to understand who we are, and who we are not.

We have to recognise our own voices. We have to be able to look our desire in the eye, our fear, our solitude, and smile, loving what is.