The great and wise Douglas Adams once wrote, "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."
I first read that line when I was in college. It made me giddy. This was a fist in the air, a Shakespearean biting-of-the-thumb at all my professors who lived and breathed deadlines. If honest-to-God authors didn't take them seriously, why should I?
At this point, we'll flash forward about seven years. Deadlines have come and gone. As it turns out, I managed to meet a few of them. But some of them were missed or entirely ignored. And when you miss a few of life's deadlines, you start to feel the repercussions.
One of the biggest deadlines that I missed involved my mother.
Every memory of my mother during my childhood involves her sitting next to a pile of ever-changing books. Seemingly every day, she had a handful of new titles sitting on her bed stand or beside her recliner in the living room. She loved to read. And she encouraged me to read as much and as often as possible. She prodded me to explore books, big and small, and it is because of her that I became a sort of literary adventurer.
When I was a noobish little kid, I read things like In The Night Kitchen, Slugs, and The Man Who Lost His Head. I was less interested in traditional children's books and went searching for the weird and fascinating. This lead to my reading My Teacher Fried My Brains and How To Eat Fried Worms. Because of my mom's passion for reading, I was in middle school or early high school and enjoying titles by Stephen King. While the rest of my high school English class hated "Lord of the Flies", I was in love with the book from beginning to end. And all of this is thanks to my mom's constant love for the written word.
As a senior in high school, I decided that I wanted to write. There weren't many other things I was good at doing and writing was the one activity that seemed to make the world disappear around me. It was the only thing that truly made me happy and I vowed to my senior English teacher that I was going to be a writer after high school.
I also secretly vowed to myself that my mother would be the first person to read my debut novel whenever it was published. She had done so much for me that I at least owed her that special pleasure of being the first reader. Think of it as the more mature version of giving your mom a painting from school so she can slap it on the refrigerator door.
For years, in college and beyond, I dabbled in writing. I created short stories, had some things published, and experienced the typical trials and tribulations of a struggling writer. The whole time, I kept that secret vow in the back of my mind: mom was going to read the first book.
Then mom got sick. First, she lost part of her vision. Then she suffered a series of crippling strokes. And finally, after a few years of simply struggling to be the person she had once been, she succumbed to a relentless disease called polycythaemia vera.
And that was when I realized one of the most important deadlines had come and gone.
We lost her last year. It was the most painful thing I've ever experienced and for a time, I lost faith in everything. Love, the afterlife, family, friends, the world in general. It was all just black to me. Pointless.
But I remembered the deadlines. And my goal of letting my mother read my first book before anyone else.
So I attacked my imagination with a renewed fervor. I zeroed in on a book I had started a few years earlier before being swept away by new jobs and new homes.
And for a year, I obsessed over the book that should have eventually been in my mom's hands.
Sometimes my imagination is unstoppable.
And I can't help but imagine myself in an alternate reality where I hand my mother a copy of my new novel. She smiles a radiant grin as she adjusts the glasses on her face. They're too big and they sometimes make her look much older than she actually is, but that doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is seeing her open the book, passing over the title and author page, and then reading with surprised delight the dedication meant for the only person important enough to be the first reader.
No more missed deadlines.