This morning’s vintage Peanuts comic strip is wonderfully apt. Snoopy in his guise as the Great American Novelist sits with his typewriter atop his doghouse. That infamously wretched first line–“It was a dark and stormy night”–appears, followed by the individual ingredients of a potboiling page-turner: a shot, a slam, a scream; a pirate ship; millions of starving poor in a country led by a sumptuous monarch; a boy growing up in rural Kansas. After pausing to admire his narrative artistry, Snoopy then types the heading “Part II.” And in the final panel, the beloved beagle smiles slyly at his readers and explains, “In Part Two, I tie all of this together…”

Appearing as it does smack dab in the middle of November’s National Novel Writing Month, this cartoon is particularly apt. If all things go according to plan, today I will arrive at the 25,000-word halfway point with my So-Called Novel, which means the Second Half will be where I try gamely and quite absurdly, I’m sure, to tie everything together. If last year is any indication, Part Two is when things get outrageously silly. After having killed their Internal Editors with 25,000 words of wretched slop, NaNo novelists typically find that words 25,001 through 50,000 are a slapdash race toward “Outta Here.” Once you realize that you probably can’t tie everything together in any semblance of a serious, literary fashion, you let yourself loose to write blood-soaked shoot-outs, steamy orgies, and eerie seances as you alternate between killing off, erotically sating, and inexplicably resurrecting characters both major and minor. (“Anything for word-count,” you’ll mutter.)

But today’s Peanuts cartoon rings true for other, more philosophical reasons. After having taken these photos of a now-repainted doorway several weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be “primed and ready.” Any painter will tell you that the secret to a lasting paint job lies in the preparation. Before you apply even the first coat, you need to scrape and ready your surface, making sure it’s clean, smooth, and primed for the paint to follow.

Now that I’m 36 and turning the corner toward 37, I feel like I’m about to type “Part II” on this present narrative. Now that I’ve spend the first half of my professional life prepping the surface and laying out my materials, what sort of coats should I be applying, and toward what end?

When I was in college and then graduate school, I told myself I’d face the thorny question of what I wanted to be when I grew up when I grew up, after I’d finished whatever degree I was working on. And in the immediate aftermath of finishing my PhD over two years ago, I told myself I’d face the question of what I wanted to do professionally after I’d settled what I wanted to do personally. Back then, I gave myself a year to settle myself into post-divorce life before I started facing the serious question of “what’s next”…and here I am, a year post-divorce, feeling more uncertain than ever about what I want to do long-term.

One positive outcome of writing a novel (or painting a door) is that it raises the question of what you’d rather be doing. If I weren’t writing a So-Called Novel that I’m not taking too seriously, what would I seriously write? If I weren’t teaching college classrooms of students who “hafta” be there, who would I be teaching? Now that I’ve sketched out the various plot twists that make me who I am–writer, teacher, Zen head, nature nut, blog mistress–I feel like I’m sitting here, typing fingers ready, for whenever the Muse of Part II decides to appear.

    I first raised these questions back in May, and I’m still sitting with them: still waiting. The six-month Life Coach training program I began back then is set to conclude in December, so it makes sense, I suppose, that I’m primed and ready to ask “what’s next after graduation.” In the meantime, I have several coaching clients, a double-dose of online and face-to-face classes, several blogs to feed, a novel to finish, and a So-Called Life I try to squeeze in whenever time permits. I guess for now, that’s enough…but if you see the Muse of Part II wandering around looking lost, please point her my way, okay?