Months ago, when I first broke my foot and subsequently started my blog, my first entry was entitled “I Quit My Job,” but no on read it. Seriously – not a soul. My most read post to date was on feminism and my frustration over the spoiled, subjective American view of it versus what our female counterparts in other parts of the world suffer, followed by a few snarkier entries about liberals and left coast luvvies. Though I love to hate to write, and hate to love to write — a sentence which will possibly only be understood by those who have been told their entire lives that they are “supposed to be a writer”— I have never been able to make money writing, which I’m pretty sure has only intensified the hate portion of the overall sentiment equation. In the post that none of you read, what I actually said was this:
“You see, I was ‘supposed to be a writer.’ That’s my mother’s voice saying that. All the time, constantly, and interspersed with that of every English teacher I ever had. I won my first national writing award at 7 (poetry), wrote my first novella at 9 (I thought it was sh**ty, but in hindsight perhaps not a bad effort for a child), and my first novel — f**k – I don’t know. A while back. But I’ve never published anything and I go months at a time without writing a word. I’ve spent at least a week trying to figure out why I do that — why I just suddenly stop writing. The best I can figure, it’s because I get busy with work and travel to the extent that there is too much going on and the activity in my head becomes an indistinguishable cacophony of noise. But even as I write that, I know it’s a lie. The truth is that writing is not, as the non-writing amongst you may imagine, for the lazy. It is detailed, all-consuming, greedy, exclusionary, isolating, occasionally excruciating and in my case, poverty-inducing. So in the most simplistic of analysis, when things go badly, I write in order to save my sanity; when things go well, I neglect it in the same way one neglects the long-suffering friend or family who is always there for them when they need them most, but who are then abandoned when sunlight inevitably reappears. I abandon my words for the siren song of a fat paycheck, all the while carrying an inexplicable guilt that I am not, as the great AA Gill remonstrated, flexing my writing muscle and thereby risking the reality that I may lose it. And it was re-reading Gill’s quote on this matter that drove me back – I hope permanently — to the page.“
And actually, it did. Today I finished proofing the 371 pages I’ve written thus far of my novel and all things being equal, I hope to publish by May 5. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Except that it isn’t; not to anyone in my life other than me.
In our nation, we do not value the arts; we do not encourage writing any more than we celebrate reading the great books or teach proper grammar. If I said to someone in this country that I’m a writer, they would likely reply, “So at which Starbucks do you work? I’ll drop by.” Whereas when I say this to a friend in London, their retort is, “Can I read something you’ve done? Anything I would have seen? That’s truly amazing. You should quit and devote yourself to it full time.” Here it seems to be the refuge for the recently graduated, un- or under-employed who wish to convince themselves, their parents and the world at large that their interests are in only cerebral pursuits. And coffee beans. In other parts of the world, it is the pursuit of those who have lived life observing, silently cataloging, and secretly wishing they did not hold so much in their heads and when they can take no more, pour it all onto the page. It is, in some cases, even seen as elite. But not amongst common folk in America or — as it turns out — my family and friends.
So why is this bothering me now? If you’ve read anything else I’ve written it will be abundantly clear that I have been, since childhood, an outsider. I have also been — for twenty years — a single mom; a very blessed, devoted and overly giving single mom. My son attends undergrad at my pricey alma mater and will graduate in four weeks with my same two degrees, albeit with far more stellar grades and recommendations. As he heads into the next phase of his life, I thought now — still convalescing from having screws driven into my bones to mend my broken foot — would be a good time to finish the book, get it to market, and publicize it myself, since that’s actually the career for which I have been so well paid. And I know that I can do it, which is the major characteristic of my life to which I referred in the post that no one read (and which I am now considering re-titling as such):
“I suppose I could have summed all of this up by saying ‘life is short,’ and be done with it, but that would miss the point. I need to write, I need to travel, and I need to punctuate it all with things to which I can truly look forward. Will I make it? I have no idea, but that’s the other part of me that was crystalized today in a quote by George Michael: ‘I finally realized that one reason why my life has felt so self-destructive is that I never had any feeling that my talent would let me down.’ And nor have I.
“I love nice things, nice places, nice men — things that do not naturally occur in a poor person’s nature. But I’ve always been willing to gamble on my talent — to tell people to fuck off just when I am at my zenith because I believe that I can still yet do it better, elsewhere, or in this case, on my own and on my terms. I’ve said quite clearly that I want no more apologies, but I likewise want no more regrets. There’s only one way to find out, so let me do it for you, for us all; no need quitting your job and pursuing your dream just because I make a convincing argument for it. If I win, you can live vicariously in those victories; if I crash and burn, you can stand at a distance with a knowing ‘I told you so,’ both risk and consequence-free.”
And though other people — person, actually, that being my sister — recognize my skill and acknowledge my passion for it, she and my Southern, pragmatic family as a whole call me “the eccentric one.” Yet I know that I only acquired the benefit of “eccentric” because I make lots of money, as — make no mistake — without it, I’d simply be “the crazy one.” It is pondering this distinction which has led me to ask myself time and again as of late: are people who so singularly pursue one goal, one skill, one dream crazy, or are they the only ones who have truly achieved clarity? How many other people out there know that they are exceptional at one thing, but it is not the one thing that can earn them a living without serious sacrifice, or that makes people comfortable, or that is widely accepted or understood, so they suffer in silence, discouraged from trying, and dismayed at their existence? Being dogged and determined will get you so far, and perhaps all the way if you are — ironically — completely alone. But if you are part of social strata, a larger family or a domestic financial infrastructure, your dreams can wait, stay on hold, live in that pan on the back burner of life until they are charred permanently to the bottom.
Today at 1:30 I stopped writing to take a call to discuss a job in Chicago that will pay me even more than my last. Do I want it? No. Do I recognize that’s a selfish reaction and that plenty of other people would? Yes. Will I have to take it? Probably so. Will I have any time at all to write? No. My son was accepted to one of the more prestigious programs in the world for grad school and the price tag is about $70K a year, so my dreams will again be on hold so that he can give life to his. And on it goes. But wouldn’t it be nice — for once — to hear a word of encouragement, a syllable of reinforcement, and perhaps especially from those who do not understand, but who love you enough to want you to succeed by your definition rather than by theirs.