The girl at the next table won’t stop yelling into her cell phone. I’m ready to say something rude, but my eyelids are heavy, and I know that everything feels bigger than it is right now. Four hours sleep, up early to train a client, and still here in the early afternoon at one of the many Starbucks that constitute my office. Unlike some of them, this one smells like burnt coffee. Somehow, that makes it easier to focus on my work. Unfortunately, it isn’t real work, according to most people’s definition. I’m not getting paid for it, and may never see a dime from the long months spent on it. It’s a fantasy novel, birthed nearly two years ago, and two hundred thousand words later, it shows little sign of maturing. Sort of like the guy trying to write it.
I’d say that’s to be expected in a commercialized society, a culture of money and artificiality and plastic success, but a number of artists have made that distinction and done so in ways beyond my own ability. Besides, dwelling on it doesn’t make me any smarter or make my feelings of inadequacy go away. No matter my semi-educated hypothesises on the sociological patterns of Western democracy circa 2011, I am left with a blinking cursor and a blank screen in front of me. Every day it tells me something about myself, and much of it isn’t good. The blank page is a better mirror than any pane of glass. Whatever bullshit you got, you better be willing to either admit it or leave it to the side when you get there. What most people don’t understand is that the cynicism one finds in writers is not born from their observations of the world, but from their observations of self. From there, we move outward, but always with a firm understanding of the bullshit that lurks around the corner and inevitably leaks into our own existence. Perhaps that’s why I’m still doing this, so many years later, despite my lack of success.
I remember a time when I was more than an aspiring writer, a time when writing was as much about my own burgeoning future as it was an attempt to articulate what it meant to be human. Those days are gone. I’ll be thirty-nine in a few months, and while I can quote success stories from writers who found great recognition at a later age (like Frank McCourt), those examples are rare, and I’ve been at this for too long to believe that I will ever join such a group.
And yet, here I am again, back on the very same blog I started so hopefully six years ago. It feels like an old friend, and I click briefly through some of my past posts with a half smile on my face. I want to write more often here, but these days it has become difficult just to find the energy to write my daily fifteen hundred words. Many mornings will be spent in a sort of grovelling, grinding existence, willing God and my muse and whatever supernatural forces exist to help me on just this next stretch of the book, asking for just one more push. I check my daily word count with each new sentence. Some days, well, most days, I want to quit. I want to focus on training. Or perhaps just write the occasional article. And every so often, I don’t write at all. I consider myself freed from my own silly dictums and able to flip channels and burn up the sports blogs instead, certain that my life as an aspiring writer is most certainly over. What brings me back is the following morning, when I wake up and feel the horrible turn of my stomach from cheating on my muse. From cheating on myself. And so, despite my decade long string of non-success, I find my way to a Starbucks and re-enter the world that I’ve so diligently created over the past two years. I whisper to myself the same words that every aspiring writer says.
“Perhaps this book will be the one. Perhaps an editor will like it enough to bring it to the publisher’s attention, and perhaps the publisher will want to buy it. And once it’s published, perhaps critics will like it, and people will want to read it. And just maybe, if I’m really lucky, someone will take comfort in my story. Someone will learn something new about themselves and the world around them. Enough, perhaps, to help them make it through a particularly difficult time. And if I truly strike gold, someone will read my story and know that they are accepted, that God not only exists but loves them dearly, and that they need not be ashamed of who they are or what occupies their dreams.”
But knowing who I’m writing for doesn’t always help, because it’s easy to get worn down. Easy to sit and watch our favourite shows and movies and offer judgment, admiring the brilliance of some and the stupidity of others without realizing how much we have conceded. I’m not sure it would matter if we knew. There comes a time when dreams feel heavy and burdensome, when the cares of the world simply overwhelm us and we live with the hope of a few happy moments and a bit of rest. What are dreams to the one struggling just to get by each day?
The answer is that dreams are the oxygen of life. Without them, we die. What does it mean to live if life is nothing more than a minimalist existence of survival and pleasure?
I’ll be honest, some days I struggle to write three words. In the end however, despite the daily battles, I find myself in front of the blank screen and blinking cursor. I see too many people who have given up their dreams, too many people who have sold out for a night on the sofa and some easy laughs. When they look back, ten and twenty years from now, I wonder what they’ll say. Will they make excuses? Will they pretend that their dreams didn’t exist? Or will they face that moment writers face every day in the blank page, when they cannot fool themselves, when they know that anything less than the truth simply won’t do.
I’ve long been convinced that the secret to this life is to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing and do it. Excuses are easy, but they eventually become altars of pain and regret. What we often forget is that character and fulfillment run along the same set of tracks, and always meet when we will it, so long as we’re willing to endure. The challenge is to find our purpose and pursue it, even when we’re handed a life other than the one we expected. And if along the way we become the success that always seemed impossible, so much the better. Chances are, we won’t even notice.
Authour's Note (May 4, 2011): Upon finishing this piece, and dealing with more than a little discouragement the past few months, I sent a notice to Chris Jones, who writes for Esquire, asking if he could read my blog. Not only did he read it, he wrote a moving piece on his own blog in response. (FIND IT HERE) I was humbled and touched and encouraged by his words. I'm sure my next post will deal with that, and what it has meant , and what it may mean in the future. Thanks, Chris, for your kindness, and thanks everyone, for taking the time to stop by. I hope you found some encouragement here. :)