If you have not already realized this, I am no Tolstoy. I have been trying to become a man of letters for many years now. All I have to show for it are a few unfinished short stories, a lonely out of the way blog that seems to be hard for most people to find and a job teaching English to high school students who can not seem to sit still. I get stuck in traffic every day on my way home from work, which gives me a large chunk of time to meditate upon my inability to achieve the status of a great Writer (do great Writers get stuck in traffic?). I often contemplate Tolstoy’s genius while constructing my own stories which seem to never be resolved in the end. Tolstoy was a master of resolution- and maybe this is why his entire country loved reading him. I, on the other hand, have one reader of my short stories- my wife, who usually falls asleep before she gets to the end. If my only reader is falling asleep before finishing my stories, I am assuming that they are no good, and this may be the reason why they end up buried alive in the bottom drawer of my desk.
Tolstoy’s wife read him fervently. She was in love with his writings. She inspired him to get out of bed in the mornings and she even dedicated her life to typing up his hand written and messy manuscripts. At one point in Tolstoy’s life she was so worn out from not sleeping for months on end because of her dedication to her husbands writings- that she was hospitalized for a month. Tolstoy always used to say that his greatness was only measured against his wife’s dedication to his work, and one of the most depressed periods of his life were when his wife was hospitalized and he was alone with his own mind. “I thought myself a failure, a hack writer, unable to produce any profound themes that mattered,” he once said commenting about the period of time when his wife was not around.
I often will give a story to my wife to read. Granted, I married a women who is not a big reader- but does this account for the week or two that passes before I see her reading what I have written. She prefers to read my stories in bed, which she says help her to fall asleep. I do not know whether or not I should take this as a complement- so I do not comment. Sometimes when I really want feed back on one of my stories I will ask her several times if she would not mind reading what I have written but weeks seem to pass without me hearing a single word about my story. It was not always this bad.
When we first met she loved what I wrote. Well she never really read anything that I wrote, but she loved the stories that I would tell and assumed that what I wrote on paper was just as good. She always liked to flirt with me and tell me that I reminded her of Jack Kerouac, and she often liked to refer to me as “the next great bohemian.” I should have been more alert to the fact that she was not expressing any interest in reading my work, but back then I was stoned most of the time and addicted to Paxil. My judgment was poor and the fact that some one thought of me as a living Jack Kerouac was flattery enough to make me fall in love. But almost a decade has passed and I am still struggling to keep my dream alive. I have always been a believer in the theory that a man is only as great as the woman who inspires him to be great. I keep looking for her inspiration but it never seems to be directed towards my work as a Writer. I suppose that now that I am older and she is ready to start a family, that it is not so appealing to be married to an almost 40 year old Jack Kerouac.
Tolstoy’s wife completed the entire manuscript of War And Peace. She edited it, and typed it twice! When I was telling my wife about this the other day she looked at me and said, “well you are no Tolstoy.” “I beg your pardon,” I replied with a measure of hurt in my voice. “Well it’s true….. you have never really written anything,” she replied. I had to control my anger from bursting forth and I calmly replied, “but what about all those stories I have given you to read and you have never read or finished?” “I have read them and they are good and interesting but why haven’t you tried to get them published? Why don’t you make a commitment to writing every day, and if you want to be a great Writer why are you almost 40 and have not finished a single story or novel? I mean get real!!” I wanted to tell her that the reason “why” was all her fault. I wanted to say that these stories are rotting in my desk drawer because you fall asleep every time you read them and that there is no greater insult to a Writer than to fall asleep while reading his work. I wanted to say that the reason I am no Tolstoy is because she shows very little interest in my work and a Writer is only as great as the woman who is inspiring and pushing him. But I did not because I knew that she was right and that I would sound like a victim- so I walked away in frustration and have not said a word since.
Upon receiving one of the highest honors that a country can bestow upon a Writer, Tolstoy said to the upper class audience “I would not be here if it was not for my wife.” I often day dream. I imagine myself receiving an award for a short story or a novel that I have published. Maybe it is the Pulitzer. In my day dream I have become the great writer that I have always imagined myself to be. Instead of thanking my wife and family I simply look out into the crowd and say “being a Writer is a lonely journey and I could not of done this without my self determination and my self reliance.” The audience claps and my wife and my family look puzzled. “Why did I not thank them?” I know they are thinking. As I walk off stage I look at them and my eyes are proud with revenge. “That was for the years of neglect,” I think to myself before disappearing behind a satin curtain towards all of my adoring fans. Then I awake from my day dream, and am inspired with a new sense of purpose and a new motivation to complete a short story or novel and get it published- until I hear the haunting words of my lovely wife in my head, “you…you…..you….you are no Tolstoy. Get real!”