I Am No Tolstoy.

2If 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!”


  1. You have quite an amazing lexicon for suffering. Even though you are the most self absorbed writer I have read; your work inspires me to come back for more. The only stuff that I have read on the internet that I would consider “the real thing” when it come to literature is your writing. Keep on writing, and oh by the way- you are a man of letters+++++++.

  2. Thank you Blog Critic- such high acclaim is not a familiar sight upon this blog now a days. Like Paul so wisely states- your vindication has certainly motivated me to take time off for a job well done. However I am addicted to writing (which for me is a means of breathing), so my break may not last long.

  3. You are a writer if you write. Writers write. It’s that simple.

    Fame does not make you a writer.

    It takes three things to be a writer:
    1. Have something to say (you obviously do, as we all do)
    2. Have a way to say it (your blog suffices)
    3. Have someone to say it to (I just read your blog, and I am someone).

    You’re a writer.

    So am I. I write EVERY day at http://www.thedailybeatblog.blogspot.com.

    If you want more traffic at your blog, let me know – I’d be glad to link to your blog on my blog if you return the favor. Quid pro quo you know.

  4. I love this, thank you Rick. I will certainly link you on my blog. Congratulations with regards to the book publication!

    However, I am still seeking out a way to rent my home and pay my other bills through the act of writing fiction. Fame could possibly help with this dilemma. So you live on a lake? I know envy is a deadly sin…but I am tempted towards envy.

  5. Hello Randall, you haven’t been coming to your appointments…

    I understand what you mean about every great man having some form of female support that has propelled him to such heights, but I’m not so sure you faltering in this endeavour to write (and get published) is evidence of failure on your wife’s part.

    I write – all sorts of things. My wife will read some of them if I ask her too, or she may take weeks to get to what I feel I am waiting tooth and nail to hear about.

    The problem (in my case, and likely yours) is that neither of us has been published, finished anything great or really found our dream and made it taste true. I don’t think you can blame your wife – or me mine – that they may not have as much enthusiasm in whatever new endeavour we have written about.

    It may be exciting for us, but perhaps to them it’s another waste of time – something that will inevitability turn out to be nothing. We don’t need them to give their time to us, and they likely know this. Yet we wait, as if they have some nugget of advice that will launch us into a new found charge to write, finish and get published.

    At the bottom of it all, it’s our own indecision, lack of confidence and doubt that we simply transfer onto them. It helps us find a reason not to succeed and feel okay with it.

    It’s not our fault, right? So we shouldn’t feel like the consistently unsuccessful writers we are.

    I also find it funny that…

    …oh, I’m sorry, our hour is up.

  6. Clever!

    In college, a writing teacher I had used to refer to the failed writer as having an “I am no Tolstoy complex.” I think you have summarized this complex better than he could of imagined. Difficult words to hear but I certainly see the truth between and within them.

    Therapy can be painful and as a pleasure seeking individual I tend to skip my appointments from time to time. I hope you will forgive me and wave the fee.

    Thank you for this insightful comment- I will let my wife read it and then get back to you. However, I am almost certain that your perspective rhymes hers.

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