A year ago someone said something to me that changed the way I directed my life. At the time I was depressed, forlorn and feeling like all of my dreams had been sucked away through the vacuüm of job, rent and making a living. Maybe I was hopeless or maybe I was feeling what everyman feels when they reach a point in their life when they must realize their dreams are not coming true. I felt like I was carrying a dead baby around with me in my arms and the weight of the planets above was pushing down upon my shoulders. Then one of the most vital realizations of my life took place during the time it took my friend to speak a single sentence. “You are who you pretend to be,” she said to me without realizing the effect of her words. By the time she had reached the end of the sentence- I was already filled with a new perspective.
“Of course,” I thought. “How could I be so dumb? Day in and day out walking around like a man who has lost everything that he values most. Bemoaning my job, my economic situation as if I was worse off than anyone on earth. I was feeling like a failure because that is who I was pretending to be. Duh. All this morbid dressing that I walked around in was my own doing. I was dressing myself into looking like the man I was so unhappy being!” Maybe it would be an exaggeration to say that this personal realization of mine was just as significant as Sir Isaac Newton’s falling apple insight or the Buddha’s epiphany under the bodhi tree- but for myself personally, this realization was as important.
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a great writer. Maybe great is an overstatement but I have wanted to be well-known enough so that I could write and receive economic recognition for it. Respect from my peers would be a nice side dish, recognition from strangers when I go out to eat would be a good dessert- but the ability to no longer have to go to some subordinating, energy dissolving job would be the main course paid for by my success as a writer. The tragic irony of my situation is that the more I long to be a great writer the less I write. Often sitting at a desk, writing for five or six hours a day sounds just as painful as being hung upside down by chains wrapped around my ankles. I love the idea of writing but I disdain the act of writing. It hurts and I most always would rather ride my bike in the rain, go for a walk, clean my house or read a book than write. So I avoid writing better than I avoid looking for a job or making love to my wife. I run from writing like a cat runs from a screaming child. I pray everyday that God, or Buddha, or Muhammad or some supernatural being will inculcate into my veins the energy, passion and dedication that I will need to someday seriously write.
I have written hundreds of short stories in my lifetime but a great writer is not made of short works. The great writer is a collection of longer works so engaging that often times his or her books refuse to stay upon the shelf. Putting my short stories together into a completed collection, feels as difficult to me as I imagine rolling a bolder up a steep hill would be. I would rather drink, eat, sleep or listen to the radio. So these short stories rest in random folders, separated like distant lovers who constantly remind me that I need to get serious, toughen up and some day soon bring them back together. However, I am at a point in my long literary struggle where I no longer care so much about being great. I have resigned myself to the fact that I may never make a living as a writer and for the first time in my life that is starting to feel okay. Not having the burden of numerous novels that I must write following me around like gnats- I am starting to feel like I can breathe again. I am no longer in competition with Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett or Jack Kerouac as I once was. Now I can enjoy their books with delight and not the typical gnawing desire to write. But I would be lying if I told you this was really true.
Much to my wife, in-laws and parents chagrin or consternation I have taken on the wise words of my friend in the same way that a General would wear his metals of honor on his chest or a Doctor would wear her stethoscope around her neck. It has not been difficult for me to convince myself that “I am a great writer walking among ordinary mortals.” Even though I rarely write- I see myself as a great writer. It may be true that I am yet to be discovered by anyone else other than myself- but I am as certain about being a great writer as I am about being unemployed and broke. Even though others are unaware of the paragraphs that will be written following my name in future dictionaries and encyclopedias and the collections of my blog entries that will sit on Barnes and Nobles book shelves or be pirated in Egypt- I am content enough pretending that all this will one day occur. Someday, sometime.
It is my daily, hourly struggle to continue on in the eyes of those who see me from day to day. My wife, mother, landlord, potential employer and the police officer who gave me a ticket the other day. I know what they are saying when they look at me: “Sure you like to write, it is your hobby and you are even a good writer, but you are almost a forty-year-old married man and you need to get a stable job, a career so that you can be independent, be a provider and start a family of your own.” I see these thoughts floating around in their minds when they listen to me talk about the books that I will one day write. It always triggers one of the biggest quagmires in my life. Do I continue to be who I am pretending to be or do I just embrace what others tell me I should do with my life? Do I trust that what my friend told me is a fundamental law of the universe or do I wake up from the dream? So far- I prefer the dream.