I Am No Tolstoy

I am no Tolstoy. This I know. I have been trying to become a man of letters for many years. All I have to show for it are a few published short stories, a back-breaking book collection, numerous unfinished novels and a reoccurring day-dream.

I am ready for winter to dissolve away. I have had enough of its cold hands, intimidating winds and wet rains. I have been spending a lot of self-demeaning time alone thinking about my inability to achieve the status of a great writer. For reasons that I still do not understand, Tolstoy often comes into my mind. I contemplate Tolstoy’s genius while taking a shower, while making lunch, while stretching, while meditating, while driving and while staring at my complexion in the mirror. I am not obsessed with Tolstoy but he is often creeping around in the penetralias of my mind. “Tolstoy was a master of resolution and maybe this is why his entire country loved reading him,” I often think to myself as if I am trying to compare his literary success to my lack of literary success. You see, Tolstoy was read by almost every single one of his countrymen and women but I have only one consistent reader of my stories- my wide-eyed wife (who usually falls asleep before she gets to the end). While looking at myself in the mirror I silently think, “If my only reader is falling asleep before finishing my stories maybe this is the reason why they end up unfinished and buried alive in the bottom drawer of my desk.” It’s always easier to have someone else to blame for our own shortcomings.


Tolstoy’s wife read his writings with the passion of a biblical scholar. 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 messy hand written 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 husband’s writings- that she was hospitalized for a month. Tolstoy often used to say that his greatness was only half his. The other half belonged to his wife. One of the most depressed periods of Tolstoy’s life was when his wife was hospitalized and he was home alone, trapped inside his own mind. “I thought myself a failure, a hack writer, unable to produce any profound themes that mattered,” he once said commenting about this period of his life.


I often give a new story that I have written to my wide-eyed wife to read. Granted, I married a beautiful women who is not as passionate about literature as I am- but does this compensate for the look of distress that comes over her wide-eyed face when I hand her something to read that I wrote? My wide-eyed wife prefers to “read my stories in bed,” where she feels more “attentive and calm” (and has the extra added benefit of my story helping her to fall into a deep beauty sleep). My wide-eyed wife never really says anything to me about my stories (because I do not think she every really finished reading one). Sometimes when I want feed back on what she has read I will ask her but she always gives me unenthusiastic five or less word responses and tells me that she needs more time to think about it. “It” was not always this bad.


When my beautiful wide-eyed wife and I first met she loved what I wrote (well she never really read anything that I wrote, but she loved the inspired explanations that I would give to her about the stories that I wrote). She often told me that she fell in love with me because I reminded her of Jack Kerouac and she often liked to refer to me as “the next great bohemian.”  I was so flattered by being compared to Jack Kerouac that I ignored the signs. I should have been more alert to the fact that I never saw her with a book in her hand and that she was not expressing any interest in reading anything that I had written. But I was too absent-minded most of the time. My judgment was clouded by the large amounts of poetry that I was memorizing and the fact that a young wide-eyed beauty was in love with me made me disregard my concern that she did not read.

Almost a decade has passed since those early days and I am still struggling to shine in that Jack Kerouac light, which for my wide-eyed wife has turned dark. Jack Kerouac has become a romantic bum to her and she no longer wants a husband that shines in his image. She wants an industrious man, someone who is able to buy a home, work hard and support a child or two if one happened to pop out. An aging Jack Kerouac with unmaterialized dreams is no longer the kind of man she needs.


Tolstoy’s wife completed the entire manuscript of War And Peace. She edited it, and typed it twice! When I was telling my wide-eyed wife about this she looked at me and said, “Well, you are no Tolstoy.” “I beg your pardon,” I replied with a microcosmic measure of disdain in my voice. “Well it’s true….. you have never really written anything significant,” she replied. I had to control my anger which was jumping around inside of me like popcorn in a microwave. I took a deep breath and calmly replied, “but what about all those stories I have given you to read that 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 forty and have not finished a single novel? I mean get real man!” I clenched my jaw and wanted to shine the Jack Kerouac light down on me but the light was out of batteries. I wanted to tell her that the reason “why” I have not written a novel was because she never even showed any interest in my five-page short stories…. “It is all your fault…..” I wanted to yell…… “There is no greater insult to a writer then when you use his stories to fall asleep…..” 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 said nothing because of my grandmother who always told me that if you have nothing good to say then do not say anything at all.


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.” When I think about this I often fall into a daydream of sorts. I imagine myself receiving an award for a short story or a novel that I finally published. Maybe it is the Pulitzer. In my daydream I have become the great writer that I have always imagined myself to be. Instead of thanking my wife-eyed wife and family I simply looked out into the crowd and say “being a writer is a long and lonely journey and I could not of done this without my self-determination and a lot of endurance.” The audience claps and my wide-eyed wife and my family look puzzled. “Why did I not thank them?” I know they are wondering. As I walk off stage I look at them and my eyes are filled with the pride of a just revenge. “That was for the years of neglect and for falling asleep while reading my stories,” I think to myself before disappearing behind a satin curtain towards all of my adoring fans. When I awake from my daydream I am always inspired with a new desire to write. I start thinking up ideas and opening sentences for the novel I want to write. I sit down with a pen and a blank page at my book covered desk and begin writing my epic until I hear the words of my wide-eyed wife lingering in the back of my mind, “You are no Tolstoy. Get real man!” Then I put the pen down and take the dog for a walk.

5 thoughts on “I Am No Tolstoy

  1. I have never known a writer *not* to struggle as much as you do. I don’t know what it is about writers; they feel so pressured to perform. It makes me sad because it is when you stop trying so hard, that that’s when the creative juices flow. I could be talking out of my gluteus maximus; I’m not a writer. Unfortunately nothing I say can offer words of comfort, but I wanted to comment all the same.

    It’s easy for me to say to not to be so hard on yourself, but you know what works for you and what doesn’t (or do you need to re-examine those again?). Do try to be gentle. I look forward to hearing updates when you do 🙂

  2. Hi Randall,

    This is an extra-personal piece and I don’t feel entitled to comment on it, but I’m going to, anyway, because we’re not unlike one another, and besides, if we haven’t the support of other authors, what have we?

    First, I’d either divorce my wife from my writing — or divorce my wife. Since you love your wife, the former seems the obvious course.

    Second, you’re feeling shitty instead of writing. Hell, at least you’re writing about feeling shitty, but you know it’s too self-interested to count as the sort of ink you’d rather be setting down, so make up a character, draw up a setting, wind up the protagonist and start recording what he does.

    Page one. Go.

    Do, or do not — but there’s no try, Luke.

    Cheers, Sir,

    -S

    1. I always enjoy your perceptive comments. Always. Your advice about about making up a character and start recording is exactly what I have been doing. I am on page 151 and am beginning to see the summit. Then I realize that when I am done or I reach the top I have to walk back down and then start climbing all over again- editing. (Sigh) Oh the pleasures of the writing life.

      1. Dear R.,

        Really! I’m delighted to hear that you’ve been at it.

        I actually rather enjoy the editing and revision process. I don’t enjoy the interminable nature of it, though. You’d think a guy could step back and know when it’s done, like I used to do when I was cutting hair, but we know it’s not like that. There’s always another form for every piece, a version that would be more poignant if shorter by a chapter, more eloquent if told 1st-person, more ingenious if dialogue-driven rather than plotwise.

        I swear I have versions of some stories that aren’t recognizable as siblings, let alone reincarnations of one another.

        Anyhow, glad to hear from you, Sir.

        I’ll be haunting around.

        Yours Truly,

        -S

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