Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I am NOT a Fuck Up--Part 1

You're a writer and everyone else is doing better than you.

It doesn't actually matter.

You need to insist you are not a fuck up and that you make your own path.

In my last post, I revealed that it took me over ten years to begin to write this novel 

with any serious intention. All that time that I wasn't writing, though, I still called myself a writer. My cousin, the tax lawyer, repeatedly asked me when my next book was coming out and when I told her I hadn't been working on anything because I was trying to pay bills, she gave me a copy of one of her fellow lawyer's mystery novels--as if to say "He's a lawyer and he wrote a book and it's good enough to be published. So why can't you do it?"

I was told many times by pragmatic people that, since I had an MFA and wasn't writing anything that was getting published, I might as well give it up.

Well, I was writing and getting published. I was writing articles about the dating world, the history of the Jewish community in Phoenix, and whatever I could get as an assignment from local newspapers. Freelance writing sucked.

I was writing comments on student papers, too. And letters to my banking clients. And... well... grocery lists?

But what people who don't identify as writers don't understand is that even if if you are not writing, you are not giving up. If writing is your way of sorting through the world, you never give up. Eventually, something comes back to you and insists you write.

What the hell is wrong with you?

You wasted that time in graduate school. At least you didn't have to pay for it, but you could have been making money. You're just trying to find a way to get out of being a responsible person with a real job. If you were going to go to graduate school, you should have gotten a professional degree. Now what are you doing? Writing curriculum? Being an adjunct professor? Taking weird jobs in faraway lands? You have cats to take care of! If you wait too long you'll never have kids. And what kind of career do you have? A crappy one. You're just full of bad choices.

Really, the importance here is that they are your choices. They are the things that make you who you are and they help you see the world in your own way. Your perspective is what you have to offer the world and that perspective is richer with those decisions. You own it.

Why aren't you in academia?

So you should be a professor now, right? Starting pay of 60k. ...uh... or $2400 per class with a limit of two classes per semester (and no benefits)--because you're an adjunct. Get a job waiting tables on the side.

Well, fifteen or sixteen years after earning my MFA, I can now say that I know several people with professorships that aren't adjunct positions. I also know people who have been adjuncts for 30 years. I know people who run their creative writing departments and the school literary magazines.

I have to say, sometimes I am a little envious. If I had just stuck with that demoralizing adjunct position... If I had focused on publishing... 

But then I remember.

I hated adjunct work. I could not write well with publishing as goal. And it seemed like the writing of the time--the '80s and '90s--was full of authors who had gone to college and then grad school and then became professors, and they all wrote about writers and professors. Their characters kept having epiphanies while mowing the lawn.

I wanted to be a writer with world experience, not an MFA writer.

I wanted to be a writer with purpose, not someone who wrote just to write, just to make myself happy or hear myself blather on. I needed a reason. And I knew my perspective was immature.

If I had stuck with the academic track, I can honestly say that I might have lost myself. I can say that it's possible that I may have been writing, but that I might not be satisfied with what I was writing, that I might have actually become unhappy with it.

Why am I not a fuck up?

My route to writing may not be the same as others who stuck with academia.

Sure, my generation didn't stick with the lawn mowing epiphanies and writing about writers, thank god. But it was never a place where I flourished.

I had to do something different. I had to live differently to break down my emotional barriers, to be able to bare my soul, to write more openly, to see from wildly different points of view.

I had to go through a lot to get here, to really have guts to be able to take on something true, rather than well thought out.

I had to get lost. I had to get trapped. I had to fall in love and fall out. I had to be hurt. I had to get stuck in Africa and I had to lose half my family. I had to try to have a threesome and fail. I had to get fired from a job and I had to figure out how to diffuse gang fights. I had to accept the prescription for anti-depressants the doctor gave me when I went in for back pain. I had to fall for the children of teenagers, learn to restrain a violent pregnant woman, get a hysterectomy, and have a bunch of Russian girls steal my bag in a bathroom in a little Latvian town. I had to learn to laugh and communicate and share with other people, with people I didn't even know. I had to accept a pineapple for payment. I had to sleep in a doorway in Lithuania and take chances. I had to insist that I was a Jew after spending most of my life disregarding it and I had to learn that I am utterly American, no matter what strange tiny locale I am in and no matter how much people tell me I am not like Americans.

That's what I had to do to write about a fourteen-year-old at a swap meet in Phoenix, AZ.

It's strange what a person needs to do to really write and feel like it means something.

Now the question for you is:

What do you need to do to write your novel?

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