Friday, September 08, 2006

Didn't You Want to Be a Writer?

This post is mostly for Erin of "Erin's Everyday Thoughts." She has been wondering where the last 5 years of her life have evaporated to and what has happened to her dream of being a writer. This post is also for anyone who has ever dreamed of being a writer. I ran into an article by Laura Zigman, talking about how we run into naysayers who tell us to be practical and get jobs that actually pay money, rather than entertain the notion of being a writer. Erin, it's so much like what I told you in my comment to your blog, and here it is again, that moment when you look up from the life you've created for yourself and you realize you have to write: You just have to. Here is part of the article:

If you are like most people (me), before you know it, you will agree wholeheartedly with your naysayers. "What was I thinking?" you will say to yourself every time the urge to write surfaces like an unruly weed, which you and everyone else keep trying to beat to death. "What could I possibly have to say that hasn't already been said by people a thousand times smarter than I will ever be?" Psychologists refer to this as the Stockholm Syndrome -- when captives begin to share the views of their captors. You will so fully internalize their message and adopt it as your own that you will eventually forget it wasn't your opinion to begin with.

You will now enter a long (seemingly placid but emotionally turbulent) period of denial that can sometimes last years (or decades). You will lie. "Who me? Be a writer? And put up with all that rejection? Are you kidding?" You will obfuscate. "Who would want to be a writer? Can you imagine being someone who wanted to be a writer?" When pressed, you will even philosophize: "If a writer writes something that never gets published and is thus never read, is a writer still a writer?"

In order to convince yourself and others that you have "moved on" (accepted defeat without even trying), you will learn to hide in plain sight: You will get a normal job, one with an actual office and an actual desk (engaging in "freelance work" from your apartment or working "odd jobs" with "odd hours" are dead giveaways of your true intentions and unconscious desires). In exchange for your 40 (or 50 or 60) hours a week of work (indentured servitude), you'll receive a respectable paycheck (let's be frank: not much more than you made waitressing in high school at the International House of Pancakes or working the drive-thru at Burger King) and medical benefits (to pay for psychotherapy, twice a week, to deal with the stress of all your repression). Most important, your job will provide you with some financial security and emotional stability (not to mention the perfect opportunity for people watching, eavesdropping, Internet research and working on something -- Fiction? Nonfiction? Comedy? Tragedy? -- even if you don't yet know what that something is).

In addition to the macro-lie (yourself as Career Drone), you'll see that you need to make up lots of little lies to protect your true identity (Secret Writer Person). You'll have to appear ambitious and deserving of promotions (show up before noon); pretend to embrace any and all career-enhancing business trips and client interactions (even though you see any time away from your true calling as a soul-deadening, blood-sucking diversion); and continue to dress the part (never complaining about how dumb it is that you have to spend all your money on work clothes when you could be home writing your novel in your pajamas).

And then one day, out of the blue, just when you think you're finally lost in the jungle, you will see it. You will look at all the papers and files and meaningless detritus on your desk, you will watch all your wonderfully idiosyncratic co-workers racing busily around the office, talking of Michelangelo, and you will stop whatever it is you are doing. The world you've tried so hard to join will suddenly cease to exist, and you will finally see that life without your dream is a wasteland; that you must at least try to do the thing you really want to do even if, in the end, you do not succeed at it. You will be tempted to put the better-to-have-loved-and-lost rule in parentheses, like everything else in your life that you've sidelined and tried to ignore up until now, but you will resist and settle for multiple hyphens instead. It is a step. You are about to head into the great unknown, and you will be tempted to throw away the map to your lost world in triumph, but don't -- you will need something to write on . --Laura Zigman


Wenda said...

Oh Theresa, This is wonderful!

Erin said...

Dear Theresa,

Thank you! I LOVE these words from Zigman. I felt particular kinship with this line, "You'll have to appear ambitious and deserving of promotions." That's where I am right now ... gearing up for interviews for a new job, and wondering how I can convince the company (and myself) that that's what I really want to do.

I think I'll start calling this my "day job". And making sure I leave here (physically and mentally) at 5:00 each and every day. And start reading during lunch instead of working through. Ooooh, I've got some journaling to do. I feel very excited!

As always, you're an inspiration. I'm going to print Zigman's words and post them near my writing desk. I've done the same with "The World is Waiting ..." That, by the way, is becoming a mantra, a rally cry for change ... "The world is waiting to be known" (no more time to waste in triviality); "The world is waiting to be known" (and sitting at this desk will teach me nothing); "The world is waiting to be known" (and each moment is an opportunity).

Thank you!

Much love,

alphawoman said...

Zigman is one smart cookie. I love that..."The world is waiting to be known."

Anonymous said...

I did not know that anyone else felt like this and it is such a joy, and such a sorrow (because why does it have to be this way?) to read it here. All these things, the indentured servitude, the pretending to be enthusiastic about a job that is meaningless to me, the need for psychotherapy because I can't quite "move on" and go back to a regular job, all these things I have experienced, too. Thank you for making me feel a wee bit more OK with myself. Teagrapple.



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"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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