What does a writer do differently from everyone else that defines who they are?
Here is my situation. I am a civil engineer who in his middle ages has decided to turn back the clock and pretend it is 20 years ago and time to decide on a career. It is not so much pretending, I suppose, as it is simply karmic realignment of my stars. And in this realignment I hope to find that part of me I left behind when the weight of the world compelled me to give up on my dreams of making a living in the creative arts and instead put my nose to the grindstone. I remember being in my car and making the call that shut it down.
It was a call to Nick Farella, general manager at WXLC-FM in Waukegan, Illinois (the birthplace of Jack Benny, no less). I had missed two of my part time shifts and decided I was not getting the enjoyment out of radio broadcasting that I once did. The truth be told, I had been passed up for a full time spot recommendation at another radio station in Norfolk, in the same ownership as WXLC. They needed me here because I could fill any time slot at short notice. I was too valuable to pass upward but was making $5.00 an hour. I told Nick I decided to hang 'em up (referring to my headphones) and I would drop my front door key off in the morning. That was it. My dream smoldered like tossing a wet blanket on a campfire. I sank into a marriage where I wasn't happy, a job that paid the bills, and a life less fulfilling
In retrospect that was the best thing I ever did and I am pretty sure it was divinely inspired. Thank you Holy Spirit for putting me into a depression that stepped me off of the path leading me to a life in Norfolk, or Albuquerque, or Laramie, where if they still have live radio air personalities any more. they only make $50k a year. I regretted it for a while but honestly it was probably the other choices in my life that I regretted more, like my first marriage. Oh well, that, as they say, is that.
My life needed a little break so I could learn, so I could become. 1994 was a long time ago. Today presents far more opportunities for me. For three years I have been writing again, as I did in college. And with the more I write, the more I feel it becoming a part of me, and with each passing day, I feel the title of author coming my way. And as an aouthor I envision myself as an artist who paints with words.What is it that artists do anyway?
As Jimmy Johnson, former head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, might say, if you are going to talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk. To figure out how authors act, I needed to find a place where I could observe them and perhaps adopt some of their behaviors in an effort to walk the walk. As opposed to the bohemian communities filled with aspiring artists familiar to a time long ago, today I have found the artists congregate in the virtual world. Although I would someday like to find one of these places where authors hang out and collaborate and tell loud stories and smoke opium and paint images of legless prostitutes while drinking glass after glass of absinthe...maybe that last part was more Moulin Rouge than reality but still, you get the point.
Today I follow over one hundred authors, agents, and editors on Twitter (I also follow the Hot For Words feeds and I would like to assure my wife it is just for the education one receives about the english language). I also follow several blogs and often find myself looking busy at work by writing flash fiction pieces for contests featured on those blogs. And even though I am out there in the electronic ether, following and being followed, still I am having a hard time standing up and saying with confidence that I am a writer. I talk the talk but I am having a hard time walking the walk. Time for some reflections on lessons learned in life.
Before meeting my dear wife three years ago, I played the role of single dad on the prowl. Although I was doing alright in the sins of the flesh department, there was one woman who vexed me so that I sought counsel from my therapist. She was a barista at Borders (of all places) and she was quirky and fun to talk to and edgy; totally my type. The problem that kept me from talking to her was my realization that she was younger than I was. When I talked to my therapist he gave me a great piece of advice, which was, there are no what ifs. Therefore, I could not say to myself, what if she laughs at me and says I am old enough to be her father. Who cares? There are no what ifs.
I did talk to her and we did express this idea that we might date, until she found out I was 40 with a kid and I found out she was 18. We did laugh about it and as relationships go, that one was pretty good. No one got hurt and we only remembered the good times. And best of all, I lived in the moment, failing to find the what if.
This past weekend I had my hands full. My wife was getting her hair cut so I had the boys and errands to run. Eyeglasses needed fixing, a trip to the butcher was in order, and we needed to get to the post office to apply for a passport. Our youngest, Peter, was giving me the lesson on the non-existence of the what if.
At the eyeglass place he played loudly with the toys not caring who he disturbed. At the butcher he caused such a fuss that the owner's wife kept giving him candy for hugs. And at the post office he ran around in circles laughing, which caused the clerk to give him the end-roll of some express mail stickers. That kid cleaned up with swag and didn't care what anyone thought.
Maybe that is what I need to do. Maybe I need to stop worrying how other authors act, and just be myself. We will see, because being myself usually involves sitting in my PJ's in front of the computer, laughing at what I have just written. Now I just need to find a legless prostitute. I'll ask my wife. She's good at finding stuff.