Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Always wear clean underwear before you leave the house" and other misleading advice

OK, so that one's true. Specifically, I want to address the malicious bits of advice that have been thrust at me by teachers, guest speakers, family, and friends since I decided I wanted to be a writer years ago. Nothing particular to my own writing, since most of the people in question have not read anything I've written, but tracing my past, it seems that from about the 10th grade onward, people started telling you that you couldn't do anything you wanted to do anymore. Up until this point, it was OK to profess that you wanted to be an artist, it was OK to share with enthusiasm that you wanted to be a stage actor (even though you had stage fright which presented itself on mutliple embarrassing occasions). They snatched away the Kool-Aid they had been serving us and replaced it with something arguably more bitter and depressing (alcohol seems like an obvious literal example to be placed here).

And I want them all to knock it off. I want the Grown-Up Realism Party or whatever they're calling themselves to stop spreading these viscious rumors about how publishing or whatever your personal interest is is so hard that basically you shouldn't ever try. I admit I have to come to terms with the facts of reality. Surprisingly (this is especially surprising to me), it's not the potential for esteem or success that compels me to write. It's the need. I need to write the way an addict needs its drug of choice. The fortunate part is that I probably won't have to sleep with someone to get my fix when money's tight (I don't know that this is true - I'm not really IN the writing world yet). It is the knowledge that I sometimes spend as long to craft an email as some people spend doing their actual jobs. I'm afraid that if I don't pursue this somewhat lofty goal I will begin to save everything I jot down in my notebook and share them as anectdotes at parties in a frenzied state and you will never, ever get me to shut up. That sounds like something of a nervous breakdown. How would you like that? I'm going to have a nervous breakdown at your party! There's no quicker way to kill the buzz of a good party (other than passing out too early on someone's couch. That pretty much kills the buzz for you.) than when you have to call an ambulance because one of your friends is panicking themselves into a state of shock.

"If you didn't have to work for the rest of your life, what would you do? Then
do that. Oh, I thought you were going to say 'accountant.' You want to be a
writer? There's no money in that. It's funny, writer sounds so much like
'accountant.'"
When I tell people I want to be a writer, sometimes they get all cheeky and ask if I'm going to write The Great American Novel. The truth is that I don't want to write The Great American Novel. I didn't even read The Great American Novel in high school when we were supposed to read it over summer vacation. Instead, I watched All My Children and ate Oreos all summer and when fall came I got the Cliff Notes version and then I cheated off someone else's quiz when they weren't looking. I just want to amuse people, to connect with them in a way I feel is sometimes more difficult to articulate in person, and to make them think a little. But not too much, not so much that they suffer an acute panic attack or break down in fits of tearful despair.

I'm twenty-five. Therefore, I write this with virtually no authority or proof whatsoever. But if it were up to others, I would be in law school studying to be some sort of regulatory something-or-other with a sensible, nice haircut wearing a magenta Gucci suit with shoulder pads (actual suit once pressed upon me).

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