As a person who is committed to the pursuit of writing (or, to be more specific, to the holy trinity of the literary world: teaching, editing, and writing), I find that many of my friends and acquaintances, and certainly most of the people I interact with on a day to day basis, are committed to the same things as I am. This life spent at the keyboard, bent over sheaves of paper, wearing out one lucky editing pen at a time, and perhaps permanently ruining my posture…well, this is normal behavior for many people I know. But sometimes, when I’m thrown out in the the larger–much larger–“real” world, I realize just how strange my chosen lifestyle really is.
Last weekend, I attended a friend’s baby shower. Spending a few hours over over bottle warmers and boppies–I am still not sure what that is or what you do with it–isn’t exactly my thing, but it’s a small price to pay to support a good friend. So off I went to such an upscale neighborhood that I don’t think I could afford to breathe the air there. Luckily no one caught me. And after a very startling incident in which a St. Bernard (apparently mixed with a mastodon) pinned me against the wall in the hostess’s hallway and inspired a full on anxiety attack, complete with tears and uncontrollable shaking, I was feeling out of place.
But I wiped that running mascara off, sat my butt down and did my best to be an inconspicuous part of the goings on. I listened to the other women converse. They are doctors and therapists and scientists. They go home at night and nurse babies and play with toddlers. They go to wine country. They train for marathons. They go on vacations and cruises. They have shoes and bags and outfits and jewelry that all go together. They don’t collapse in heaps of terror in other people’s hallways when the hound of the Baskervilles shows up. I felt as though I were a lower form of life on their planet–a planet that orbits an entirely different sun.
So when one of the women asked what was new with me since I last ran into her, I couldn’t get out much beyond “oh, same old, same old. Just doing my thing.” What I could have said, but didn’t, is “I have a book coming out, a novel that my agent is pitching, and another novel I’m well on my way to finishing this year.” Because what could my small victories as a struggling writer possibly mean to women who cure cancer by day, go out by night, fit in a mani-pedi and brunch on the weekend, and find time to raise some children as well?
Okay, so I oversimplify. No one’s life is nearly as pleasant as it seems to the outside world. I have no doubt that every woman in that room had some area of her life that was no so perfect as it seemed. But sometimes I have to wonder if I made the right choice in life–the choice to work on literary journals, to write books, to spend all my free time working on projects without a great deal of monetary value, to forego children and travel and a much of a social life in order to devote whatever time I have to this business of making up stories and writing them down.
These past few days, I found myself coming back to a blog piece written by J M Tohline, who’s novel The Great Lenore I’m very much looking forward to reading. It’s an weirdly inspiring guest piece in which Tohline chronicles some of the more embarrassing mistakes and nonsensical choices he made as a beginning and struggling writer. (Dropping out of school at 19 to “take things more seriously” as a writer, trying to give his unsolicited manuscript to Houghton Mifflin in person…the goodness goes on.) But as I’ve found myself questioning my own choices, wondering whether I should completely retool my life and priorities, I find this paragraph of Tohline’s grounding:
Can you quit? Chances are, you probably cannot. So keep writing, Dear Writer – because that is what you are. Whether or not you have a novel in bookstores. Whether or not the whole world has read your writing. Whether or not anything of yours is ever published, as long as you live, you are still a writer. It is part of who you are. Keep writing. It is never time to quit.