Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Comes a Time When You Realize You Gotta Do It Yo Sef
I got off the phone with R. yesterday with a despondency so deep I could barely move. I had hoped to receive some encouragement but got instead comparison to writers I cannot compete with.
"Richard Rodriguez is a complex and brilliant essayist," he said. "There are only a few writers in Tucson working at that level."
The implication, of course, was that I was not one of them.
We chatted on about landscaping and other house projects that never seem to end until he thanked me for calling and went on with his day.
Devastation sat in my lap like an overgrown offspring, pinning me to the seat.
I was time to push him off and stand up, but I didn't want to. I sat there suffocating, wanting someone to rescue me from this pit of mediocrity and frustration. I get it. I haven't achieved what I want to with my writing, and it's nobody's fault but my own, gul dang it.
This realization begs ways of thinking and being that are at the core of my psyche. A long time ago I decided I could not ever pursue writing because that was an impractical vocation. I haven't achieved to my potential, in part, because I have been afraid to pursue writing as a full-time job. It's always come after the "real work" was done. (There is the "talent" question, I know, but talent without work doesn't go far.) I also got the message that it was not "my place" to aspire to such a thing. "Who do you think you are?" was the common refrain from family, friends, teachers, employers. This came from parents, relatives, my social milieu of working class kids, and teachers who were paid to prepare us students for real world work.
"Education," for me, has been a process of dehumanizing, for the most part. A few courageous teachers bucked this trend, but the overriding message has been "buckle down." (Education has been systematically wrung dry of humanizing effects with its emphasis on shallow, short term content and testing, by the way. This is another source of great grief and anger, but that is another essay.)
But there was a more fundamental message at work. This message was a poison pill that I swallowed readily, and continued to take regular doses through the years. The pill spun a belief that one should never trust a heart's desire because that led only to misery. One should never really love a life. Life was too fickle, suspect, and free-spirited. It would only lead to disappointment and heartbreak.
Instead, one was to learn to be practical, productive, to fit in, and not ask questions. This was and is the script of working class education and its effects run deep in the tissues of my world view. I became the accomplice to sabotaging any attempts to really succeed as a writer. I looked for ways to avoid learning my craft, to fail in small ways, to make it impossible to get the work done.
My head was going one way, me feet and heart another. I have been torn apart in the middle and have been unable to bring the two into alignment.
Now that I am getting old enough not to care anymore, I can see that there will be no help in this. I am going to have to stand up for myself and deliver the bad news that I can no longer waste my time.
If I go broke and end up under a bridge, so be it.
At least I acted, finally, on the only truth I have ever really known.
It looks like I have come to a fork in the road, and, as Yogi Bera said, need to take it.