It occurs to me that I have been writing braver things lately. Maybe it’s like drugs, where the tolerance wears off and you have to “up the ante” to maintain the concomitant “high.” I hope this doesn’t continue. I do have some secrets. And I would like to keep them to myself. Oh, well. Here we go.
A while back, a good writer friend of mine who had been “work free” for some time, procured a job on the writing staff of a cable television series. Keenly aware of our contrasting situations – him working, me not – he volunteered that, unlike the generous salaries we had received when we were working for the networks, considering his substantially lower cable series salary, he observed, “I am practically paying them.”
My friend’s joke did not make me laugh, most importantly because it was too exaggeratedly inaccurate to be funny. I immediately understood why he had mentioned this. It was not primarily to provoke laughter – as he had done multiple hundreds of times in the past.
He was trying to make me feel better.
More recently, another good writer friend – most of my close friends are writers; maybe it’s because I find them interesting; or maybe – you’re in jail, your close friends are other prisoners. Not that “TV Writing Equals Jail”; it’s about geographical proximity. You work at a studio, you are unlikely to meet astronauts.
My friend had completed a book of short stories and was currently enmeshed in the myriad details involved in publishing the book himself. In this context – and as unsolicited as my other friend’s “I am practically paying them” – my short story writing friend observed, “Putting it together took longer than writing the book.”
Do you hear the similarity? First of all – exaggeration. Handling the specifics of self-publishing may have caused my friend to feel that way, but putting it together did not take longer than writing the book. Not even close. So why did he say that? Several possibilities come to mind.
My short story writing friend could have been bragging. “Look at all the work I’m doing.” He could also have been complaining. “Look at all the work I’m doing”, but in a whinier tone.
His voice, however, betrayed neither braggadocio nor grumbling. This friend too was trying to make me feel better. As in, “Look at all the work I’m doing that you, unencumbered by this enterprise, or any other for that matter, are totally exempt from being troubled by.”
The impulse, in both cases, was compassionate. My friends are doing what I no longer am, and they want me to know I am not missing anything. It’s “This ice cream is making me fat” to a lactose-intolerant compatriate.
But sewn into the lining of this type of communication, there is also a message, not maliciously intended, but it is there nonetheless. The message is more than “We’re still doing it, and you’re not.” It’s not even the more morally insinuating, “We’re still doing it, and you’re not even trying.”
At its deepest arguably unconscious and therefore in no way deliberate level, it’s
“There is something seriously wrong with you.”
For years now, I have abandoned the pursuit of Fame and Fortune. In America. Where Fame and Fortune is “The Name of the Game.” That can’t be right. And it’s probably Un-American.
Here comes the serious part.
For years, I internalized that same diagnosis. Notwithstanding the fact that my astute powers of observation returned dispatches indicating that, owing to a stylistic evolution in television writing, my time in my selected field of endeavor was ineluctably up, I was expected nonetheless to keep punching, adhering to the transparently self-evident baseball-inflected adage, “If you don’t swing the bat, you can’t hit the ball.”
I was adamantly refusing to swing the bat.
That’s not good. (The hidden message is echoing. An echo that kept ringing in my ears.)
And then, quite recently – unassisted by therapeutic intervention; it flew into my mind of its own accord – the idea came to me that despite what I wasn’t doing, I was exceedingly happy with what I was. (I had recently heard a quote from a lifetime minor leaguer recently promoted to the Majors (and subsequently demoted shortly thereafter.)
When he was asked what it was like plying his trade so long in obscurity, the career minor leaguer replied, “I do not think about the city I am not playing in. I think about the city I am.” That concept might have secretly sunk in.)
I love the hours spent writing this blog. I love practicing the piano every day, and I mean seven days a week. I may not exactly love exercising, but I love how I look in the mirror. (Pictures on request. Nah, I better not.) I love my family, and I love the new little guys that are joining it.
It is not that I don’t sorely miss what I used to do. I miss it desperately every day. But it occurred to me – and, I repeat, only recently – that my overshadowing “Gloom of Redundancy” and my combative defensiveness over abandoning “striving mightily for universal acclaim” were primarily culturally-induced conditioned responses, and not the way I actually felt.
I am not by nature a positive person. But I am have the sunniest outlook when it comes to doing what I want. It appears I have finally discovered my niche in life. I am an absolute “natural” at unlimited leisure. (Knowing me and my habitual manner, I have probably been deliberately downplaying my enthusiasm, for fear of having my “Good Life” diabolically snatched away.)
A pathetic rationalization, my most recent illumination? Perhaps. But then why do I find myself flying into my office every day to start writing this blog? And why do I clamber downstairs to the piano to play and – energetically if not melodically – sing? Nobody’s watching. I have nothing to prove. It’s a spontaneous reaction.
I believe it’s called fun.
I realize there is a propensity for new converts to any perspective to proclaim and oversell. It is possible I have already done that. The challenge in writing is to hit exacty the write note, and I may not have entirely succeeded.
I do not recommend what I’m doing to everyone. Mine is hardly “The One True Path.” Nor is this a retaliatory swipe at those who doggedly continue peddling their wares. Perhaps they simply enjoy the process, the outcome, however unlikely, being the desirable though in no way essential “icing on the cake.”
I shall leave that to them.
As for me, I shall continue my life as I have recently lived it. The difference now is,
I shall no longer consider it a ”Consolation Prize.”