By most people’s standards, I am a failure. Sure, I went to an Ivy League school, and yes, I have a lovely daughter, but I don’t have a job (although I work at least 11 or 12 hours a day), have less than $200.00 in the bank (a week ago I had only $14.00, but that’s another story), am without a husband/boyfriend/partner, live primarily off unemployment checks (this has only been for a month, and will be short-term), and own neither property, life insurance nor a retirement fund.
And yet just this morning, around 6:30AM, one of my best friends, Courtney, texts me this message:
“I am excited beyond words at what both of us are planning to do with our lives.”
So, what are the plans?
For Courtney, this means moving to Mexico and returning to New York to work on the occasional film job.
For me, well, if you’ve been reading this blog at all, you’d know part of my plans: travel the world with my kid, make just enough money to live on, write like a fool.
Courtney was referring to our separate plans to reclaim our lives. To get my friendship with Courtney, you’ll have to know that we met when we were in the third grade. We’re from the same neighborhood, knew the same people, experienced weirdness and goodness and badness together. We’ve followed our own paths but our lives have always been aligned. We’ve supported each other as relationships have ended, and most recently, Courtney let me move into her big loft when I needed to downsize.
To get Courtney’s excitement, you’ll have to understand that our plans are all-encompassing- they involve making changes that will impact every moment of our lives. For Courtney, it’s more than just moving to Mexico. She’s a nomad by nature- in the past, she crossed mountains in Central America with her dog, Che, and went sailing with strangers off Panama. She’s traveled to Europe for film festivals and, to support her film making, was once a New York cab driver. Courtney is hardcore. I have no doubt that after living in New York for the past nine years, she’ll let the universe act as her guide. I’m excited just hearing about her travel planning adventures.
And so, you ask, what of my plans? Travel planning, check. Make enough money to live, working on it. Writing, always, forever and ever.
See, writing isn’t just a part of my plan, it’s in my blood, it’s everything. Seriously, I think I lack white blood cells just so that my words can have more room to flow. My dreams, while epically swift and lush, counter my dangerous, paragraphically slow nightmares. I sometimes wake to find my fingers typing against my sheets. As a result, I sleep with my computer on the floor next to my bed, ready to open at 2 or 3 or 4AM, whenever the electricity between my synapses crackles me awake.
I write until it hurts, and then I write some more. Five years ago, with a painfully broken arm, I taught myself to write with my non-writing hand. I still have pages that I wrote from those many months of misery- my spidery chicken-scratch whispers the pain I felt. I also, during that time, learned to type using only one hand and, on occasion, with a well-positioned pen stuck between my teeth.
When people ask what I do (the only question New Yorkers seem to ask except for “where’s your apartment located”), I respond, without hesitation: I’m a writer.
Interestingly enough, for all of my writing, I haven’t published much. This isn’t for lack of submissions- oh, I’ve submitted to countless reviews. And it isn’t, I imagine, for lack of connections. My editor, who gave me the green light after I had worked on my first novel for six or seven years, has submitted my work a few times to colleagues in large publishing houses, but so far, no takers. I’m not too disheartened- it’s a tough market- it’ll happen eventually, I know it will. My prose is solid and my stories are bodied.
Fiction writers like myself have to love what they do. This feeling has to trump their desire to become published. I firmly believe this. And yet I still look forward to the day when I sell one of my books. Notice I didn’t say “finally” sell one of my books. As I said, it’ll happen. Until then, I ready myself by visualizing what it will be like to be a writer who makes money from selling my projects, and I eat more meals of rice and beans than anyone else I’ve ever met. It’s fortunate I’m a decent cook- thank God for spices (I even write about them!)
Unpublished writers give up a lot. Tonight, for instance, some of my friends will be heading going out to eat. I imagine they’ll have a lovely time. So will I, reading a book at home with my kiddo, eating our lentils. I can’t afford to eat out. The last time I made that mistake cost me a week’s worth of groceries for my kid. It pays to be careful. Yes, I choose to be a writer, and definitely chose not to work in finance for the rest of my life, but that doesn’t mean I never feel jealous of the lives others lead as a result of them simply making more money. I do, and often. Particularly when I hear about the vacations my friends take to destinations all over the world.
But here I am, planning my own adventures. On my own terms. See, I don’t want to simply ‘vacation’. I want to live amongst people from other cultures. I want to really get to know the world.
I think I just need to throw it out there that part of my impetus to travel is so that I can gather experiences for future books. I’ve invented characters from all over the world- in my last book, there were characters from Iran, India, China and France. I’ve spent inordinate hours researching the cities I’ve written about in order to get a picture in my head of what they looked like, the materials the buildings were made of, the smells in various markets. I then wrote about these places without ever having been to them (except for France). I spent two years studying the Persian poet, Hafiz, just so I could quote a few of his poems in one of my books in a meaningful manner.
As a writer, I spend more time inside my head with my characters than with real, breathing individuals. I’ll always use my imagination to empathize with people, and yet I’m really needing, now, to interact on a new level with people from across the globe. I’ve imparted my love for inventing a good story to my daughter, but now I’d like to help her start finding great stories.
What is this post about? First, to remind myself that my current situation is actually the best breeding ground for creativity. In the words of J.K. Rowlings:
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
Strangely, I don’t feel at all as though I am at rock bottom. In fact, I feel free, untethered. I’ve recently started a business, am slowly gaining future clients, am nearly finished with my next book, have big travel dreams that I know will be realized, and am raising the most amazing kid on the planet. I also have amazing best friends and family members.
Which leads me to the second reason for writing this post:
To thank friends like Courtney who share their inspiration. To my family who believes I’m doing the best I can at all moments.
I’m feeling more inspired than ever. I woke this morning at 3:30, ready to take on the world. I wrote a chapter and then watched- for the third time- Rowling’s speech. You might also find it to be inspiring and who knows- if you’ve found YOUR passion- it might help you consider yourself one of the richest people alive.