Perhaps I just need to be patient and see what happens. I know what the next steps are, I’ve recited them to myself often enough — submit my book to more agents, write and submit short stories, poems, essays, find a job or jobs, start a patreon account, teach some creative writing classes on my own or through one of the community arts organizations in Durham, apply for grants, apply for residencies, submit to book contests, meet more writers, be active on social media, think about self-publishing, think about starting over, think about scrapping my book, be patient, don’t admit despair, remember all the other authors who have books in drawers, be positive, be positive, be positive, don’t admit despair.
I’ve been telling myself to do these things for most of the last few years. I’ve done some of it, and some of it is undone. Partly that’s because of circumstances — I was traveling or busy — and partly it’s because I suppose I haven’t wanted to, or maybe not that I haven’t wanted to, but that I needed a break, needed to rest. This work, writing, is as taxing as it is exhilarating. It requires a vulnerability that is frightening and bottomless. Without encouragement, it is difficult to hold the vulnerability close and keep the fear at bay so that I can simply do the work. Perhaps I don’t have enough energy to accommodate it all.
There are so many things I’m already trying to do in addition to writing and publishing a novel and creating and maintaining a literary career: being a partner to Meg, being a dad to my daughter, being a friend, a family member, part of a community, keeping myself healthy, maintaining my home, working for pay, staying aware of social and political situations in the world, negotiating the self-doubt and fear that dog my steps. To add to all of that everything else I could be doing to reach my goals feels overwhelming. But shouldn’t I have been able to do it all? Couldn’t I have? Some people do, right? Some people succeed over much greater obstacles and with far fewer resources and privileges.
So it must be me, I think; I’m the problem, I’m failing. There’s something wrong with me. I don’t have the determination or will power to make this work, to make the extraordinary effort needed to succeed. I don’t have what it takes, whatever it is. Some people work three or four jobs, some people never get a break, a rest, let alone a month on a seasonal lake in central Oregon.
When I left my job to write my book, I set myself up in what I thought was an ideal situation, a year or two of very few constraints and very few responsibilities. I thought it would be enough, but I haven’t yet succeeded. I may not succeed. Maybe I just need to be patient, wait, be patient; it takes time, it’s an unpredictable path. I thought I knew what I was doing though. I thought I knew, but maybe I did it all wrong, maybe I set myself up for failure, and I’m a fool. Again, I tell myself that it is early in this process, there are still many agents to talk to, other publishers to reach out to. I haven’t exhausted the possibilities by any means, even if I’m feeling exhausted and discouraged.
And I am exhausted. Writing my book, making and taking the personal, spiritual, mental, emotional time and space to do what I did was incredibly difficult, even as it was / is an experience I’m grateful for. Middle-aged men with children aren’t supposed to quit their day jobs to write novels, even if by training they are writers and have the fragile sketch of some kind of literary career. People who do that are accused of going through “a mid-life crisis,” something that sounds ridiculous and stupid and involves buying expensive, unnecessary cars and having sex with people far younger. I just don’t and can’t quite believe that characterization of what I’ve done though. I don’t want to get bogged down discussing it now, but I’ve come to think that the term ridicules a very real and necessary part of adult and personhood. Why can’t we transform ourselves? Why can’t we start over? Why shouldn’t we? Even as I’m doubting and regretting all the ways in which I’ve tried.
But my decision to leave my job and focus on writing wasn’t that impulsive. I didn’t buy a stupid car or sleep with regret. I spent several years preparing to leave, saving money, paying down debt, refinancing my house. I knew it was extremely risky, but I had a plan. I’d thought through the steps, and I thought I might succeed.
After a couple of gray and windy days, the sun has returned, bringing the golden light this valley catches like honey wine in a glass. Maybe dreaming is stupid. Maybe taking risks is just dumb. Maybe I’m just not talented or smart or motivated or hard-working enough. Maybe all this is part of my privilege as a European-American in the US. I don’t know; I don’t know at all. I do want to believe in a world where I, or anyone, can shuck off “common sense” and embrace a wild vision of the possible. It feels stupid to say, but I sincerely want everyone to follow their dreams, to be the stars they want to be. Maybe people are, and I’m the only one who got stuck in a crappy job with a jerk boss waiting for my genius to be discovered.
As usual in my depressed self-analysis, I’m the failure, I’m the screw-up, I’m the one to blame. I’m to blame for staying in an awful job for so long; I’m to blame for not doing more to build my academic resume while adjunct teaching so I could make the jump to tenure track; I’m to blame for wasting or missing opportunities to support myself within the literary community; I’m to blame for letting my poetry career slide, of letting go of connections and friendships; I’m to blame for abandoning my reading series; I’m to blame for having unrealistic, unreasonable expectations about life; I’m to blame for losing touch with friends. It takes so much effort to rise above these voices sometimes. I’m to blame, I’m to blame, I’m to blame. But I did rise above, mostly, for four years, writing my book. But the tide is out, and I’m left with the blame.