Absence and Absinthe

English: John Steinbeck

English: John Steinbeck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing can be toxic, like a drug, if used for purposes other than restorative and healing. I’ve found myself lately thinking about¬†writing in ways that I’d hoped I never would. I began to compare my writing with those who I did not want to emulate, but whose style I felt pressure to conform to. I started to think of writing as a means to an end, an elevator to circumvent life’s ladder. I had begun to hope my writing would take me to where my life would begin.

Steinbeck wrote the following in the journal he kept while writing “East of Eden,” –

“In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. And sometimes if he is very fortunate and if the time is right, a very little of what he is trying to do trickles through – not ever much. And if he is a writer wise enough to know it can’t be done, then he is not a writer at all. A good writer always works at the impossible.”

Those words have struck me into silence. Not because I’ve nothing to say, but because I was writing without saying much. If I’ve neglected putting down my thoughts here for some time, it’s because I have only but one thought left on writing, on creating novels, and on this whole thing that you and I have set out to do. It is that I haven’t yet begun.

For too long I was trapped in my notions of what was possible.

I wish to start again, from the beginning, and work on the impossible.

Saying “yes”

I’ve crammed a lot into my 38 years. Over a decade in the military, two wars, travel to five continents, a crippling disease, surgeries, recovery. All of those things happened to me without even really thinking about them, and in the case of my illness, without my permission. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. So much of my life, and yours I suspect, just ‘happens.’ We don’t make it happen. And sometimes we find ourselves at life’s midway point without really having done the things we truly love, and very rarely saying ‘yes’ to real happiness.

It’s very hard to say ‘yes’ to things in life. There is a chance that we might hear a ‘no.’ Maybe we will be rejected, hurt. Maybe we will fail.

But life can’t start until you say ‘yes.’ It is saying ‘yes’ that makes us grow, makes us learn, and makes life matter.

Hearing a ‘no’ isn’t a bad thing. I finished my first novel over a decade ago. I thought I was ready. I wasn’t. I received many ‘no’s’ – from agents, from publishers, from friends. But I persisted. I wrote another book. I thought I was ready then. I wrote another novel. And another. Looking back on them, I am so glad that they weren’t published in the condition they were in. They were all good stories – I think – but they weren’t told in the best way. I was still learning. Those ‘no’s’ were actually blessings.

The only other thing I wanted to do in life was to be a songwriter. I spent my high school years in my room, recording songs on my little 4-track recorder. I though I was ready. Oh boy, I really wasn’t ready. I still had, and have, a lot to learn.

What is the difference between the books you see on the shelf at the store, or the song you hear on the radio, and the ones that might be sitting somewhere in a dusty closet in your house? The difference is someone took a chance. Someone decided that, although they might be rejected, they might be criticized, they might be laughed at, the prize was worth it. That prize isn’t money, it isn’t fame, it isn’t notoriety. It is being able to wake up every morning and work from the moment you get up, until you go to bed, on something that you completely and truly love. I did that yesterday as I recorded a song for the first time in 15 years. It’s not perfect, it’s not professional quality, but it’s not bad for some guy sitting at his messy desk in a dark room. I want to feel like that every day.

That feeling, for me, is not in an office, it’s not in a repair shop, it’s not in a classroom. For me, it is writing – stories, songs, bringing an idea that never existed before to life. It’s not what everyone loves, it’s not what everyone wants to do. But everyone has something that they really love to do, something that they are passionate about. Maybe you always wanted to go to medical school. Maybe you want to be a teacher. Maybe you want to build a rocket that will take people into space. Many of us are not doing what we really wanted to be doing in life. And I think the reason is that, somewhere along the line, we didn’t say yes.

How much different would life be if we had said ‘yes?’ Maybe it’s not too late.

I believe it is never too late to say yes. But it never gets any easier. Faced with never knowing what could be, and the chance that it might be, I’m going to try taking ‘yes’ from now on. I won’t have sport cars, big houses, private planes, but I think I’ll be happier. You can’t buy that.

What do you wish you’d said yes to? I’d like to know.