Try to act normal, my parents said. They meant, behave in a way that will reflect credit on us, and on yourself; try to be better than your instincts; choose the right friends, go to the right schools, raise yourself up in the world. Like others of the time, they said more about how to dress and how to shake hands than they did about instincts or adventure.
Had they offered those sound ideas as hacks and hints, prudent and practical life tactics, my response might have been different, but I heard pronouncements from on high I might not question. I complied, but with resentment, and made poor use of my college education. Yes, it got me into a medical school from where I went on to a surgical career, but I squandered my access to the best thought about big questions like how to live and interesting ones about how things work. Had I only had the courage to take hard courses, to risk learning! But I was afraid to write papers, and I could no more have revealed the truth about what I felt and thought than I could have danced naked on top of a van.
On that safe path of least resistance I acted as normal as I could, until many years later I discovered that I like to write. At first I produced words as copiously as dandruff, and as I did so, I found that clear and concise writing either exposed itself as the nonsense it was, or made the ideas hold still long enough for me to peek underneath them. I wrote fiction because I could hide behind it, and because nothing delighted me more than reading stories. I wanted to seize readers’ emotions the way great writers did mine and pique their curiosity about what strange thing would happen next. I thought that if I wrote it and rewrote it and rewrote it, in time someone would publish it.
Mostly, they didn’t. Maybe my mountain of short stories and five finished novels weren’t good enough. I gave up. Whether I had succeeded or failed–and, indeed, how hard I had tried—remain open questions in my mind. Today I find myself less interested in fiction, but I do want to replace the education I slighted by writing about what delights me in the world and what I deplore, what I have found out and what I want to learn, about good ideas even if they’re small, clarity, civility, simplicity, thrift, baking good bread, roasting good coffee, and making friends with technology.
As I slip toward the sunset that awaits us all, it’s time. But to step into the blogosphere disquiets me even now. Why not warehouse my words in a corner of my hard disk? Because writing for myself, without readers or response, doesn’t please me anymore. Because I do better with structure, obligation, and the sense that someone may be watching. (My literary dry spell persisted even after I taught myself to touch-type last year, until a friend lured me into NaNoWriMo. Marvelous to relate, I stacked up fifty thousand words of lumber for eventual use before Thanksgiving. Yes, it was typing rather than rewriting, but I ought to be able to post something here once a week.)
If I don’t try, I leave myself open to regret. Should I stumble, I’ll look to your comments. The how-to-blog pages encourage the blogger to rule the comments with a firm hand: I shall.
What delights me, what I deplore, how things work, how to do stuff, how to live. Stories. The truth. If you enjoy it, good; if you learn something helpful, better. On this shortest day of the year, look away as I drop the fig leaf of fiction to slip into the cloak of anonymity.