—So who would like to share next? You? Go ahead.
Hi. My name is Mike and I am a writer.
I don’t know why I do it. Can’t help it, I guess. I’ll never forget the first thing my mother said when I told her I wanted to be a writer, thirty years ago, on the eve of my college graduation:
—Sure, you should definitely be a writer. But go to law school first, so you have something to fall back on.
Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mom. I didn’t go to law school but your words are in my head every time I sit down to work. Like the other day at Starbucks. I’m trying to eke out an extra few minutes of battery on my old laptop. In walks a guy I know from college. Works in finance. Drives a car he thinks I should aspire to.
—Yo Mike! Dude!
I haven’t seen him in a year. I hold up my palm to high-five. But he offers a fist bump and a look that says only losers high-five.
—Why are you here, man? What are you doing?
—Still working on my memoir. Publishing a few essays.
—Memoir. That’s a book right? It’s not done?
He’s a close talker. In my face, my business.
—Takes time, I tell him.
—What kinda bank you gonna make on it?
Screw these people right? That’s all they want to know: When’s it going to be done? When’s the movie coming out? How much money? Because it’s so easy to write. Because they’re too distracted to read more than a Tweet. Like we earn so much, lead glamorous, high-flying lives.
I flounder, thinking Dear Prudence might help me tell this guy what for. I turn back to my Mac even as the battery fizzles.
—See you around sometime, I tell the guy.
And working at home? Last week I’m sitting at my desk. I’ve been writing this essay about sex and the male body image. Revising with coffee, so much coffee. It’s gotta be my 50th revision. It’s already been rejected by the Times, maybe two-dozen revisions ago, back when it was good. You know how you get too paralyzed to send something out, so you just keep reworking? But it feels productive, especially strung out on 1,3,7-Triethylxanthine. That’s the chemical name for caffeine.
I’m feeling super productive and totally worthless, in that 1,3,7-Triethylxanthine kind of way. Making semi-progress. A grammar fix here, different punctuation there. But then: where am I going to send this? Who’s going to want to read it? Who cares what a guy like me has to say? Me? Staking out a thoughtful, authoritative position about Sex and The Male Body Image? Oy. There’s nothing literary here; my words are no better than a chat board comment from some porn-watching Internet guy.
So screw it I yell and bash my hands on the keyboard. Then I delete the whole essay and pretend I don’t know I’ve got at least three backups. I think about a glass of whiskey.
But then I think, dipshit, Buck Up! You’re a tough guy, like that Marlboro-smoking cowboy from the 1970s TV ads. Go steal one of Dad’s cigs like you used to and get your ass in the chair. Write with guts like Hemingway or Hunter S. Thompson. Write with beauty, like Plath. But shit, Dad lives 3,000 miles away and we don’t talk much. He doesn’t smoke anymore anyway. And that Cowboy? Dead. Most definitely dead, six feet under with lung cancer. And those famous writers? Dead. Dead. Dead. Each by their own hand no less.
I’m thinking I should just go back to selling those cheap car stereos and computers. But shit. Radio Shack is six feet under too…
So I turn back to the computer. Ding! It’s my writer friends, texting and Tweeting about their publications and fellowships and residencies. I know I should stay off social media, keep my nose to the grindstone. But it’s too late. My head is spinning with visions of every writer in the world passing me by, and I can’t get another word down. All I can think of are cranky and rotten replies, certain to bring down bad juju.
—One more minute.
Ok, I’ll wrap up.
I decide to head outside for a workout. To calm down. Get my head back in the groove. I owe my writing group pages. And there’s that agent who asked to see my manuscript. Don’t want her to forget about me but I’m way behind in following up. Can I even pull together an actual manuscript? Ok. Earbuds in. Springsteen blasting.
‘…a record company, Rosie, just gave me a big advance…’
But those damn notifications again.
—‘I’m so honored to have been chosen for a life-changing NEA fellowship,’ the writer down the street Tweets, and gets a thousand likes before I delete the app from my phone and, heart racing, shatter it on the sidewalk.
Was it an accident? That’s what I tell the Genius Bar teenager two days later. And she goes:
—Well, don’t worry! It’s covered if you have AppleCare!
—They should have WriterCare.
—I do Game of Thrones fan-fiction! Are you a writer?
—A writer? I don’t know kid. But you should think about law school. So you have something to fall back on.
—Time. Thanks for sharing, Mike. Would anyone else like to share?