Monday, April 4, 2011

What the Hell It Is I Think I'm Doing

I'm a writer. It's not a pretense, it's not a lifestyle choice. It's certainly not a career (yet-- a girl of 21 can still hope).

I'm a writer because I write. Constantly and compulsively, in a bunch of genres; so far without tangible success-- if success is determined by economics and renown. But I've gotten encouraged, and at the end of the day that's really what we need to keep dreams alive, don't we? To keep working towards our goals? And some people seem to manage just fine without any encouragement, so there's a life mystery for you.

I've written stand up, sketch comedy, criticism, straight plays, poetry, postcards, speeches, travel journalism, personal nonfiction, blogs, emails, love letters, political essays, petitions, syllabi, in a diary for five consecutive years and a few scattered others. I can't help it. It's what I do, who I am, and how I live. It's not my place to say what's utter garbage and what's not. That's for others to judge. All I can do is keep doing it. I virtually hemorrhage prose. Hey, no one promised it would be pretty. I'm admitting it's often not.

Years and years ago, as a silly fifteen-year-old keeping a Xanga (for those not in high school in the early 2000s: an old-school blog template we frequented in the days before Facebook) for middle school friends that partially and tragically revolved around my obsession with Harry Potter, I wrote a mock-Oscar acceptance speech for when I win the award for best original screenplay. (Hubris, thou art a fickle bedfellow.)

It was great. Great to think that big. Great to have that confidence. How many dozens of times a day can we be told our dreams outstrip our means? How often is an adolescent girl discouraged from pursuing jobs in the arts? The best part is that it was never an award for acting or modeling or fashion or teaching or journalism that I wanted. It wasn't what I was constantly told-- by well-meaning folks surrounding me, the media, my friends-- to want. Pretty girls act. Smart girls teach. Girls who want to write compete for magazine internships. Honey, get yourself a nice job where no one will hassle you for being a woman in a man's world. Work in a place where you do what you do well, and so what if you never leave your comfort zone?

The truth is, where I want to be isn't the friendliest place for a lady. Comedy? Writing? The sort of shows I want to work for-- The Daily Show, Community, Saturday Night Live-- are not run by women. Letterman is constantly mistreating his female staffers. Well-known and regarded journalists loudly and repeatedly claim women aren't funny. So what does an (over?) educated young women in her earliest twenties do upon leaving school?

She turns to other interests: traveling. Working in academia. She finds a fantastic job in another country for the year after graduation. She won't be paid well, but she'll tread the line between safe and adventurous. A little stability, a little security, new life experience. She fills out a work permit application. Gets passport photos. Applies for temporary residence. Searches desperately and so far unsuccessfully for an apartment in Copenhagen to lease for 13 months.

See, I get the next year and a half to hit pause. Maybe that's why I'm uncomfortable when my mother tells me she's proud of me: I feel a little like I've cheated. I'm sure I haven't. I'm sure everything is great. It's just a feeling that's a little hard to shake when you clarify for yourself what it is you want to do, and it has little to do with your actual plans.

The only solution I can think of is to write like a maniac. Write this lengthy blog post. Think on cyber paper for a little while. Ask friends, by way of posting this very entry, to weigh in.

And when the time comes-- because, after all, thirteen months is significant but not an eternity (less than celebrities usually spend in jail and rehab combined, let's be honest-- and working in another country is a huge privilege and stroke of immense luck)-- I can try harder. Take a risk. Move to Los Angeles or New York. Stop hiding behind other (admittedly fantastic) opportunities. Take myself someplace I'm scared to go, and chase the damned rainbow for as long as it doesn't depress the hell out of me to run.

1 comment:

  1. This is a beautifully written post. Let's start by acknowledging that.
    Then continue and recognize that you are and always will be a pusher. I hate the phrase overachiever because I think it meaningless, so we'll stick with pusher. You will always feel like you've cheated because you can always push harder. Just remember, and this is the scientist in me, the harder you push the harder life will push back, the more you will want to push life.

    So go abroad and be scared and when you return leave again and be scared again. Every now and again, however, stop pushing for an instant. Stop being scared for an instant. Look back and say "Wowzas, I went to Oberlin College and graduated. I wrote stuff and put it out there for the world to respond to, learn from, and rip to shreds. I went out of the country where I grew up and lived on my own for 13 months as a 21 year old girl. I went through periods where I was scared shitless and I got over it. I am a pretty phenomenal person"

    Then say "do I have time to meet Simone for coffee/lunch/dinner/grocery shopping?" Answer yes and let Simone know when and where.