Life has a way of changing, switching things up, and putting you right where you’re supposed to be.
The thing is, it does so with such a measured pace–sometimes that pace can still seem something akin to slow even when we’re living in a world that demands everything happen fast–that we might not even notice some of the changes it brings. Yet others are obvious, maybe even painful.
I’ve always been a writer. Truthfully, when I first begin dating a woman, my writing plus my humor are my secret weapons. I think they admire my forging on through life despite my cerebral palsy and eyesight that might not make Mr. Magoo jealous. But I have yet to find the one person out there who says, “I choose you. Above all others, and in spite of–or maybe partially because of–your struggles and the way in which you handle them, I choose you.”
Have you ever found yourself at a crossroads that you can only define as a crossroads looking back, after the fact?
I found myself at one of these crossroads recently. (It made me think of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, until I read a little deeper and realized that poem is not about what most of us think it’s about.) When my recent relationship of two years ended, I spent a while after the initial shock wondering what it had all been for. (Then I wondered, just now, why I felt the need to end a sentence with a preposition? My third-grade teacher is probably turning in her grave.) We had shared so much, this woman and me, yet I had not been enough. My writing, my humor, my sarcasm, the last of these a quality that feels built-in to me but was honed by my loving grandfather (a quality I would not trade for a chance to write a best-selling novel, or a poetry collection that gleams with something critics call brilliance, because doing so would mean having to forfeit the best things in my life; the joy of laughing even when laughing seems impossible and the love of a man who taught me the sentimentality that, certainly in part, anyway, defines me.). Those things, as much as I appreciate them, they had not been enough to keep a relationship I treasured afloat.
My relationship was a sinking ship taking on water before I ever realized I should be unhappy in it.
The contentedness I so rarely feel in matters of the heart that was my companion then was also the thing that blinded me to what was really happening, the way life was changing, switching things up without my knowledge or, more importantly, my approval.
A writer has control. His universe is what he makes it. What he writes it.
A man with cerebral palsy must give up control before he ever knows he lost it. “I’m a go-with-the-flow kinda guy,” I often say. Because that is who I am, but also because I don’t really have a choice.
I love words, and what they can do to people who read them, but I also love the control they give me. “Shape this world,” they say. “Make it what you will. Make it a world with great castles, or one with peasants living in tiny hovels.”
I know how to write. What I didn’t really know–until life let me know it–was how my ability to write could actually teach me about the business of writing.
The business of writing. To a writer, for whom telling stories is the ultimate escape and/or communication tool (Sometimes, a writer’s not saying, “Come with me into a magical land.” Sometimes they’re saying, “If you take the time to learn a little something about my life, it just might teach you about yours.”), thinking of writing as a business is not easy. But a business it is.
For me, loving the business of writing all began with TV. That’s right, that box that used to be square and then flattened out and lost its boxineess. Every May, the networks (whose relevance we can debate, if you’d like, though not today) hold what they call the “Up-fronts.”. They have new shows coming next September, and they want to get their friends the advertisers excited. They couldn’t be higher on their shows then. The network presidents will say things like, “This is the greatest show since Breaking bad.” (If you hear that, by the way, run the other way. Nothing will ever compare to Breaking Bad, and if a network tells you they have “the next Breaking Bad” they are severely over-reaching and should be punished with low ratings.)
Low ratings, of course, lead to cancellations. Shows that networks crowed about–that viewers knew to be crap–removed from eyeshot forever.
Books–and the business of books and writing–work a bit differently, yet there are similarities. An agent loves a story or a project. The agent is essentially a producer, whose job it is to then bring their new love and its author to an editor at a publishing house. (The publisher is the network.) If the publisher can be convinced, the book will see th light of day and the eyes of readers.
But before this can happen, an agent must read many stories to find those that they feel comfortable sharing with their publishing colleagues. And they might use a second reader to help in this endeavor.
That’s part of what I’m now doing as an internship, an opportunity that came to me through my father, an opportunity I never thought I’d have. I love forecasting which new network shows are doomed to fail, and I love even more reading stories and helping to determine their viability. Doing so makes me a better writer, because I can spot the “what-not-to-dos” in writing, and sometimes in my own writing.
This position is new, but I hit the ground running, and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done so far. There isn’t anything better than feeling productive and appreciated. The agent I’m interning for (for whom I’m interning, my inner-editor is screaming) went on vacation recently, and she asked me if I wanted to take a vacation of my own while she was out. I don’t usually take vacations, but March is a big month, and my dad, my uncle, my second cousin, and I have been planning a trip to Seattle Mariner spring training for months, so while I didn’t take my vacation when she took hers–I kept reading, and I actually read something I love–I would take my vacation a week or so later. Our crew would drive to Arizona to watch baseball, do some casinoing, and revel in In N Out burgerness.
And–Dad and I are both writers, remember?–we’d tell stories on the road, too.
Stories of Papa, the man who gave me my sarcasm. Who showed me that my cerebral palsy only limited me if that’s what I wanted it to do. Who loved my writing–and showed me where I could make it better–before I ever knew people did that for a living. He certainly didn’t. He simply liked to read stories, and he loved and encouraged his grandson.
I was twenty when he passed. A week shy of my twenty-first birthday, actually.
My second cousin knew Papa in the abstract way that really young people know really old people. (My brother once wrote on the white-board in his hospital room, “Papa smells old.” He got a kick outa that.) The wonderful thing about that is that I got to tell my cousin just how much Papa loved him, how overjoyed he was that this new person would share his name, how Papa delighted when he would come over in the morning asking for “Hot Chocate milk”.
And, while on this trip, we made our own new stories. Some of which almost defy explanation unless you were there in the car with us, driving the twenty hours from Arizona all the way to the Oregon border. (Just an observation. Between Vegas and Reno, there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING.)
On this trip–this shared experience–I found in my cousin one of the best friends I kinda never knew I had. I had watched him when he was very young, but now he’s about to graduate high school, he’s a smart guy, and we make each other laugh. And it’s nice to meet someone whose first question isn’t, “Why do you walk like that?” I actually really liked answering his questions. One of them was something along the lines of, What was Papa like? I’ll answer that question any day, any time, because he was the person I wish I could be.
So, in the space of four months, I’ve found something I love to do–that’s reawakened my enjoyment of words and writing–and in the space of a week, I was re-acquainted with family and found a pretty great friend. And it all happened because life has a way of changing, switching things up, and putting you right where you’re supposed to be.