Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Defining the dream

The sub-title of this blog is Chasing the Dream. All of you writers out there know what I'm talking about. The golden chalice. The 76 Virgins. The Holy Grail.

That's right. To get published. To get that initial phone call from my dream agent, to hear her tell me at some point later on that she's sold the book to Random House for a cool million and, oh, by the way, would $500,000 be cool for an advance?

OMG. I get all shivery just thinking about it. Don't you? (C'mon. Be honest. You know you do.)

But sometimes, when I get really honest with myself (and I just hate when I do that), I know deep down that getting published won't solve a damn thing. It won't make me younger, or better looking, or give me a shiny, happy personality. It won't take the dusting of silver out of my hair. It won't make my cat stop nipping me every time I try to pet the little bitch.

In short, it will do nothing but magnify the problems I already have. I know. I know. If we get published, we'll likely get rich and then, boy, won't that be grand?

Probably for a while, yes. But you know what? I've never wanted to be really wealthy, because I have an addictive personality and, man, with that kind of money who the hell knows what I would do? I can't think of one person with my kind of personality who's benefited from coming into a shitload of cash. Can you?

But fame, that has to be pretty cool, right?

Not really. Look, I was once a medium-sized fish in a small pond -- meaning I wrote a column for the city newspaper here for many years and most people knew my name and recognized me from the (very) flattering photo that ran with the column. I remember once when I was picking up some dry cleaning, a young girl working behind the counter asked me for my autograph. My girlfriend (now wife) was more amused than proud.

But I never forgot how I felt that sunny Saturday morning.

I was both ashamed and horrified. Ashamed because, come on, I was a freaking newspaper columnist! I mean, really. And horrified because, well, I know the real me, you know? While I had been sober for a few years by then, I certainly didn't consider myself any kind of a role model -- for anyone. And especially some cute teenaged girl working at a laundry shop.

What did I do? I politely assured her I was flattered, but that she didn't really want my autograph. (Okay, because I strive to be completely honest here, she insisted so I gave it to her. You happy now?)

But I came away with a feeling that I don't deserve to be famous. For anything. Ever. It felt downright creepy, to be honest.

So if I don't do it for money, and I don't do it for fame (and I don't, trust me), then why do I do it? Why is my dream to become a published author?

I'm still grappling with that one. But I finished Anne Lamott's deeply moving and wonderful Bird by Bird today and she touched on some answers that resonated with me. She wrote that many writers write out of sense of wanting to communicate some deeper truth. Oh, and for vengeance.

It was that latter reason that resonated most with me. I suspect that my childhood issues, including being rejected by my father and mother and half of my siblings, has something to do with it. I suspect I'm trying to show them that I matter, you know? That I am somehow significant, no matter what they say or do. That I count.

But mainly, because it would feel so damned good to succeed beyond their wildest dreams. It would be better than pissing in their oatmeal, if you know what I mean. Vengeance, baby, vengeance. Anne got that part right.

Of course, I could be way off base here. Who knows? But for anyone out there, writer or non-writer, who hasn't read Lamott's book, I have one piece of advice (are you listening, Gina?):

Run, don't walk, to the local bookstore and buy it. And then read it. Twice.


  1. I don't mind the idea of being rich, but I don't expect it. I think, ultimately what I want, is to be able to say I get paid for my imagination. Something that can't be taught inside the walls of any college.

    Sidenote: Before you get upset with your Cubbies. Realize their record would be a step up for my O's. *sigh*

  2. The money would definitely be nice, since my husband was laid off from his regular job over a year ago. However, I think many of us want the validation of someone who's an 'expert' (ie, an agent or publisher). I mean, I say I'm a writer, but I don't truly believe it because nobody has validated my writing yet.

  3. My vengeance story is too long to post here, but it involves an editor from the Peoria Journal Star who told me, "You just don't walk in off the street and write for the Peoria Journal Star." So I moved to New York and walked in off the street and have written for three of the dailies, Time Out New York, NY Press and a bunch of other places. I still work nights, so some would think the writing hasn't paid off, but anytime I get published I think of that editor and laugh. I've also told the story to a slew of New York editors and they howl at it.

  4. I am always listening Terry. Like only the dying can hear.
    You are the second person who has told me to read this book. I'm on my way now, I can take a hint. BUT, I have another book to finish up first. ;~}

    I don't think I've ever even dreamed that big. I was thinking a ten or twenty thousand dollar advance and I could pay off a credit card and my bike. And the money that trickled in from sales would pay off my other credit card and continue to pay my bills.

    I would give anything to stop treading water and breath at ease for once.

    As far as fame? It would be nice to have people thinking good things about me because I sure as hell don't. And I have a nice signature.

    And really, the only person who ever thought I couldn't accomplish anything is yours truly. So I guess I'm taking vengeance on myself.

    I'm off to buy Bird by Bird. Gives me a good excuse to get to the book store.

  5. I loathe the idea of fame. I am the most unphotogenic person ever born, plus I'm a babbler. The idea of seeing myself in an interview... I about wet my pants, and not in the fun way but in the 'crap, I need Depends' way. Just one incredibly photoshopped picture of me for the books, but other than that... keep cameras away from me.

    However, I am on the boat for revenge. For all those assholes in high school that I've a reunion with the summer after next, I'd LOVE to walk in there and be able to say, 'me? oh, I'm a writer. My penname is...' and they'd go 'OMG. You're like... richer than Oprah!' and I'd be all 'yup. and you're a skank that made my life hell. enjoy those six kids and your husband the drunkard mechanic.'

    That might be a dramatization.

    It is wrong that my main motivation is to be published before my dad dies? I'm terrified that I won't 'make it' until he's six feet under and won't see I could do what he always thought I could.

    Great. Now I jinxed him.

  6. Nice post; you hit on a lot of my thoughts. I do know that I wish to be published because of my admiration for all of the great artists of the past; those who have left a reminder of their existence. It's a tiny form of immortality, and I enjoy that thought.