In high school, sitting up alone in my attic room, I said I wanted to be a writer.
I liked books. Words, the right ones, moved me more than anything else in the world. In other people’s words I found a confirmation of my own inner reality. I didn’t find it anywhere else. For me, only writers knew how to communicate what being alive really felt like and I thought the greatest thing possible was to put into words what was otherwise never talked about. I wanted to do it.
I thought I would sit at a desk somewhere and do it. And as I dreamed in my attic I imagined myself being good at it, that I'd like what I wrote and other people would too.
"You don't make the art you want," writes the painter, Odile Redon.
Now I really am a writer and it is not like this at all. It means becoming completely vulnerable. It means reaching into my inner world much more deeply than I was prepared for. It’s not fun. I can easily imagine a life not doing it. I could go get a job, bring home a check, become one of those people who pays her bills and lives in a moderate way. But I have done that. For years I did that and I was bitterly miserable. I thought the misery was because I wasn’t writing, because I was stuck in a meaningless 9-5 job. But the misery came from somewhere else I am realizing now. Because I am not doing the 9-5 job anymore and, lo, I am often as miserable as I ever was. And as I write my way back into the past I had forgotten, I think perhaps I am uncovering the roots of that misery.
I can imagine stopping this process. Going out and getting that job. Putting aside my violin because it is so difficult to play even the simplest melody. I imagined doing these things just yesterday. And what came crashing in is how I’d feel a few years from now, a couple decades from now. I’d be wondering what I would have managed if I hadn’t given up these things, if I had kept writing, if I had kept up my violin. So I can’t stop writing or playing. They are such difficult things. I wish life was easier.
“The older you get the harder you work,” my father said the last time I saw him. I don’t know what he meant. I don’t go to my father for information anymore. But the phrase has stuck in my mind. Maybe because the more I write, the harder writing gets.