“If you follow your bliss, you will always have your bliss, money or not. If you follow money, you may lose it, and you will have nothing.” Joseph Campbell
When I was a kid, and had fully learned how to read, books became my candy: my secret, guilty pleasure. At school, instead of attending math class, I hid in the coat area for most of the school day, and read. The dynamic of my classroom allowed for this. I was in something called an “open class” in which fourth, fifth, and sixth grade were all combined in a sort of open floor plan. We rotated around with the teachers for different subjects. But, as there were lots of portable partitions and open wardrobe type lockers, it was easy to go missing. And as I had the ability to become invisible around adults, no one discovered my transgression until the end of fourth grade. I failed math class. Needless to say, my parents were displeased with my subversive proclivity toward creative escapism.
While I continued to read voraciously, it wasn’t until I was a teen when the deep, painful, and irrevocable need to write emerged. It happened while reading Stephen R Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series. His unique approach to fantasy involved a main character, from “our world” laced with “isms”, entering a fantasy world and fucking it all up. This kind of realism, specifically the use of deep psychology in genre, resonated with me. I desperately wanted to write: just like he did.
It wasn’t until my twenties that I actually began to write. I wrote by hand, filling notebook after notebook. The day I got a typewriter, I felt like I’d won the lottery. I set it up on the tiny kitchen table in our shitty little apartment and typed, basking in the joy of writing, around the daily demands of being a new mother. But, it remained (or perhaps a rather more honest description was that it was viewed as) escapism for me. I am not unique in this: the push from within to “be a writer” and the push from without, “do something that actually makes money”. The act of writing, creating stories, takes a lot of time, and initially does nothing to pay the bills or put food on the table.
When I became pregnant with my second child, the very first thing that popped into my head was, “now I can write”. I would have to cut back on my banquet server job, after all. We had managed to buy a house, a duplex, so things were better, but still cramped. And, I had a laptop, now. I rationalized, if I was going to write, I would write something “useful”, something I could sell, and so contribute in a practical way to our family. I looked up Harlequin Romances, studied their editorial requirements, and began writing. I kept on with it, too, using the premise that I was writing for a “practical purpose” not just my own selfish, senseless, masturbatory pleasure.
I kept on writing my romance novel after my son was born: around breastfeeding, diaper changes, homeschooling my daughter, and my part time banquet server gig. Sitting cross-legged on the sofa, while PBS pre-school shows like Barney blared out of the TV, I managed to complete and submit a full manuscript. It was rejected, of course, but I already knew it was bad. I could not seem to write in “romance formula”. My characters kept rebelling on me and doing their own thing. They wanted to be real. I wanted them to be real.
Life, my family, and making a living, were also very important to me, and so, I acquiesced to my ex-husband’s monotonous mantra: “We need to get ahead”. Writing went back down into the “someday” place, as I increased my work load, schlepping food and drink. But, I continued to write in my head: even while I was banquet bar-tending. I wrote snippets of ideas, scenes, and characters down on cocktail napkins and corporate note pads.
“You become mature when you become the authority of your own life–‘What will they think of me?’ –must be put aside for bliss.” Joseph Campbell.
But, life it seemed, also wanted me to be a writer. Through tragedy and what can only now be comprehended as “divine intervention”, I found myself back in college. And not only college, but an MFAW program for Creative Writing. This is when I finally “came out” as a writer. Here, not only was “wanting to be a writer” condoned, it was normal. People actually wrote. For a living. How cool was that? But, most importantly, I finally received “training”. While it is true no one can teach someone how to “be a writer”, without theory, or structure, or craft, the work, more than likely, won’t work. Most of us are just not that brilliant. The other thing college helped me with was discipline. I had deadlines. Writers need deadlines. However, like everyone else, we need money, too.
I am happy to say I no longer work at a job that involves tips. I am teaching college,and intend on doing all I can to advance myself. But, even with a full course load, as an adjunct instructor, I am paid below the official poverty level and have learned livable, salaried, full-time faculty positions in my field are scarce and difficult to “qualify” for, no matter how good at it an adjunct may be. It is simply a matter of academic bureaucracy and bottom lines. And so it goes…around and around.
“They say don’t spit in the wind, but if you can spit in the wind and hit something, then you’re going to become a Buddha.” Joseph Campbell
The beautiful irony here (and the point of this rather long diatribe) is that the chances of me becoming a “full time” faculty instructor and making a decent, normal living with benefits, such as healthcare and paid vacation, are actually less than that of me becoming a published (and paid) writer. No matter how much of an over achiever I am. At the age of fifty-two, I have finally come to the humble realization, and acceptance, that the only job I am truly “qualified” to do is to write what I write.
In celebration of my new found realization and acceptance of finally following my bliss, I have recently created my permanent writing space: the first one ever. As I write this, I am sitting in my grandpa Oliver’s chair, next to my wooden Buddha, surrounded with books from my transpersonal journey. But, probably the most important item here is a copy of my favorite childhood book, read from within the hidden confines of fourth grade: The Witches of Barguzin, by Kyra Petrovskaya Wayne. It reminds me of who I am writing for, and why.
Dam the torpedoes and watch me spit like a Buddha!
Thanks for reading.