Wednesday, October 30, 2013

You can do anything you want ... but why would you want to do that?

People ask me if I’m excited that my book is finally appearing in print in two weeks. I say yes, I am, though that’s not quite accurate. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to the toes, even to the toenails (and yes, I still have toenails; the old, ultramarathon-damaged ones turned black, fell off, and revealed brand new ones yet to be rammed repeatedly into the front of my Cascadias). But it’s a little like being a kid and having your height measured and finding out you grew an inch and some adult asks if you’re excited about it. Sure, if it means I get some Oreos, yeah. But the measurement is just that: a number. The real success has been happening silently, steadily, all along—and, with any luck, will continue as such. Likewise, the publication date is just a day on the calendar. What matters is all the other days combined.

If you used to read my previous blog, “Electron Woman,” you are already very familiar with my disdain for chirpy motivational aphorisms. Sometimes I like to amuse myself by thinking up the second lines to some of the more ubiquitous of these—for example: “Everything happens for a reason … and sometimes that reason is you’re really stupid.” “You never regret taking a chance … until you get that second DUI.” “Always follow your heart … because nobody’s heart has ever been wrong and led them into a disastrous relationship with the worst possible person imaginable.” Yeah, I know, it’s juvenile and pointless … and so am I, at times, believe it or not.
Lately my favorite, if you define “favorite” as “least liked,” is some variation on “you can do anything you want.” This isn’t because I’m a dark-hearted embittered old meanie. The way I see it, the problem with “you can do anything you want” is that it’s far too limiting.

Allow me to explain.
The key word here is “want.” The truth is it’s easy to pursue what you want. You want it, after all. If you’re after a real challenge, you’d attempt to do what you don’t want.

Allow me to explain further.
I always wanted to be a writer. I couldn’t help but be successful at this; after all, if you write, you’re a writer. But that’s not all I wanted in terms of being a writer. You can probably guess what I wanted, because the other thing about doing what you want is that what you want is probably not terribly original.  

Well, I didn’t get all those things I wanted. My success came a couple decades after I wanted it. There was no ginormous advance. Celebrities are not fighting over the chance to play me in the movie version. Twenty years ago if I had known it would be this way, would I have still kept writing? Yes—not because I believe in the purity of the art of writing or some crap like that, but because while I was trying to do what I wanted, I was also taking on what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to be a failure at writing, but I failed a lot more often than I succeeded. I was OK with that. I had to be, otherwise I wouldn’t have November 12, 2013, circled on my calendar right now.
You can do anything you want, but you should also try everything else. Don’t want to be single for the rest of your life? Go on vacation alone. You may hate it. Not gonna lie, you will hate it at least some of the time. But you won’t hate all of it, and you’ll never have that kind of experience in any other way. Don’t want to end up a working stiff in a dead-end job? Settle down in a cubicle and get cracking. If you find you enjoy the steady salary and benefits too much to quit despite the fact that you can’t talk about your job without using the expression “soul-killing,” you know you wouldn’t have made it very far as a free spirit.

You want to be a writer, be a writer. Nobody’s really trying to stop you. No, seriously, who would? Your parents? Grow up. Your friends? You need new friends. The government? Yeah, because they really care what someone with no money and no power does in their free time.
Here’s the thing, though: while you’re going on and on and on about wanting to be a writer and how frustrating it is that you don’t have enough time to write and how terrible it is that the vast majority of writers don’t get respected or even paid for what they do—you could be doing about a zillion other things if you’d just shut up about writing for a minute. You could run marathons. You could get a PhD. You could travel to Riga. You could figure out where Riga is. And lest you think I’m reverting to my snarky Electron Woman persona, by “you” I mean, of course, me.  There was a time when I hated running, when I never wanted to go back to school, when the thought of traveling alone appalled me. Not any more.

Oh, and I did become a writer, by the way. And yeah, I’m excited about the book.

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