A Tale of Two Cities is apropos to what I want to say here. At least the first line, that is.
I think some of the best advice and worst advice my parents ever gave me was to say, “Keep one foot on the ground and one in the clouds.”
This was after they realized that my special interest in life was writing. Meaning that I wanted to be a writer. Which, I guess, must have been almost the same as me saying I wanted to ride bulls in the rodeo or apply to Clown College.
Gasp. Oh, God. Oh, no. We have one of those kids. Not Michael J. Fox from “Family Ties,” the savvy young Republican. The other kind. She’s going to suffer. She’s going to die a horrible death. Look at Poe. Look at John O’Brien. Look at Sylvia Plath.
No–wait a minute. Poe didn’t kill himself. He just died penniless in the gutter.
What’s the difference?! Same thing!
Not comparing myself to the above at all, by the way. That’s just my parents talking in an imaginary conversation, pulling extreme examples out of thin air.
In the best of times, the advice led me down the middle of the road, placidly doing the 9 to 5, paying the bills, buying the groceries. I could survive. I was a survivor. But there’s a problem with surviving sometimes. There’s a problem.
The bills and the groceries and the alarm clock and the freeway. Say it softly in a singsong voice and feel the fugue state coming on.
I looked up one day and realized I’d lost time. And not in a good way. Like celebrating at a bar with friends and not remembering half of it the next day. Much more like being sucked up into an alien spacecraft and then deposited back down hours later with nothing but a raging headache and PTSD to show for it.
After I finished blaming the questionable advice and blaming the world for being the way it is, I had to admit that, well, yeah, no one had a gun to my head. I didn’t have to do it that way. I could have been braver.
I could have even done the 9 to 5, too, but ninja-style. Get in there, do the job, get out. Then bend my back into the real work. Give 8 hours grudgingly to the bill payer, then give 8 hours lovingly, fervently, to writing. Write my brain into mush. Type my fingers to the bone. Do the battle. Fight the war.
There’s always this beatific expression on the faces of those who have “found the secret” or “know something” that we don’t know: Jesus, Buddha, the Dalai Lama. Cher, sometimes. Well, interspersed with the suffering expressions, of course, during the worst of times. Cher included.
But I think Walter White’s expression is more to the point. The expression on Walter White’s face is symbolic of the complete and all-consuming force of will, the “don’t-fuck-with-me” fortitude it takes to keep your ardor alive and fed and fat and happy.
Remove the drugs and violence and murder from the equation and just tattoo that deadly expression of self-determination right onto your soul. And no wincing. No crying. Take the pain.
Because in the worst of times, “creating” isn’t fun, and in the best of times “creating” isn’t really all that fun. It’s like torture. And it’s hard work. It’s temporarily fulfilling, but it’s never enough. So we have to do it again and again and again.
Along with borrowing Walter’s expression, we could even adopt his words as our motto and bellow it as long and as loud as necessary to motivate us, boost the spirit, amp up enthusiasm, and terrify the naysayers:
(writing interchangeable with whatever you do; insert choice of creation or passion below)
I am the storyteller. I am the one who writes. SAY MY NAME.