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Tonight I lament the depression of one of my Authors. He’s an erudite scientist, what they call a “thought-leader” in his field, a field which is about as difficult and byzantine as rocket science without actually being rocket science. My Author has become my friend. This is owing to the fact that good ghosting necessitates love. To get excellent at it, you have to crawl into an Author’s interstitial organs, occupy his childhood, suffer the dynamism of his family life, and slink through his furtive fantasy life. To find the dagger he conceals behind his cloak, you must become him—and to become someone else means to love him as you love yourself. If, like my Author, he’s scraped against the vagaries of a jagged universe so many times his skin’s rubbed raw, then you better bring some gauze and Mercurochrome.

“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg

So why are we depressed? An editor’s sent back our book. Over which we bled from the noses for more than a year. I’m talking countless 18-hour jags, a thousand epiphanic e-mails in the night. A masterpiece, to be honest. A symbiotic birth, a child of the synthesis of both our procreative minds. But, “This is not the book we hoped for,” the editor said. A bigtime editor. Well-respected. God damn good at his job. An editor who recently enjoyed a private audience with Pope Francis, and mentioned our book: “We can get an endorsement,” he said. But now: “We can’t sell this. It’s too … it’s too … too something.”

“A little less …”

“Let’s restructure …”

“Maybe from the perspective of the dog …”

Trust your editor, yes. And remember: You’re never “there.” Landing that agent, that was good. The book auction? Awesome. Signing that contract, seeing yourself on the stacks for the first time, your great name on the spine. You have to remember that none of these milestones is any kind of terminus.

So tonight I think back to when the world, the government, my parents’ money, and a course-selection lottery finally granted me the blessing of a two-block college fiction writing workshop at Colorado College with the ingenious teacher and clever writer, Jim Yaffe. I remember the well-rehearsed warning lecture Jim delivered from a wingback chair in the Victorian mansion on “Millionaire’s Row” where he held all his classes. It was the last day of that miracle time, and Jim delivered a speech to answer the question, What separates the men and women from the boy and girl writers? On that afternoon, after showing (not telling) us conscripts of all the joy and honor of a writing career – Jim wrote for Studio One Hollywood, My Mother the Car, and several plays and novels – he recommended to us flabbergasted members of the workshop that we follow more sensible, practical pursuits. The rodeo. Public accountancy. Or maybe selling plumbing fixtures with our father. It’s not just that only one in a million of us would ever “make it” as a writer. Jim showed us there’s a yawning gap between writing and being a writer, living a writer’s life. Twenty-five years later now, and I understand what he meant. The writing life is not laurels and ripe berries, but edits and re-edits, not ivies but indexing, end-noting, eighth-drafting uncomplainingly.

It seems to me now that Jim might have intended to offer an advanced apology. Sorry, Sport, but some night you will find yourself in bed with a disappointed wife, or [in my case] alone in a hot, dark room with some obscene contraption searching for cancer recurrence aimed at your jugular vein while you’re on deadline still—and you will know that life ain’t a halcyon fiction writer’s workshop under such an avuncular prof, with chocolate-chip cookie breaks twice an afternoon. Life is not an extended invitation to write so wildly, so long, and this privilege will likely, sadly, never present itself again. Not to most. To write through a relationship, after working a “real” job all day, with bills to pay, despite family underfoot, or during the tragicomic episodes of every day: That’s being a writer, he’d say. Try it sometime. You might find it isn’t worth it after all. But either way, don’t expect anyone will care.

I hear him. I hear you, Jim. But I know you’re not addressing me with this crafty stratagem. I know that you and I both share an imperative occupation. We both know what it means to have to write. You say it’s never exactly easy, or fun, or necessarily any good, which is not the point. The point, I remember as now I hear only the gurgling of my inhalations and the IV drip, is to be saved by our writing and each other’s. A fine line between melodrama and profundity, no? That’s what you would have written in the margin after such a sentence. Forgive me if I’ve gone too far, Professor. Sometimes I’ve got to play the cancer card. But really, I’m all right. I just want to write, so the sooner the cannula comes out, the sooner I can type.

So this is what I want to share with my author, at home, dejected as Eeyore: We didn’t do this for the glory. We didn’t endeavor to ripple the world for any gratitude or recognition of our talent. We did this because we had to. Because what we wrote had to be written. Because only we could write it. Because writing matters, and not just because it feeds reading. Because in and of itself, writing is the thing you do so you don’t shoot yourself in the face, or succumb to the pesky overgrowth of cells before your magnum opus. So that’s our book launch, that’s our Pulitzer. That’s our elegy and Star on the Walk of Fame.

Now … let’s get ourselves well, toss those masterful pages, and edit that fucker so we can change the world.


Goodreads. Accessed on April 4th, 2015.

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