A Writer Gives Thanks
I recently had a moment of clarity that’s taken twenty five years to realize itself. Thanksgiving seems an appropriate time to put it in writing.
Throughout my childhood, and all the way throughout my teens, I believed that it was my destiny to be a professional musician. (A rock star, if you like, though personally, I did not favor that term.) I didn’t take my ambition lightly or assume that it would be gifted upon me from above, as those who know me from back then will hopefully testify. I worked at it, relentlessly, for years. I formed a band with school friends, I wrote songs, the band played gigs, made records, toured and even signed a major record label deal, and somewhere very close to my twentieth birthday, that band, having lost its way as bands are wont to do, broke up, fell apart, and some of the long term friendships collapsed with it. I decided not to form another band. I simply couldn’t go through the whole process again.
For much of that pursuant quarter century, I’ve occasionally felt – at least when I’ve revisited the topic of my old band – that there was an injustice to all this. That we deserved better. That I was let down from within the group as much as from outside. That I should have tried harder after the group broke up, that every year I told myself it was too late to try again was only another year that I could have spent trying again. That a large part of me was destined to be that professional musician/rock star and that I let myself down by not going at it again. And I’ll be honest: strapping on a guitar still feels natural to me. I can move to it. It’s easy to imagine myself back on stage. I’m not uncomfortable in front of crowds. I’d be willing to play the part.
Here, then, is the realization, and I apologize for the fact that it seems so obvious. Had it been my destiny, had it been within me, had it been part of my DNA, I would have carried on. Not so much just being in a band, because that part is easy enough a crutch for anyone who wants to avoid a real life, but I’d have carried on writing songs. I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself. I did write a few new tunes after my band broke up, and a couple of them may have been the best I ever composed, but it wasn’t the lack of a musical vehicle to play them that prevented me from writing more; it was the absence of a desire. At a certain point, I stopped getting out of bed and looking for a musical instrument to start my day.
I headed to the typewriter instead.
I have always been a writer. From the earliest age. Indeed, I had a fanzine going while I had the band going, and so I was always in that difficult position of deciding which side of the stage I wanted to position myself on. But I didn’t know, back then, that I was destined to be a writer. I imagined my writing as a stepping stone to something else: that dream of rock stardom for sure, but maybe towards a career in TV, or the music business, or the radio, or club DJing, or anything else that would have given me my money for nothing, and my chicks for free.
And yet, every time I immersed myself in one of these other potentially lucrative careers, and however much I professed to enjoy it, I found myself missing the opportunity to write. Not necessarily to write a book, or to write a review, or to see my name in print, or even to receive validation from somebody who might read what I had to say in private, but to write for the sake of writing. And so, eventually, I would give up on each of these other careers, to return to the solace of my room and my typing device. Put simply, I found that I couldn’t live happily if I could not write.
Some might say that I so frequently returned to writing for a living because I simply wasn’t good enough at anything else. There’s probably some truth to that… Which is why this recent moment of clarity is proving so damn important – because it’s freed me of years of repressed anger, jealousy, and regret. I realize now that I was not a musician because I was not meant to be one. I am a writer because I am.
I write this on the eve of Thanksgiving. It’s a day I’ve been looking forward to for a week or more. I have been incredibly busy of late – not just with promoting my current book, but with everyday parenting and the considerable demands of being on the school board. Finding the time to work on my ongoing project – Boy About Town, a memoir of my teenage years in the heart of the London music scene – has been an especially difficult process, and yet I’m too deep into it to let it go for more than a few days. I knew that today would be a holiday in all but name, that the phone would not be ringing, the e-mails would dry up, there would be little to deal with on the school front, and yet, that while the kids would be home, I could call it a work day, lock the office door, and write that chapter I’ve been so longing to write. I wrote it in three hours. I think it’s come out beautifully. And if it hasn’t, it’s still what I wanted to do with my day. More than that, it’s what I needed to do.
Upon completion of that chapter, and before starting in on its editing, I took a quick drive to collect something. The person at the other end, someone I see frequently, had only just found out that I’m an author.
-That must be such a great life, he said.
And I started to tell him that it wasn’t. That I would have earned more money working at WalMart the last few years than I’ll likely ever earn from All Hopped Up and Ready To Go. That given how every chapter was the material of an entire book, I felt like Sisyphus at times, rolling that rock back up the hill as I started each new chapter. That writers are often at the bottom of the pecking order, even within publishing houses that would appear to depend on them. That our checks typically arrive late, and sometimes not at all. (And never for free.) That it’s work. Damned hard work. And occasionally we can be heard screaming “Never again,” as we struggle to complete a project that is far past its deadline.
And then I stopped myself.
-You’re right, I said. It is.
And I came home and wrote these words.