When I got out of college, I went home, mainly to my father's apartment down in the village of Clinton near the Oriskany Creek. I had no idea what to do with myself professionally. I worked for a while with an old landscaping crew. I went to the library and read, as if it was my office, going up the Hill with my father in the morning, meeting him for lunch, then returning. I tried to write, I suppose, but I had no idea, really, my purpose or my form, and I was feeling a bit down about myself, and though once I'd been a good student, confident, responsible, it seemed I hadn't covered myself with academic glory in the latter part of the four years, and I was a bit heartbroken, in that youthful way, imagining a perfect marriage without even having a profession.
It seemed I had found a profession there, within the English Department, but at the same time I had also seemed to have lost it, the thread of it anyway. I had a fantasy of a pick-up truck and a dog, wishing to return to the woods and the streams and the cow fields and the old roads and rolling hills of my youth. I'd go out to Syracuse to visit with my mom on the weekends. I'd run the '78 Rabbit without checking the oil once, and it was losing steam. In fact, it broke down finally as I got on the thruway at Westmoreland to go back to Homecoming, to see my friends, mainly to see 'her.' I got as far as Utica, the car straining to reach 45 mph, and the Cv Joint of the front wheel drive failing just as I pulled back into the parking lot of the apartment complex. (Dad generously let me borrow his own car. Things meant to go well did not go well, I got distracted by my friends, and it all turned into the familiar disaster.)
I held on to some Zen scholar fantasy of living quietly, making tea, being wise, back in Clinton, but I was getting nowhere, time was passing. I moved to DC, as if slinking off, taking a duffel bag and a wardrobe on a long train ride, arriving a steamy night in late May. I got a job through a temp agency, a miserable clerkship, and I bussed tables at a lively-enough place where in motion I could hide my pain from myself, then go home, exhausted, and sleep, and sleep on weekends. Getting into the work of the restaurant business was the worst waste of time. I ditched the office job, just as the 401k plan kicked in, and I started to write, going down to the sidewalk coffee shop on the avenue with a legal pad, having no idea what I was doing.
I didn't mind the hours so much of that fate of keeping bar in a responsible enough fashion. I still had parts of the day free, but I remained in perpetual struggle with myself, to be the sort of person I wanted to be. Still I grasped for a role model, and slogged through the shifts politely, allowing myself to get dragged down into the last late conversations. And somehow, I put together a manuscript, took a few writing workshop classes, kept up with the legal pads, banged away rolling the boulder up the hill in a futile act.
But to know you're a writer, of some sort, is to know something crucial. Perhaps it is even as much of a thing as one's own sexual identity, as if one were in need of a coming out, of a brave admission of one's intentions and desires, as to a young woman who's basic job it is to reject you at first and see then how you handle it. You can even confuse it with the desire to be religious, to be as a prophet, a great teacher, even ridiculous as that sounds. As you'll always know your own constraints, weaknesses...
There are no guides but the starlight of those writers who've gone before you, who've owned it, who've stuck with it, who grasped writing as something true and important to the organism, the being within, even with the world being such as it is. What credential can you have, but some little reedy from of self-confidence in it, returning to it when the day is still and quiet.
It comes out as it comes out. An editor is vitally necessary, and I suppose time is good at that. Thou art that which is, the word, the story, the nutshell of humanity. Always, that belief. Even if no solid evidence, nothing for the generation seeking, looking for, a sign.
Maybe that is where one finds the sense of freedom, the freedom to change, to treat the things that deserve respect with respect, not the poor slob even trying to curry favor, intimidated, weak and agreeable, spineless, no longer in touch with that magnificence within and its manifestos.
The small daily little literary act, biting off a small piece of the mind, reassuring of purpose, tuning the out of tune strings... summoning inner values vastly different, a world away from the city one pretends.
The mistake of mistaking values, the day off in search of some thing of nature, some organic creature or event, looked for in the woods along Rock Creek, some way to be truly myself, not an imposter smiling away. I didn't even mind the sadness of what had happened, the world's imperfection when perfect people meet but don't stay that way, as long as it fitted in with that vague amorphous directionless scholar the poet writer. Books are a value you have to be proud about, as if you'd been imprisoned for keeping them, were not allowed to touch them but for rare treats of good behavior allowed by the jailor, the whole confusing experience of being imprisoned also something that had to do with it all. Not any talent, in particular, nor any clever skill, but the naive bits of one's personality that fostered and engaged with written word, those things which get one into trouble with the smooth workings of society.
The prisoner has no talent but that of realizing the framing of a story, a hope for fleshing it out. Writing letters.
"What's holding you back? The usual roadblock that keeps you from moving forward."
The lady customer reinforces the goodness of the barman taking a break from his job, to go see his mom. "Oh, yes," she says. "It's cumulative. You should take more, a day off here and there to get you out of your routine..." I thought of my lovely mom and her lovely life with her books. I thought of my scholarly father.
What false persona have you fallen for, from being once all dressed up and no place to go, or from quietly imagining some stoic denim-ed American hero not unlike James Dean or Jack Kerouac, Hemingway on a camping trip (Kerouac wore workmanlike khakis.) You're an intelligent person. What sort of peer pressure have you fallen for, fitting in, circumventing the work of the sensitive... Self protection now. Trying to fit in, that's what will make you miserable. The embarrassment of falling into a persona that's not you, the jock, the drinker, the rowdy...
Time alone is the thing, the necessary reestablishment of the connection...
The first books we write, the main story is simply that of a writer coming of age. There's still a lot of growing up to do until you realize that.