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Up the Slide and Down the Stairs

October 20, 2009

Who are you people out there who are reading my blog? I’m kind of weirded out by the stats. Not that 2000 hits is anything to write home about, but I never write home about anything, so I have no perspective. Half of those 2000 hits can be ascribed to friends, but who are the rest of you? Every week or so I get a really lovely or really critical comment from a total stranger. It’s an odd feeling. I’m starting to get used to it. I’m trying to view it as practice for when/if something of mine is published and then reviewed.

I have this ridiculous dream of becoming a writer. I mean not just a person with a blog and an unsolicited manuscript but a fucking actual author – like, the kind with publications and an agent and some form of respect from the literary community and whatever have you. It’s such a sad cliche to want to be a writer. My brain cringes every time I contemplate or discuss my aspirations. The word “writer” generates the most hilarious mental images, mostly of poverty, failure, ridicule, loneliness, failure, friends who try their hardest to be supportive despite their reservations but eventually drift away into comfortable normal adult lives, failure, and that scene from Knut Hamsun’s Hunger where the protagonist – an aspiring novelist who is literally starving to death – is at a pawn shop trying to sell the buttons from his coat.

At a certain point, shouldn’t desperation give way to a resigned acceptance of reality, an Okay, this isn’t going to pan out, poverty and rejection aren’t really doing it for me anymore, I’m 40 years old, maybe I should settle down and commit to a career doing something else and write for fun on weekends kind of attitude? You’d think so, but no, because the thing about writing is that everyone who does it is clinically insane. Totally lacking in confidence, but at the same time convinced that they were born to achieve immortal glory as authors. This is something my mom honest to God actually said to me once:

“You’re just like that guy from A Beautiful Mind.”

Once again, I swear to Christ that is a verbatim quotation. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, you should, because it’s excellent. I think it won a Best Picture Oscar. Relevant for my purposes here are the facts that the protagonist is (a) a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician, and (b) paranoid schizophrenic. I pointed these things out to my mom and suggested that perhaps she was overstating both my intellectual capacities and my psychological incapacities. I had to take the GRE to get into an American graduate program and I wound up in the 46th percentile in the high-school math portion of the exam. And while I am no stranger to mental health treatment, none of it, thus far anyway (fingers crossed!), has been for any form of psychosis.

Mom appeared unswayed by my arguments.

Men of Athens, I am procrastinating. There’s a writing program I want to get into. Application due a week from yesterday. With all due respect to my well-developed sense of self-loathing, I kind of think I’ll get in. If I do, I’ll be moving in December. Both logistically and psychologically, that’s a big deal.

I’ve moved a fuck of a lot recently. The last time I moved away from Calgary was the late summer of 2005. I really thought I had it made – most likely in the shade, given that I was moving to Seattle, where it allegedly rained every day without exception. I know I’ve told this story before but no matter how many times I present it as autobiographical it always feels like fiction to me; I can’t quite convince myself that any of it – the success and confidence part or the horrible downfall part – actually happened. I’d been accepted to a doctoral program, I’d won two huge fellowships, I was going to get to live in the beautiful city I’d been fantasizing about living in since 1994. I thought I was about to kick a hell of a lot of ass, and I had all these side plans, too, like for example I was going to have a chance encounter with some quietly incredible person at a coffee shop and we were going to fall in love in a realistic sarcastic genuine way that took all of our combined idiosyncrasies into account while at the same time doing a great job of representing the overall theme of healthy companionship, and throughout our courtship we’d both be kicking academic ass and there would be some tense moments but ultimately we’d end up getting hired at the same school and tenure would be in the forecast and I’d be writing on weekends and holy shit, you guys, it was going to be awesome.

But holy shit, it really just wasn’t, as it turned out.

And now I have this probably at least somewhat irrational fear of starting over. It’s taken years to get to a point of once again being able to think of myself (most of the time anyway) as a human being with a future worth sticking around for. Identity reconstruction is an exhausting process and I can’t do it a third time. I’m not John effing Nash, but you can bet dollars to doughnuts that as an aspiring author I’m not in the running for the 2009 Exemplary Mental Health Medallion/Plaque Combo either.

I’m not scared that I won’t get into this program, I’m scared that I will. It’s a typical Kate Strayer ass-backward reaction to life. Zeus and I have had our disagreements, but one thing we’ve always agreed about is that irony is the cat’s meow.

I’ll have the application done by tomorrow evening, I swear. And holy shit, you guys, it’s going to be awesome…


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