Saturday, January 08, 2005

My Elvis Year

A friend of Wife just turned 33. It was an anniversary they refer to as the "Jesus year." Christ lived until age 33, and we know what happened then.

Another King, Elvis Presley, would have turned 70 today. Blows the mind. Elvis died at age 42, though the paramedics didn't recognize him, such was the state of the bloated and drug-addled man (another story). It scares me to think that I am closer to my Elvis Year than my Jesus Year, and have little printed material to show for it. What if I turn 42, and die of a massive heart attack brought on by constipation and years of prescription drug abuse? Who would remember me as a writer? Nobody -- a respectful obit would call me an "aspiring writer"; an unkindly obit would say "failed novelist." No Graceland or religion named after me.

Although I have a literary agent who is hawking my novel, like most writers I harbor constant doubt, a trait that Jesus and Elvis seemed never to suffer. I consider myself fortunate to have an agent, never mind the fact mine is diligent, smart, and seasoned. But you start to wonder if the novel doesn't sell, why bother? How much rejection can one person take? I could be spending my time in fruitful, productive activities. Volunteering, learning a new hobby, reading for the hell of it. I could also watch more "Most Extreme Elimination Challenge" on Spike TV.

Writing short fiction -- the traditional proving ground for aspiring novelists -- has never been a favorite preoccupation of mine, and I have applied myself to the sale of my short stories with less-than-stellar industriousness. (Wife says I'm just being a pessimist, and I can't argue with her). But I don't see myself cranking out short stories and trying to publish them if novel doesn't sell.

It would be easy for me to just give it up, and perhaps, as you read this, you're saying, 'Give it up already! I'm tired of your middle-aged whining! Who gives a rat's ass if you publish' You live a perfectly happy life, stop acting as if 'success' is an entitlement!" (Certainly how I would feel reading me.)

It's not so simple. Like I said below, a writer is someone who does the things writers do, however unpleasant or difficult they may are. Writing is a compulsion. I am always going to be scribbling on my notepad, whining on some blog, cranking out pages on the computer. If you have a story to tell and it feels as if you will die unless you get it on paper, no amount of failure will stop you from getting up off the dirt, and writing again.

I still may go to that damn AWP conference, because I know it will change my life! Plus, there are some amazing street drugs in Vancouver.