Note: A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on "What's Important." They got a decent amount of traffic on my old blog, so I've decided to re-run them on my new site.
About 13 years ago, I wrote a song that would eventually be called "Not So Much a System as a Theory," which was something that actually came out of my mouth one day. Anyway, the crux of that song got played by a couple of different groups of people, and to this day I couldn't even really tell you how it's supposed to go, just how it could.
All that really mattered with "System/Theory" was the riff at the end and, I think, the vocals that went along with it (ideally sung by someone who can, you know, sing).
A good ten years after I wrote that ending, I realized that I'd stolen some lyrics from an obscure Jawbox song. The bit in question was from a song called "The Big Shave" and went "I don't want to/be the one who/reassures you."
Anyway, this is actually a round about way of getting to the line in "System/Theory" that follows it (yet with the same melody, more or less): "I don't want to/be your/be your/validation."
As I have been struggling with my quest for, well, I guess you would say acceptance of life, or, perhaps more accurately, the ability to be happy with what I have, I keep tripping up on my writing. There is no other aspect of my life in which I feel the need to prove to others that I'm successful. It's nice if people find out that I'm a loving husband, a wonderful grandson, a great son, a pretty good brother, and a reasonable friend, but it doesn't keep me up at night. While there is fault to be found with all of those things, I've made peace with them and accepted that it's all a part of who I am.
It doesn't matter to me if people know how responsible I am, or how personally I take almost everything I do. At this point in my life, I don't even really care if anyone finds me attractive or not, just as long as Nicole does.
I am probably more confident about myself than I have been at any other point in my 37 years, save perhaps a single summer in 2004.
And I still crave recognition for my writing.
I'm going to do something I try not to do in this blog, but I don't think I have much of a choice, given what I'm writing about: I'm going to talk about my family.
Because here's the thing: I want a great writer to tell me I'm great. I want to sell a ton of books. I want to
be a full time writer. I want to do these things to prove that my decision to write wasn't just some weird, flight of fancy. I want to show that this thing that I do that was wholly my creation and my creation alone is valid.
It's not that my parents ever actively discouraged me from writing (although there were a few moments). It's just not something they really understood. Honestly, they still don't. And that's fine. I can't imagine that I'm going to understand everything that my theoretical child values.
But I'm a Midwestern kid from a middle class family and importance is placed on things that don't include writing. Importance is placed on crossing the T's and dotting the I's. You go to high school to go to college to get a job to meet someone to get married to start a family. You might take a winding road to get there, but those are the main stops.
And there's nothing wrong with any of that. For as hard as it's been for me to adjust to my new, suburban lifestyle, I've started to accept it, and realized that there's nothing wrong with it. There's nothing wrong with a house in a cul-de-sac in a good school district. There could be worse paths for me to be placed on.
But writing was never a road that was laid out for me. Writing was a road I created because some stupid part of my brain said that I needed it. Writing is my thing. And for some reason, I want to prove that it's worthwhile.
The dichotomy at work there is interesting. If I've learned anything since I was a little kid, it's that writing is a singular pleasure that can only be experienced by the writer. It's not that other people can't enjoy what someone writes, but they will never get the thrill out of it that the writer does. On that level, writing is something you can only ever do for yourself, because only you can fully appreciate it. And yet I still want people to read my work, and I want them to enjoy it and eagerly anticipate more.
I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. I think being aware of a theoretical audience has ultimately made me a better writer. I could churn out pages and pages of junk and never bother to edit it if I was only thinking of myself. After all, why re-write those pages if they're just for your own enjoyment? If it's just for fun, it really makes no difference. But if it's to express something, then someone else eventually has to read it, unless you're in desperate need to express something to yourself (which is another issue entirely).
I've started to get better about these things. I still day dream about a book deal, about giving notice at my job because I can afford to write full time. I've written entire interviews in my head with Poets and Writers.
I think the weight of the life my parents always wanted me to have has lessened; it no longer crushes the life I chose for myself. There's a balance starting to form, one which hopefully allows me to be content with the process of writing.
Now I just need to figure out how to do that without alcohol.
Not the song I ripped off, but Jawbox's cover of Tori Amos' "Cornflake Girl"