Ten Years


For ten years nobody read my writing except my parents and my ex-girlfriends.  Ten years.  That's a long time.  That's two and a half presidential terms.  That's two summer Olympics and two Winter Olympics.  That's the Civil War and WW I and WWII and Korea and Vietnam and the first war in Iraq.  That's all of our biggest, baddest American wars, and not one of them lasted ten years.  Not one.
      For ten years nobody read me.  Ten years.  That's a long time.  I am not complaining about this particularly.  I am just saying.  That's a long time.  In that time, my father died from lung cancer.  He didn't smoke.  He insulated houses.  My best friend who was terrific, but whose name I'm not going to tell you, because that's one thing that I'd like to keep for myself, if you don't mind me doing that, died in a car accident that wasn't his fault.  I also lost three out of four grandparents in that time.  They were Ed and Bob and Beth.
      For ten years, I wrote short stories that none of the magazines wanted to publish.  I wrote a novel (two novels, actually) that none of the agents wanted to represent.
      For ten years, I was getting a rejection letter almost every week.  But I never threw them away.  I thought that the rejection was good for me.  Like a kind of character building exercise.  So I kept every single one of them in my middle desk drawer.  Right underneath my computer, actually.  Right underneath the little word factory himself.
      For ten years, I worked jobs I hated.  I was a substitute teacher.  I hated that.
      For ten years, I ate B.L.T. sandwiches.  And tofu.  Lots of tofu.
      For ten years, I lay awake at night.  Feeling hollowed out.  Worrying about my finances and my dad's deteriorating health and the quality of my writing.  Worrying about my secondary characters and my car insurance in the same fickle thought.
      For ten years, girlfriends came and went.  They were all smart, liberal women.  Very many of them were pretty.  I don't know why they saw in me.  I think that most of them genuinely believed in me and I think that most of them were smart to leave me.  There really wasn't anything I could offer them besides B.L.T. sandwiches and lots of love.
      For ten years, my friends got richer.  And my relatives questioned me.
      For ten years, I reminded myself that I had known what I was getting myself into.  That writing wasn't for sissies.  That I wasn't going to make it unless I was tough.
      For ten years, I wrote from 7:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., every day.  I wrote with the door closed and the curtains open.  I wrote in my blue terrycloth bathrobe wearing my matching blue slippers, which always made a scuffing sound whenever I walked across the hardwood floor of my "office."  I wrote with my Benjamin's Cookies coffee mug never very far from my grasp.  I wrote in the sunlight and in the rain and in the uncertainty of morning fog.  I wrote through the sex and joy of the good years and the sickness and death of the bad ones.  I wrote because I liked it and because I thought I was good at it.  These are the only two reasons I wrote.  I wrote for me and not for you.
      For ten years, I wrote, and I suffered for it.  I did.
      But it was always a pleasure . . .
      It was always a simple and exhilarating and inexhaustibly wonderful pleasure . . .  
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