Wednesday, October 5, 2011


As a middle-aged single, gay wannabe writer, there are so many opportunities for self-doubt. (Why is it that my parents feel they need to nurture that?)

Life would be far easier if I stayed on the ground. After all, being “grounded” is deemed an admirable quality. Unfortunately, I’ve got this urge to walk the tightrope. I’m a wee bit afraid of height so I’ll set it three feet above ground, but still there’s a huge risk of an ankle sprain. I’d be quite the wuss on crutches.

I have a solid job, one that I feel more satisfied doing than I ever have. I go about the days calmer, with a clearer understanding of what I can impact and what is too burdened by personalities and other issues. And yet I’m walking away from the job and the career in nine months. (Yes, I’m counting.) Perhaps seeing the finish line is what makes the work easier. Maybe it strengthens me. It excites me to think I’ll leave on a high note. If only all life changes could begin that way.

When I move, take a peon job (“Welcome to the Gap!”; “Have you tried our newest McFlurry?”) and put all my energy into writing, it will feel in some ways as if I’ve sunk below ground, but really I’ll be flapping, hopefully soaring, above. The pension fund will sit stagnant, enough to buy kibble for the dog in what has the potential to be a frugal Meals-on-Wheels-seniors’-bus-pass-thrift-shop-scrounging future retirement. I turn forty-seven this week. That leaves me with plenty of years to keep hoping my lottery numbers will come up if my writing dreams prove as silly as my childhood aspiration to work as an elf at the North Pole.

A nagging message in my head (presented in my mother’s cautionary voice) says, “Why would you quit your job? Why not write on the side?” Ah, yes, so practical. A sage suggestion for the grounded folks. I’m not wired that way. I require risk and discomfort to push me into action. When there is nothing to fall back on, I waste no time fretting and doubting. I write.

To my parents’ dismay, I’ve done this all before. I went through law school, passed the California Bar, clerked for judges and then worked as an attorney in a boutique firm with an office view of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Pier, only to decide as I hit thirty that I needed to start over. To do so, I had to leave California so there would be no way I could fall back on my license to practice law. I moved to Vancouver where I had but one acquaintance and no job prospects. I took a Christmas retail job on Robson where my manager was twenty-three and my coworkers lived for Saturday nights at The Roxy. I didn’t get as psyched about selling leather jackets as my colleagues and rarely made my daily sales target. Management chose to end my seasonal employment after Boxing Day.

I could have taken going from successful lawyer to unemployed sales clerk as a humiliating game-over fumble, but I needed that awkward time to stop speculating about my future and to DO SOMETHING! I’m pleased that I found a path to follow for seventeen years. To continue to amble along and extend the trek to thirty-two years is not an option. It’s safe, but it would foster feelings of regret. It should come as no surprise that my favorite poem has always been Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”.

I can feel the excitement, but the pressure mounts as well. As Martha would say, it’s a good thing. I have a manuscript that will be ready to submit by the end of October and a screenplay that will be fully polished by the end of November. Maybe there will be bites, maybe there won’t. It is the beginning of a new phase in life. The journey on the tightrope is frighteningly narrow, with nerve-fraying wobbles. I don’t care how I look—I’ll wear a helmet and my old kneepads from volleyball—but I can’t wait to remove the safety net and give it a go. If, along the way, I have to mop up on Aisle 6 or cohabitate a moldy basement suite with a rat I’ll name Ben, so be it. I’ll twist a retro expression and say, “Write on!”


Rick Modien said...

I completely understand why you're doing this, Greg, and all I can say is Godspeed. My good wishes are/will be with you.

In my own way, I'm doing the same thing. I haven't worked for a wage since July 2007. I'm fortunate we have no debt, and Chris supports us while I manage the house and our lives, and work on my writing.

But I have to say, if you want to see a wannabe writer, that would be me and not you. Chris is surely a safety net, and, the way I'm going, I'm not sure I'll have anything worthwhile to pursue publishing with for a long, long time. Unless I get my ass in gear.

I struggle with this continuously: Keep spending my finite writing time on my blog, help a scattering of gay people around the world, and earn nothing; or drop it all, work on a novel I'm not sure I want to finish, probably never to be published, and earn nothing. Either option, I potentially earn nothing, so which one is it? Or is there another option altogether?

Chris wants me to write for joy, not for money. He's convinced this will put me on the right track, not only to earn good money in the future, but also to maintain the joy and fulfillment. I'm too cynical to think it happens that way, I can't imagine how what I do now could lead to anything, and I wonder if I shouldn't just stop writing and get a job zapping groceries at Save-On. Who knows?.

I have no conclusion here, no glib way to wrap this up. All I can say is, we must have faith, that what we're doing now, in the name of feeding our souls and fulfilling our purposes, will be right, lead us to where we're supposed to be, and work out in the end. Or, if it doesn't, we'll have the intelligence and the gumption to turn around and take a different path. What other choice do we really have?

Happy early birthday. I turned 52 this past Monday. Enjoy your 40s. It's so much better having a 4 at the beginning of your age than a 5. Hey, but at least I'm still alive and well. It could be much worse.

Rural Gay said...

Happy birthday to you as well, Rick!

Writing is indeed an odd pursuit as there are no guarantees that months or years on a project will pay off. It's also unique in that every writer's path to (hopefully eventual) success is different. There aren't ten clear steps to follow.

I use my blog as warmup writing. It helps that I have one regular reader who posts comments because I write with an audience clearly in mind. The blog also helps me hone my writing voice. I know some posts are not as strong as others, but I publish them anyway as it's all part of the writing process and putting oneself out there.

Any chance you can take a portion that you like from the novel and use it as a springboard to a new project? How about rewriting a blog entry and submitting to a gay magazine?

Have you tried something like NaNoWriMo to slog through that novel project? I did that a couple of years ago and I am now working on a final polish in hopes of submitting the manuscript at the end of the month.

Keep plugging along. You are so fortunate to have the support from Chris...but you know that.

Rick Modien said...

One of the points I wanted to make in my original comment here, Greg, was that writing success can be defined in a few ways. Certainly, there's money, and all of us need that to survive.

But there's also feeling like you're making a difference in other people's lives through what you say, and I regularly feel that way when I receive a comment or an email in response to a blog post that's resonated for someone. I consider that successful, too.

So, yes, I'd love to earn an income and contribute to our household in that way, but I can't discount being able to help young gay people look at themselves or their lives differently. That's important to me, too, or I wouldn't spend as much time on my blog as I do.

On the subject of my novel, I know I'll get back to it someday. Like Chris says, I can't have gotten this much done (almost a complete full draft) without seeing where it will go. Although I'm not in the right space for it now, I think about it all the time, and I keep working on it by planning, taking notes, coming up with ideas, plot points, etc. It's just a matter of time. I know the subject is important (again, about the consequences of gay men filled with self-loathing), so I don't want to let it go altogether.

No, I haven't tried the November novel writing contest. It seems too challenging for me. Yes, it would get my ass in gear, but there's no way I'd take it on unless I knew for sure I'd finish, and what I produced was good. I've done too much on my existing novel to use the same idea, and I'm not prepared to come up with another idea until I've finished the one I'm on now. so I'll hold off on NaNoWriMo for now.

Yes, you're right. Chris's support is a godsend. He's amazing. I couldn't be more fortunate in every way that counts.

A Strange Boy said...

I wish you luck in continued journey. I'm making a big change in my career at the moment and there is always the temptation to just take the easy way out, but I'm thinking it's time to brave the risk to get towards the path I want to be on.

Rural Gay said...

Hi "A Strange Boy",
Thanks for the good wishes. I congratulate you on going forward on a new path as well.

Each day I deal with people's problems and many of the difficulties stem from adjustments to change. We are creatures of habit. Even when routine turns to rut, we keep spinning on that little hamster wheel.

At some point, those of us who are not tied down due to other commitments have the opportunity to jump off. It's scary, but that "safe" status quo seems scarier.

Good luck!