Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Discounted hope

This summer is shaping up to be like last summer, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. The duress of a lack of money is up, like the temperature, and with it comes gnawing uncertainty. My mentor once told me about "teachers who write" and "writers who teach." He cited himself as the former, and the latter being much closer to the ideal. The difference comes from what a body focuses on. People sometimes extend their hand in greeting with a confident smile, and after their names they're fond of saying "I'm a writer," when the more appropriate statement would be "I like to write sometimes." Recently, I told a friend I didn't want that to be me, I didn't want to work at Office Depot to make ends meet while I tried to be something circumstance weren't allowing me to be. Yesterday, an application to that very place found its way onto my desk. I stared at the ceiling, wondering if I was being dared or mocked or both.

One of the producers from the Fresh Prince of Bel-air, a friend of the building in which I worked, gave a speech at a leadership conference I attended years ago. Like Bill Cosby, he did his pontificating on my campus in sweat pants because he was just that well connected and wealthy. He discussed a concept I recall as vital to my development as a person: the mule-fart moment. He called it that because while tilling the earth in his native Alabama, holding the rough ends of the plow while the haunches of the beast rolled along in front of him, it farted in his face. He couldn't dodge or duck or close his nose fast enough. The stink, he had recounted, was unbearable. He shouted to high heaven, praying, and told god that so long as he didn't let him sink any lower than that point right then, he'd be forever grateful. And so far as I'm aware, that was as low as he ever sank. He went on to write and act and produce and make enough money that he could afford to dress like he didn't have any.

Ever since, then I've been testing the temperature of the water. Dipping in a toe, then my whole foot, asking myself "Is this too hot? Can I stand this?" Because as time has gone on, the water's gotten closer and closer to boiling. I found a flyer for "Walk-in Wednesdays" at a free health clinic that only asked for a $20 donation. A noble concept to be sure, but I never thought I'd be among those who needed it. The two part irony of this is that 1) I'm constantly accused of being a pessimist and 2) as a writer, it is my job to imagine possibilities, however unlikely or nonsensical. And the flyer surprised me the same way the job application did.

Starting next week, I will have a two-week hiatus from work. In that time, I hope to finish the novels I'm working on, and hopefully at least one of the short stories rattling around in my brain. I have no deadline, or no real reason to attempt this, except that I work at trying to make the best of each opportunity given to me; I don't want to look back knowing I could've done more. And with a gap of time, with so few chapters left to write, I might as well scribe them then. Last year, around this time, I was wrecking my car, and writing a novel. Then, I submitted it for publication, and received positive feedback by early winter. As I'm finding out now, it isn't a flawless blueprint, or timely at all, but it at least isn't a road map pointed in a completely awful direction. So I guess I'll follow that.

A former roommate of mine got married last weekend. Seeing his progress from then to now, I had to marvel at how he did it. He never struck me as the harrowed type; in fact, I always thought he was a little oblivious, and mistakenly confident. Or maybe that was what optimism looked like, and I was just confused. Personally, I imagine often how good things could be, and when I pull my head out of the clouds, I become a little sour over the realities of my situation. Maybe the key is being happy with where I am, or taking some pride in the next few steps only, forgetting the past, and worrying less about the out-of-reach future. To believe that the present is just the present, and not the future.

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