Writing to Live

When I quit my job last year, it wasn’t to pursue a dream to become a novelist, although that was in the back of my mind. No, I walked out because I couldn’t take one more day there. It wasn’t them. It was me. Well, okay, it was a little bit them, but restlessness had set in long before things went south between us. Looking back, I can see that I may have had some part in that.

This wasn’t the first time I walked out on a good paying position. When I turned forty, I left Las Vegas and moved to Illinois seeking a quieter life in the sunlight. In a real town. (Las Vegas was an exciting place, but it often felt like I’d wandered onto an oversized movie set.) It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Then, seven days after moving into my new apartment, I was watching the Today show while drinking my morning coffee, congratulating myself for having found a safe place to land. Then I watched in real time as a large plane flew into one of the twin towers in New York. The point was driven home to me that there are no safe places. In truth, there never were.

You would think that this might make me more wary of change, but in fact, it was oddly liberating. When the worst has happened, nothing else seems to be of much consequence. It also convinces you that time is not on your side, whatever age you happen to be at the moment. The fears that had wrapped around you in your youth–and really they’re the fears of our parents projected onto our young minds–seem to peel away like the layers of an onion over the years.

Until one day you wake up and wonder what the hell you think you’re doing. Why spend so much of your life trying to play it safe, when all the available evidence points to that as something that isn’t real?

The truth is, everyone dies. Everyone. No exceptions. Despite all our efforts, the mortality rate for human beings is still 100%. No one gets out of this world alive. It was the realization of that which led to my second mid-life crisis.

Can I still call it that? Unless I live to be 106, I think I’m pretty much past the midpoint now. Damn. Anyway, one day I decided that earning a living was no replacement for learning to live. I wanted to live before it was too late. At the time, I was so convinced that my job was killing me, that I don’t doubt that it would’ve become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So here I am, a year later. I won’t lie to you, sometimes it’s scary out here in the open. There’s no guarantee that I can keep it up, and the past few weeks have shown that I’m apparently not as employable as I was thirteen years ago. The generosity of a close relative has made it possible for me to keep a roof over my head for another month, but I can’t dip into that well forever.

Sooner or later, I need to make my writing pay for more than a pizza dinner now and then. I think the long term prospects are good. It’s just the short term survival that’s tricky. Besides, spring is coming. That always brightens things up. Maybe I’ll have better luck on the job hunt in milder weather.

So what’s the point of all this blathering? Do I regret taking that leap of faith?


However this all turns out, I found satisfaction in writing fiction that I never had with anything else. For the first time in my life, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. More than that, I feel like I’ve finally found the thing that I was supposed to do with my life. I know that whatever happens, I will never stop.

Writing has taught me how to live, and it’s a sweet thing.



One thought on “Writing to Live

  1. I left a very lucrative position in Memphis, TN because I couldn’t stand one more day of working with a group of Pakistanis who couldn’t speak the King’s English without running it through a woodchipper. That’s just the spoken portion; the memos were much worse. The relief and tranquility I felt after walking out was monumental, and I’m sure that place would have eventually degraded my quality of life until I made headlines in the local scandal sheet.

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