Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bread Crumbs

Early Saturday morning and no one else is awake. The dogs are stirring. I've opened their crates, but after adjusting to my presence, they've opted for another in their daily series of long naps. The house is shiver-inducing, and after smelling gas again on Thursday, we must survive another weekend without hot water.

If I knew any curses in Arabic, I'd undoubtedly insert them here, just as I reference the "home warranty" company. Of course, living without hot water is just a minor inconvenience. Sure, speaking with customer service and trying to convince them that there actually is a problem with my hot water heater (and not the ventilation system) has knotted my stomach and made me a little bit anxious about the always-present possibility of one sort of ulcer or another, but my family's problems pale in comparison to many of the difficulties with which I grew up.

By worldwide standards, I suppose, my family was wealthy. We never had major issues with food. There were nights when we had bologna for dinner and weeks where groceries couldn't be bought without credit, but I never went hungry. I never waited in the long lines to see a doctor at the county hospital. I never worried about having new clothes or new shoes when I needed them. We never had our electricity disconnected, and we never had anyone knock on our door with the intent of repossessing our car, our furniture, or our television.

In retrospect, this might be a miracle. I honestly don't know if, had I been in my father's position, I could have managed it. But I do a fair job of helping my wife manage our family—even if it is a bit discomfiting on occasion. In fact, despite my current semi-sabbatical from the corporate world, I constantly contemplate the future of my family. I can't remember the last day I "took off." I accept weekend freelance work at the drop of a hat. I write as much as I can handle. Plus, I am constantly trying to shape the ghost-like apparition I think of as my career.

On some days, when I'm not actually strapped to my laptop, clicking away at a paragraph, a line, or sentence penned by someone else, I ask myself whether or not the risk I'm taking is worth it. And make no mistake, working from home on a freelance career, an unfinished novel, a few volumes of poetry, and an online literary magazine is a risk. What if I'm not as good as I think I am? Worse, what if there's no market for the material I create—regardless of its quality? What if I simply don't have the stamina to execute each task? What if I bounce from project to project, following the whims of creation, but never complete a task? What if my business acumen is simply lacking and I send each finely honed manuscript to inappropriate markets?

Perhaps some of these nagging questions seem familiar to you. Perhaps, as I had for years, you've often contemplated freelancing. When you're sitting in a cubicle under the constant hum of fluorescent lights, I think it's difficult not to imagine a life where sneaking a nap at 2 in the afternoon wouldn't get you fired. I do it all the time.

Of course, the problem is that each time I take an afternoon nap, it's because I'm exhausted. Either one household crisis or another has drained my energy or I've already spent between 4 and 6 hours on the assemblage of tasks before me each day. Those naps make an additional 6 to 8 hours worth of work possible. But try explaining such rationale to someone who's working for someone else—or your parents.

With all of these doubts, why do I even bother?

Because, frankly, they're just doubts. If you let yourself be paralyzed by such doubts, then perhaps writing isn't the career for you. If you let the doubts affect the way you write, rather than relying on the interplay of your intelligence and the words themselves, perhaps you might be better suited to trying your hand at haberdashery.

For me, such doubts are a roadmap to the territory of poetry. Without them, I would be lost. They circumscribe the space in which I work. They remind me, incidentally, of my fears and my ambitions.

Perhaps, like other writers, I should simply ignore those doubts and move on with the business at hand. Yet, I find a kind of comfort in staring them down. I realize that there may come a time in my life when the doubts become too loud or incessant to ignore. I'm fairly young after all. My finances aren't too bad. And I know I have at least some talent.

For now, each time a doubt bubbles to the surface like sulfurous fumes from some unseen volcanic seam, I use that doubt. I may speculate about why that particular doubt surfaced, but invariably, those doubts take me back to the page. I may alter my approach slightly. I may take a day or two away from the particular project that elicited the doubts. But invariably, I resolve to work harder, and I'll keep making that resolution until it isn't humanly possible to work any harder.

Perhaps this is merely the curse of a protestant work ethic, but to me, without the oft-disturbing single-mindedness of a professional, it's easy to get lost in the dark wood of literature.


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