I am a professional writer. It’s my job. I work hard, every single day. Now some of you might write this off–see it as a pipe dream or some pompous laziness that allows me to sit around and do nothing every day of my life. And I get it–you have difficult jobs. You work yourselves to death. Fun is fleeting and often all you can do is come home exhausted, complaining about the incompetence of those intolerable people you are forced to work alongside. I get it–I really do! After all, I was once a high school teacher.
Now some of you might even dismiss this, but I suggest that your arrogance is misspent. My father is (was?) a very successful “businessman,” one of those sharks who dove into the pond to devour everything in the name of personal profit and wealth. He was good at this. He is charming. My father is a very smart man, fully aware of what people want to hear and how to sell them the product they wish for. And my father, when I was teaching, laughed at this presumption of ease, those nine weeks off in the summer when reality offered a brief moment of decompression (usually diminished by the need to get a summer job in order to kept my finances afloat). My father believed (and still believes to this day), that his job of talking to people on the phone, schmoozing, often humiliating himself under the strain of arrogant VPs in charge of something, and taking clients out to expensive cocktail lunches is far more difficult than the numbing frustration of forcing yourself upon a classroom filled with indifferent teenage children, under the guidance of utterly incompetent administrators, and parents whose view of education was always “my child is the only one you should be paying attention to.”
Teaching is a terrible job. You are underpaid, hardly respected, and blamed for everything that goes wrong in the future. And of course there are terrible teachers, those selfish fuck-ups with no other options in life, who got a cheap certification degree and slime their way into a meaningless classroom, teaching students things they do not truly understand. I was actually pretty good at my job, although I let the little bastards get away with everything. I did not care about the swearing, about the disrespect they often showed me. I did not care. I laughed it off. I made it valid as classroom discussion. I was easily distracted. I kept on thinking about my then future professional writing projects while giving tests on whatever subject we raced through, scribbling stories in a notebook, not even interested whether the children were cheating.
I had favorite students throughout my years (Anthony, whom I am vaguely friends with on Facebook–Anthony, no matter where your life is now, you were unquestionably one of them–the second best writer I ever had as a student in class. The one I plant at number one–a kid from a brief AP class I was lucky enough to teach, was and probably is much smarter than I am, and every bit the arrogant asshole you imagine a sixteen year old like this to be. He was a brilliant writer. I do not even remember his name.)
I also had students I loathed. Do not mistake teachers as fair-minded diplomats, enduring the wise and the sick with a mutual lack of prejudice. Some of those kids I could not stand. They were the assholes you and I experience far after they outgrow their protective childhood. They were assholes then. Why would you think they would grow to become anything otherwise?
Do you know what sort of cheap power a teacher has? Regardless of your school district or the social atmosphere you are forced to endure (I was a big east coast city school teacher in a school filled with pretend gangsters and wannabe toughs, alongside the genuine people simply looking for a way to survive into the future), a teacher has a certain cruel power over their students. For the ones that we like, regardless of their sometimes laziness or their rudeness in never doing homework, you can transform your usual ‘behavior’ grade, worth a minimum, into the second most important thing, rising your pet from an earned ‘C’ to a solid ‘B.’
In the same way you can take some intolerable motherfucker, some kid who manages somehow to scrape by, and change a grade on a test, diminish the value of their assignments, and fuck up that kid’s future by make an earned C+ into a D-. I know I did this, on both ends, and I have no regrets. I also know that I am far from the worst contributor to this corrupt practice of angry and helpless teachers, exerting whatever limited power they have over children, most of whom are only seeking a form of guidance and structure.
But teaching, for me, is in the past (my wife not only started teaching before me, but continues to do it. She is a saint, an angel in her career. She is the best teacher I have ever known, and I say this less out of the bias I feel for my one true love, but because I have watched her in action and have been wowed. Fuck. I wish so hard that I had had a teacher who cared as much as she does.) Today . . . today, all I do is write. Now you can easily dismiss me if all you have done is occasionally read these pieces, often indifferent to whatever stupid shit I have to say. Sometimes I look back on my subjects and wonder what the fuck I was thinking (I was likely very drunk when I wrote those, a chatty, still modestly eloquent drunk, showing off my idea of rhythm and often making a fool of myself).
The truth is, I actually make a living writing (not actually this–I make something like twenty dollars a week on this blog, and another fifty or so on another site.) No. No no no. I have somehow managed to turn this play into a career, being fortunate enough to know a handful of famous, very successful people, one of whom has engaged me to tell their life story. The story is a good one too, the type of narrative that allows a self-absorbed asshole like me to diminish my own obsessions and in whatever literary manner impose this upon their existence. I promoted this to my subject with “I want to win a Pulitzer Prize.” Now regardless of the fact that this is presently an implausible dream (and one that ultimately means very little outside of personal pride and a drastic increase in sales), it was the proper way to pitch the project. And I believe in it. My subject believes in it. There is no actual reason that this might not be a reality. The story is fascinating enough. I tell myself I am a fine enough storyteller, and have convinced my subject to believe this too.
I have written in nearly every genre style you can think of. I have been a poet (I’ve even won prizes for this, regardless of my gutter contempt for the specific form.) I write history (a book in the works.) I have written lots of fiction, short and long. I write essays almost every day. I’ve written and sold screenplays and teleplays. I write crime. I write horror. I have even considered working on a satire of high romance. I can write pornography. Tragic drama. Supernatural thrillers. Spy shit. Everything. Anything. I have never suffered writer’s block, something which means nothing to me with so many different angles to explore.
This is only a brief confessional, something of an update on my personal life and my dedicated work ethic. My father and plenty of others think that this is somehow joy, an easy career. Being a writer, most people believe, is a dream job. For me (and I can never speak for another pursuing the same career), it is an exhausting form of psychological torture, venting every harsh and tragic thought that comes into my head, and coming to learn some bleak truths about myself. Why don’t you try this sometimes, looking past your hopes and dreams. and the definitions you use to explain yourself to others and to yourself. Probe deep, consider your failings, and then explore them deeper and deeper until it has been manifested into a sort of temporal demon. Because this is what I do. I raise my own hell. There is never a break, never time to sit quietly and live a peaceful life. I have been with my family on Christmas morning, and a dark idea entered my head and I’ve had to excuse myself to sit here in front of the computer for hours and hours on end. There is no break to this life. I am always working. Always.
No matter how hard your life might be, how difficult your job and how frustrating your home, please do not dismiss those of us who have forced ourselves, rather desperately and pathetically, to pursue our dreams. It is hard work. It can be overwhelming. If you think back on how many artists have destroyed themselves, either professionally or through the extreme end of suicide, perhaps this will make a little more sense. We can blame mental illness, define it in the vaguely meaningful terms of depression, but all it is is being overwhelmed. There are visions. There are definitely voices. There is every term of so-called insanity. And the moment that we stop listening to those images, those ideas, those cracked open eggs splattered all over our view of life, that is when there is no more left for us–for any of us. I offer this commentary to those outside of the pretentious spectrum I and we and everybody else imagine themselves within. I offer this suggestion to life as we know it. I know that hardly anyone will hear me and that just about nobody will listen. But the only thing I can do is offer my confession and then move on. After all, I have much more important work to do.