I preach to my kids: write every day.
I should stop there and clarify that sentence. Because I don’t exactly have kids. I am a professor. I have students. But they are mine. At least for 17 weeks each semester. My job is to help them find the tools they need to go live out their dreams, at least as best that I can.
Teaching isn’t a job. It’s a calling. It’s one that, like so many jobs, doesn’t have hours or boundaries. My kids are my kids. They will always be my kids. Thirty years from now, if I’m still kicking around on the planet, I’ll worry about them. I’ll wonder if I helped them find that one critical piece that made it all come together.
But this isn’t that kind of writing. I’ve discussed teaching before. This is about writing. And what I haven’t been doing.
Many years ago, I was talking with a friend of mine at a restaurant we worked. We were discussing “who” we were. The kinds of small talk strangers make as they decide whether they will be something more than casual acquaintances. Feeling each other out.
Not in any particularly interesting way. Just regular.
Throughout the conversation, I found out two things: he was a soccer player and he was a bartender.
“Be careful,” I told him, “because it’s very easy to become a bartender who used to play soccer.”
I’ve deleted more completed work than I’ve published, which is saying something since I’ve been writing for roughly 15 years (although truth be told, the last few have been meager in terms of publishing).
Back in the salad days, I would write constantly. No matter where I was. Always scrawling down my thoughts and ideas. I would clear my mind and my schedule, sally up to the computer with a big bottle of whiskey and proceed to write until I was too drunk to pee.
I was always amazed that I had girlfriends during this time. Apparently this type of behavior intrigues women.
I am oftentimes told these days how much more interesting I am. How exciting my life must be. How surprised people are that I am single. (Sometimes this is even serious.)
But I don’t write as much anymore. I don’t drink at all. And I pee often.
I embraced the world differently before.
I have never been a popular person. I’ve never been on the “lists” or part of the “in” crowd. Not for reasons that have to do with me. Every time I’ve found myself part of some exclusivity, I’ve had a different surname: “from Wired” or “with MIT”.
I took these monikers too much to heart when I was younger. I happily slipped into the jetset lifestyle afforded by access and excitement and Silicon Valley money. I dated beyond my league more than I care to admit. I knew it. They knew it. But I had access to the places they wanted to be.
It was a trade. A barter.
I was just wasn’t trading for what I thought. The years slipped by. The faces changed. The life didn’t. It was a long, slow, pathetic realization that when I left the monikers behind, I’d left that other life behind as well.
I’ve lost more than I’ve gained. If you measure in a certain way.
I was talking with a former student tonight, one who thought I disliked her greatly. In fact, quite the opposite. She is a poised, kind, confident young woman with a great husband and the beginnings of beautiful life. But I pushed her to the breaking point in class because I saw within her things about herself that she didn’t see.
She was, she said, determined not to let me beat her. So she dug in every night, worked harder than she had before, turned in draft after draft. She refused to give me an inch. Federal law prohibits me from disclosing her grade, but it did not reflect her effort. I can tell you that.
And she thanked me. Which surprised me because I was, like her, certain that she hated me. It wouldn’t have surprised me. But now that she’s taking a shot at her life’s goal, she gets it. She knows she can do anything. And she knows that I’ll be there fighting for her every step of the way.
I tell you this because she reminded me that we can never stop. The past is what is was and no amount of staring at it will change that.
When I first started attending meetings for my alcoholism, I was told simply this: 90 meetings in 90 days.
Nobody could tell me why. They couldn’t explain it. There was no reason. Just a simple idea: go to 90 meetings in 90 days. And see.
I couldn’t tell you the date it changed. I just know it did. Somewhere in that 90 days, I became something else. Something new. Something clean. Or clean-er.
So it’s time again. This time with writing. 90 days, every day, writing.
To find myself in my words again. To find the thing that I’ve lost. To go in search of the part of me that slipped away so many years ago.