To Live With Great Intensity (40 of 90)

I’ve never been much help to my students when they’ve asked me for advice on becoming a writer.

It’s not because I don’t want to be helpful. I remember their angst and confusion and loneliness, trying to contemplate a life where I get paid to simply put words on a page. It seemed, to steal from Richard Dawkins, like climbing Mount Improbable.

There’s nothing I would like more than to tell them the path they need to follow to become writers. Instead I find myself sending them to the major “media job” websites, helping them research interesting companies and editing their cover letters.

This feels wholly inadequate to me.


This post started out as a treatise on dating before it took a turn into something bigger. But it’s important to look at the roots to understand the larger point. I think.

I was talking with my friend last night, lamenting (actually joking) about single life. Here’s my thesis conclusion, which I hope isn’t simply retconned into some truth that I’ve learned to live with: I’d rather be lonely and single the rest of my life than not lonely and somebody’s fall-back position or second choice.

I don’t say this because I am single, although I am. Or because I am soured on women and dating; I am not.

I say this because for all of my faults in life, and there are many, love has never really been one of them. Certainly I have done it inelegantly, but I have rarely done it halfway. And I have no patience for those who waver on their feelings.

Life is too short to be with someone who is more consumed by their own self – their own desire to be perfect, to make the right choice – than they are consumed by the desire to be with me.

I have always viewed love like fire: dangerous, warm and life-sustaining. Start enough fires, you’ll get burned. But ultimately, the wounds heal and the benefits far outweigh the pain.


In various ways throughout my life, I have been described one way: intense.

I have always been confused by this characterization. Not because I dis-believe it. I’ve heard it enough to know it true. But because I find it odd that people live their lives any other way.

For all my faults in life, and there are many, passion has never been a problem for me. I don’t understand people who move through life doing things for which they have no passion, who are then surprised when each decision they make that takes them further from the emotional, visceral connections of their life end up in a place of emotion-less, dis-passionate, un-intenseness.

I know these people because they flock to me, hover around me like a moth to a flame. Ultimately I have come to understand that for what it is, to distance myself from those who are there only for the glow of the intensity.

Of course, we all must endure little hurdles along the way, things we do not want to do but must be done. These, in my world, have always been the exception and not the rule. They are taken care of without being taken in.

When people call me intense (if they say it in a certain way), I feel badly for them. But I find myself un-able to interact with them for very long.


Which brings me back to writing. And why I am wholly unhelpful as a mentor and a guide through the process of becoming a writer.

My advice is always the same: one day your feel of failure will be overcome by your fear of never giving this a try. When that happens, you will be a writer. But most of you (I tell them), before that day approaches, will either find some other passion that spurs you on or you will retreat into a safe world where everyone tells you that you are just fine.

The reality is you become a writer – or anything – mostly happens through this attrition. The writers are the people who never stopped writing. Who love this so much that they don’t let the low pay, the awful process, the hateful feedback, and all the negative things that come with being a writer, they don’t let that stop them.

But simple attrition only gets you so far. There are lots of shitty writers who simply have no talent other than nouns and verbs.

Writers, the good ones, live life in a way that other people don’t. They embrace everything. They are curious. And filled with adventure. They are fallen optimists, continually let down by humans but ever filled with belief that we can do better. Writers are awed by the human condition.

They use this passion, this intensity, to translate the world around them into something bite-sized for the masses, so they can feel – briefly – the intensity and passion their subject feels.

So ignore the advice, I tell them, from me, from their parents, from their mentors. Listen and ignore it all. Then go live life. Fully and gloriously. Take risks. Be impulsive. Love mightily. Fail miserably.

And write, every day.


So what does it all mean?

I’m old enough to know I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you how my story ends, if I will ever find happiness with someone else or if my advice to students does more harm than good. If I’m honest, I don’t worry too much about either of those things.

Instead, I do the only thing I can control: live with great intensity.

The rest, well, that’s out of my hands.

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