Four teenagers sit around a kitchen table at 10:30 on a Friday night. No one quite knows how, but over time, their conversation deepens, and before the night ends, they feel as if something important has occurred.
I tell people who ask that I became a writer to get the girls, and while that is definitely true (after all, it’s the only way I ever have), I also became a writer because I wanted to capture the conversations I had with my friends around that kitchen table, not their content, per se, but their feeling, the feeling that something important has occurred.
I sometimes feel bad about calling myself a writer. Yes, most of my jobs came to me because of my writing, but I have yet to publish a book or an article (outside of some reviews for a now-defunct website three or four years ago), and my fiction has never been published by a reputable source. Without a published credit to my name, what right do I have to call myself a writer?
I’m 40 years old today. I’ve been calling myself a writer for at least 27 of those years — from the moment an attractive girl told me she liked my writing. Boom. Done. You like my writing? That’s what I’ll do with my life then. Boom. I’m a writer. Done.
The first job I ever earned on my own was as a copywriter for a small recruitment-advertising agency on the outskirts of Boston. True, my brother got me the original job (as a receptionist), but I earned the right to call myself a copywriter.
The second job I earned was as a member of the adjunct faculty at a small liberal arts college, where I was responsible for teaching younger students the art and craft of writing. Between landing the first job and the second, I’d earned a Bachelor’s degree in Theories of Writing and a Master’s degree in Creative Writing.
I’d also landed my wife thanks in no small part to my writing. We fell in love studying writing, literature, and philosophy together, and we exchanged some of our most loving looks over the keyboards of our computers. I didn’t write her love letters as much as I wrote her love papers, turned in for a grade, but written for her.
I call myself a writer not because I publish novels or have my byline over long think-pieces in a variety of influential magazines. I call myself a writer because that’s how I engage with the world. The “me on the keyboard” is the best version of me that I know, the one who genuinely wants to reach out and take your hand, and sit, and talk, and before the text ends, have both of us feel that something important has occurred.
Writing isn’t a hobby for me, something I do late at night after everyone has gone to bed. Writing is who I am.
I spoke recently with a friend about my urge to become a professional writer. Right now, I am a professional teacher (as well as a builder of an ideal school), and while I love virtually every minute of it, I still have this urge to become a professional writer, to have someone pay me to write pretty much whatever I want, whether it comes in the form of a novel, a children’s book, a political op-ed, a research-based article, or something else entirely, chosen by me, written by me, and published at someone else’s expense, with some of that expense coming back to me in the form of a paid bill (ideally, my student loans).
But becoming a professional writer requires a lot of hustle, and I’ve never been accused of being the most hard-working person on the planet. That’s why, despite the urge, I have never truly pursued that goal.
So, if I don’t have a credit to my name, what kind of a writer am I? That’s easy: I’m a self-published one, hanging out here on the Internet, for free, just waiting for someone to happen by, and sit, and talk, and feel (with me) that something important has occurred.
You know what feels nice? The idea that some day, my now four-year-old daughter will sit down read all of this — this little blog of mine — and she’ll know me in a way that few children ever get to know their parents. She’ll have access to my day-in and day-out and essentially unvarnished tangle of thoughts.
She’ll know I was dumb enough to convince myself that the Celtics could defeat Lebron James in his prime; and that when our society was challenged by climate change and the political ineptitude of Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump, I did the only thing I knew how to do, which was to argue, both verbally and in writing, with anyone who supported their administrations’ corrupt and disastrous policies; and that when our country was forced to choose between security and liberty, I always came down on the side of liberty; and that I valued art and dynamism over money and the status quo; and that I believed Jerry Garcia’s guitar playing deserved to be categorized next to the teachings of Lao-Tzu; and so much more.
This blog won’t be the only way she’ll know her father, but years from now, when, for whatever reason, she’s missing me, she’ll have this, my voice and my spirit, telling her for all time that I love her.
And once again, something important will have occurred. And the most important girl who ever entered my world will read something I wrote, and love me.
Because this is who I am, and someday, this text will be all that is left. And even then, when my body is gone, I’ll still be here, my voice and my spirit, telling you, whoever you are, that I love you too.