I was surgically stitching up a banana peel when I understood my love of literature. This was during the summer of 2006, while I attended a ten-day program with the “National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine” at Emory University. The other fledgling doctors and I were there to explore the medical field by visiting hospitals, medical schools, and going to seminars on various topics in medicine. Between these activities, I was completing my summer reading for an upcoming Advanced Placement literature class. I found myself daydreaming throughout the conference, not about being a doctor, but about the sixteen-hour car ride home from Georgia to New York when I could just read and write (well, think about writing). While learning how to stitch up a wound by practicing on said banana peel, I knew then I was committed to the human condition. Though I might not cure bodily sickness with a medical degree, I could still affect the world through the literary arts. I decided to study English literature and writing in college instead of biology.
Now, having immersed myself in the literary arts at Marist College, and more recently, in my career at Simon and Schuster, I wonder: do I have to write constantly in order to be a writer? Or am I a writer because I possess a certain “writerly” interest in writing? I always want to write, and think on it often. However, my longing to do it far exceeds the number of times I actually complete the act. Ever since my childhood, I was interested in contributing to the world of books. Throughout the past few years though, I have been trying to figure out why I do not write very often, even when I have the time.
Over my time spent thinking about it, I find my “idea” of writing has become a true idealization. I seem to want my real life in perfect harmony before I bother to create fictional lives (or even reflect on real life through nonfiction). I could probably blame this idyllic vision of the writer on popular fiction authors such as Stephen King or Danielle Steele; authors who seem to wake up every morning, make their coffee, and sit down to write prolifically. Bryan Jacques, the author of the Redwall children’s series, only writes in the spring and summer times. He goes out into his little English garden, probably with a pastry and a vase of fresh flowers, and writes his novels on a typewriter all day. His routine is horrifyingly perfect.
Laziness is not my problem. I am usually inspired to write, too. My daily life though, like most people, is not as “problem-free” as I would like it to be. I tend to use much of my thoughtful energies on wondering about real life rather than creating characters or plots.
I should embrace these difficulties. Writers tend to be tortured souls. In John Keats’s unfinished poem, “The Fall of Hyperion,” he writes,
“Every sole man hath days of joy and pain,
Whether his labors be sublime or low—
The pain alone; the joy alone; distinct;
Only the dreamer venoms all his days,
Bearing more woe than all his sins deserve.”
My plight may pre-date even the 1700s. Dreamers, writers, poets, are venom to themselves at times.
A writer living without hardship is a silly idea for me to have held onto all of this time. I guess I just wanted to be a writer without knowing venom. Yet John Keats wrote his poetic masterpieces while suffering from tuberculosis. Emily Dickinson’s ailments were anorexia and agoraphobia. Virginia Woolf dealt with bipolar disorder. Is it only a recent cultural thought, or maybe even just my own thought, that writers are perfect figures of health, intellect, and creativity?
I think I can conclude that I am experiencing an ancient phenomenon of struggle, even torture, as an aspiring-writer. And maybe Shakespeare is right (can we ever doubt him?): “sweet are the uses of adversity.”