I came across this via BoingBoing today and it started the thought-train chugging through my head, so I thought I’d pass it along to you. I think it’s something that should, at some point or another, cross your mind regardless of where you are in life. It’s about self-reflection, about your goals, your drive, and so on.
And it concerns J.K. Rowling.
Those of you who know me personally also know that I don’t care for J.K. Rowling. Not her as a person, but her work, and while I found the first Harry Potter book entertaining and well-written, the second one put me to sleep and I quit while I was ahead. And frankly I think I’m just sick of all the Harry Potter crap rather than just Ms. Rowling herself, but I digress. After reading and watching her Harvard commencement speech, I’ve a newfound respect for her, as a person.
If you still haven’t clicked either of those links up above, stop reading this and go read. I’ll still be here when you get back. So go.
. . .
Done? Good. I want you to think about your failures. I don’t know about you but, after reading the transcript (and later, listening to the audio), I started thinking about my own failures, and not just the ones concerning writing, but in life. And you know what? The woman is absolutely right. I may be sick to death of her literary creation and the mobs of hysteria surrounding it, whether positive or negative, but she’s got an honest-to-God point here, and I think it’s something every human being should think about.
When I was 18 I thought I’d be a successful author by the time I was out of college. I thought I’d have two or three good novels under my belt by then, raking in the dough from royalties and promotional events, so what would be the point of getting a focused degree, right? Sure, I was a writer, so I’d major in English – but teaching? No, no way, not me. I’d had enough of school as it was, so why go to the expense of money and time in order to remain there indefinitely? So English it was.
(As I typed that, I looked up at my framed English BA. It looked back with mocking approval.)
Let’s fast-forward seven years. Here I am, working a day job that, while I enjoy it, isn’t something I want to do for the rest of my life. I owe money on a car that isn’t the apex of “cool” (it’s a four-door Saturn, thank you, and it’s the best fucking sedan ever). I tune into news outlets like CNN. I drink coffee on a regular basis. Shirts of color other than black have started to permeate my closet (but within reason – darker, earth tones only). I call up my best friend from time to time to bitch about, of all things, the weather and gas prices. I’ve become the antithesis of who I thought I’d be at 25 and, in the eyes of my 18 year old self, I’m a complete and utter failure.
When I was 19 I wrote a pretentious novel about a wise-ass high school student who toiled away working a corporate retail store called Mr. Smiley’s. I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever written because everyone I knew loved my first book. I thought I was being edgy, witty, and a shoe-in for first place in my uni’s writing contest. It was my masterpiece, you see, and I was already working on its sequel, a Dickens-length opus about pranks and mischief in my home town.
Naturally that second novel was the biggest piece of shit I’d ever written, through and through, and it didn’t place at all in that contest. It put people to sleep when I read it to them and that’s no lie or exaggeration. Its sequel died seventy pages in, and justifiably so. I didn’t write anything for about a year after that novel died. I’ve since deleted it, and thrown away just about every trace of its physical existence, though I suspect my mom still has a copy squirreled away somewhere. The other novel, all seventy pages of it, is gone and erased forever, and good riddance to that.
At some point during the last year and half of college, I started to wise up. I was humbled by my peers and the professors I respected with scathing critiques. I bit my cheeks rather than retort at the typical response I received from folks upon learning I wanted to be a writer: “Well, you can always teach, right?”
I thought I’d be set in four years, without having the slightest idea how the industry worked, or that it was even an industry at all. Those were halcyon days with sparkles in my eyes and big plans on the horizon. And then I failed miserably.
If I have a point, which seemed so great in my head but now seems to have strayed so far from Ms. Rowling’s own speech, it’s that I’m still chugging along even after slipping through the cracks of every hope I had for myself. Like Ms. Rowling, even after hitting bottom, she kept writing. This past Fall I found myself unemployed for a brief period of time, and during those two weeks I was scared to death – not just for my immediate self, but for Erica, our future together, and my own future. I wasn’t homeless, I didn’t starve, and even though the money was starting to run out, I briefly felt what it was like to be there at the bottom, and the hell of it was, that wasn’t even the bottom. Not by a long shot.
But I learned from it. I think about that moment of time every day. I think about where I am right now and, even though the future is always uncertain, it’s a heck of a lot better than it was seven months ago. I’m still writing. And even though ALT didn’t do as well as I’d wanted it to (another epic fail!), I didn’t turn tail and run.
Embrace your failures. You’ll be better for it.
If you read the article like I asked you to, you wouldn’t have needed me to tell you that, and on that note, I’m done rambling on with the self-help crap. Time to get back to writing, for what else is there than to drown your sorrow in an ocean of ink?
I hope everyone had a good weekend and that no one melted from this hellacious heat wave.