Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Default Position

A few weeks ago, I took a taxi to the only other job I have, outside writing. I teach two creative writing classes a week, for a couple of hours a piece, and while on my way there the taxi driver asked me what I did at the college.

I teach, I said.

And then he asked me:

So is that what you do for a living?

And for the first time in my life I didn't say yes. I don't teach for a living, anymore. My earnings from writing now far exceed my earnings from teaching, so saying I'm a teacher would have been a lie.

I'm a writer, I said, because that's what I am now. Though I want to be absolutely clear, to anyone out there who might think I've got it made, that I'm living in the dream, that they don't know what I'm complaining about, all things considered:

Being a writer doesn't make all of the bullshit just magically go away. I don't get up in the morning and put on a beret, then lounge on a windowseat with birds twittering on my shoulders. There isn't all the time in the world to do whatever I want, because I set my own hours so obviously my life must be an endless spree of breaks and telly watching and putting a few words on a page.

There's other bullshit to contend with. Like realising I haven't seen the sun for four days. Like being unable to get a story to go right - a problem that seems very minor, when you're still relying on a regular wage to keep you afloat. But it's less minor, when this is your real job. The passion quickly dies, and is replaced by what can only be described as desperation.

And a need to compulsively play Solitaire, rather than face the fact that you don't know how to go on.

But this isn't the only problem. There are others, too: like the fact that you can't just take a while to get over a crippling bout of depression. You have to deal with it, and move on. You have to deal with it and move on, not only for your writing, for the wage that you're now trying to earn, but for the people around you who are used to seeing you be a certain sort of person.

Your followers on Twitter don't want to see you be sad. They don't want to know that you can't cope with some Bad Things What Have Happened. They want to see you be Charlotte Stein. Readers of your blog want to see you be Charlotte Stein. Readers of this blog want you to be Charlotte Stein, and you want to be too, because you're aware of how grateful you should be for all the incredible things that have happened to you.

And I am. Grateful, I mean.

It's just that...I guess I'm sad sometimes, too - and I don't know why. I think I've just always been this way. I've always believed the very worst about myself, and rejected the best. There's always this thing in my head that says somehow, I don't deserve these things. I'm not worthy of them. It was all just a fluke, an accident, and soon everything will return to its default position, where I am the loser I always suspected I was.

And that doesn't change, because I'm now a writer. There's no winning the race, no sudden triumph, no moment where you're done, when you're a writer. I feel the same way now as I did when I first started: a moment of happiness, when something goes right. And then I'm just fumbling in the dark again, looking for the light switch.

I'm just waiting, for the default position.


  1. I'm glad you're able to live the dream. I guess part of the dream is realizing it is work and it is a job with all the ups, downs and challenges.

  2. Could be worse. At least you have royalties. What must that be like . . .


  3. I met a psychologist at a party, and we were chatting about my latest (thankfully mild) bout with depression. He said, "It's doesn't surprise me. All writers are depressives." While that struck me as a huge overstatement (All?) many writers I know are. It's a chronic disease. Not a weakness. Not a character flaw. A disease. And if your readers don't want to know, you can always tell us you're having a rough spot. Believe me, most of us sympathize with your plight.

  4. Charlotte,

    To let go of the training wheels - to walk the tightrope without a net underneath - to commit to writing for a living takes incredible courage. I applaud your guts. And let me just say that I believe you have what it takes to succeed, a brilliantly original vision and a unique voice - not to mention some of the most delicious dirty fantasies I've ever encountered.

    You are right about readers, though. Everyone says to be genuine; don't hide behind a mask. Yet mostly readers don't want to hear about the rough parts. You can share Bad Things occasionally, but you've got to sound mostly "up". Otherwise, you won't be sufficiently entertaining.

    We're different, though. Please feel free to share all the crap if you want. If not here on the blog, then privately by email. We love you.

  5. Susan - absolutely. And as Kristina has pointed out in her post, you actually forgo a lot of things without even knowing it. No designer clothes and shiny things, for me! Wouldn't have it any other way, tho. Who needs baubles?

    Garce - sometimes good, sometimes bad. Always worked and struggled hard for.

    Kathleen - thank you so much, for this. I do hate myself for feeling like this, and I do feel weak. It's lovely to know other people understand.

    Lisabet - your support means the world to me, and always has. Thank you.


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