--- A N N E T T E C . E A R L I N G
There's nothing like a day spent curled into a ball on one's couch to bring about a minor epiphany or two. It could be the waves of pain that surge across my abdomen. Could be the slight temperature that makes my shoulders and hips and wrists ache so dully. Or it could be the mouthfuls of ginger ale that I sip dutifully and gratefully, blessing the name of the friend who brought it over with each loud, gratifying burp.
Or more likely, it could be all that reading. Between bouts of pain and sips of soda I made the fatal error of reading someone else's Writing. Not just "writing," like the pleasant, correct and straightforward strings of words in newspapers or magazines that describe school shootings, the threat of nuclear Armageddon, or the turn-ons and turn-offs of Uma and/or Leo, but "Writing."
I should know better. A person in my condition should stick to Newsweek.
While flipping back and forth between books of modern masters, I was forced to face a revelation.
I'm doing things all wrong.
I'm sure you understand. We all want to be something. Maybe you want to be the best damn salesperson in the Northeast Corridor or the Greatest Mom on Earth or the lawyer that brings down Microsoft, or maybe even the guy that flips one million burgers at Burger Guy. Whatever your dream, you know that there are certain steps you must take to attain your goal. You've got to get the right suit. Take folic acid and read up on Dr. Spock. Pass the Bar. Learn to...flip...really good.
My dream has always been to be a Writer. And as I read through the works of my successful, celebrated and prosperous contemporaries, it struck me like an avalanche of royalty checks that, of late, I have been completely ignoring the rules of conduct that one must undertake to earn the big W.
It wasn't always this way. In fact it wasn't so very long ago that I subscribed to nearly all of the rules, willingly and, yes, cheerfully. But as I get a bit older I find myself slacking in almost every respect, and I fear that this can only lead down the slippery slope to complete inactivity, or even a position in management at the parking authority.
Herewith follows the code of conduct that all writers must follow as scrupulously as possible:
Sleep Monstrously Late. What writer worth his or her laptop has ever seen the rising sun, except from the other side of the clock? In my twenties I had no problem at all sleeping until three or even four in the afternoon. But as my responsibilities have grown, I've found it convenient to arise sometime before the banks and post offices close. I've gradually and with no small amount of pain managed to scale it back. I now arise at around 9:30. A.M. Yes, I get my business done, but you can't imagine the guilt.
Smoke. What's a jacket photo without a strategically placed cigarette? I've been smoking furiously for nearly 17 years, but tragically, over the past five or so I've been toying with a smoke-free lifestyle. I cycle between Marlboros, nicotine patches and lemon drops. My ultimate goal is to be smoke-free, excepting with certain friends at certain diner counters. And yet I know that to do so would be to break a steadfast union rule.
Drink Far Too Much or Have a Drug Problem. Or at least be in AA, struggling to overcome same. Can you name a famous writer who wasn't known for pissing in his hostess' silverware drawer at parties? Here I come up hopelessly short. It's just not in my genes.
Have No Visible Means of Support. I tried it for a time. But I must be a very dull-witted girl because I never could perfect the art of having a fabulous apartment and a to-die-for wardrobe without some form of financial underpinning. I was forced, yes forced, to work for a living. And my wardrobe still sucks.
Be Delinquent on all Bills. You can't reach a writer by phone, because even if she's on the Times' best-seller list her service will have been shut off due to non-payment. But with me it's like a sickness: I absolutely must pay all bills on time. Hey, I wonder if this counts as some sort of obsessive/compulsive disorder? Might be worth a few points down at the union hall.
Live in a Squalid Hell-Hole. A typewriter, a few orange crates, and a futon on the floor, right? So what's wrong with a little contact paper and some artfully draped fabric? Mortifyingly, I have been called the Martha Stewart of Philadelphia. I've been apprehended with stencil in hand, and as much as it pains me to admit it, I did lay the tile in my kitchen by myself, plus i bottle my own basil oil. I know, I'm hopeless.
Be Thin, Pale and Tubercular. Not a nice, healthy, somewhere-on-the-low-end-of-the-insurance-charts thin, which is what I am now, but a scrawny, blue-veins-popping-out-on-pasty-forearms thin, which, thanks to too many jobs, a half-hearted foray into vegetarianism, and too much coke, i maintained throughout much of my twenties. (Sadly the drugs never blossomed into a full-blown addiction. Damn.) Here in my thirties I have to work to keep the hips from jiggling just so, and that means...urp...exercise. Which I wouldn't mind so much, but it gives me such a ruddy, healthy glow. It makes the other writers point and laugh.
Engage in Destructive Relationships. Again, a skill that I was fairly adept at for a time, although I'm ashamed to say that some of my friends were so much better at it then I. I nearly always lost the "guess what he/she did/said/got arrested for now" game. I wasn't far into my thirties before I added "sanity" to my list of turn-ons, and things have been ever so much nicer since, even as I watch my legitimacy as a writer slip further away with each kind word and thoughtful action.
Hate Children, Dogs and Houseplants (Cats OK). Once I asked a successful writer for a few tips. She took one look at my strong, child-bearing hips and said, "Never have children." I looked at her blankly, hoping that this wasn't a broader indictment of me personally. "They'll ruin your writing. I have friends who were great writers. The kids came and they turned into mini-van-driving zombies." I considered getting my tubes tied, but only briefly, as I'm still not entirely convinced that a bestseller 10 weeks running can make up for an brand new life to ruin at will. Also, a literary masterpiece won't change your Depends when you're 90.
Be Ethnic, or Gay, or at Least Rabidly Conservative. Once again I find myself at the mercy of my genetic code. One side of the family is 100% whitebread. I had a lot of hope for the other side of my D.N.A., which is Italian, but it turns out that that's worth very few points -- especially for a family of fair-skinned, northern socialists. Without the exotic taint of the Catholic church we might as well be Austrians. I am so screwed.
Have Famous Friends. This is a tricky one, because it's entirely possible that one of my friends at this very moment will grow up to be the next Henry Miller or Anais Nin, or at least the next John Wayne Gacy. However, they're not doing me a damn bit of good now, and I really do wish they'd get off their asses and do something immortal.
Spend Absolutely No Time at All Actually Writing. This is the most crucial, the most inviolable of the rules. A writer should be attending openings, checking in to rehab, throwing a lover's clothes out the window, glumly fingering a straight-edge razor, lunching with editors, flipping channels...anything but sitting down to a typewriter (unless of course he's doing so to attack it with a ballpeen hammer, all the while screaming, "Why? Why? Why do you torture me so you rotting hound from hell?"). Again, here is something at which I was remarkably skilled at not so very long ago. I could not-write with amazing aplomb, and I could sustain it for weeks, months, and even years at a time. But of late I've felt an irresistible pull toward the keyboard, further sealing my fate.
All of this leads me to believe that I may have been well on the road to being an accomplished writer in my twenties. In fact, sometimes I wonder if I really was a literary genius but just slept through it, and periodically I will scrounge through my closets in search of the sheafs of manuscripts that I somehow produced through osmosis. No luck so far.
But here I am, barely into my thirties, and already shamefully eschewing the hard and fast rules to success. No writer, I.
It might be the ginger-ale talking, but I'm thinking about getting out the spatula to practice my Flipping.
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