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Zero. For. Three.

I was lying on my back trying to start a conversation with God. But God wasn’t talking. Which is probably just as well. After all, how would you feel if you realized the voice you were hearing was God’s? It’s not like we’re living in the Old Testament, where God spoke to people and they went forth and told other people what God had said, and the people either heeded the Word or danced around with golden calves instead and then were smitten or flooded or burned or cursed or turned into pillars of sodium chloride.

No, these are different times, and if the unmistakable voice of God spoke to me and I tried to tell other people about it, they’d probably think I was daft. In fact, if you think about it, you probably can recall hearing about somebody who said he or she had heard from God, and you probably thought that person was daft, very likely because what that person said seemed to indicate – if true – that God was omnipotently daft, which would not be a good thing for anyone’s conceptual continuity.

No, it’s easier to think of modern-day prophets as daft. Even if – if – some of them actually have been spoken to by God.

Anyway:



I was lying on my back trying to start a conversation with God. But God wasn’t talking. Maybe that was because I hope God is a She, not a He — and maybe I’m wrong, and this irritated Him to the point where my attempts to strike up a conversation were ignored. Well, I’d rather have Him ignore me than smite me.

But I really did want to talk.

See, I’m 54 years old. If life is a round of golf, I’m somewhere on the back nine. Break it down statistically, and I’m on the 14th green, getting ready to two-putt for a par. But who knows? Maybe I’m having a great round and am actually somewhere on the 18th hole. Regardless, I’m out here on the back nine, enjoying the round but not quite ready to start thinking about the prospects of drinking from a bottomless mug of beer in the clubhouse of eternity.

But I am interested in trying to understand just what my life has been about up to this point. It seems I start thinking this way whenever I hang around writers. We had two of them – two good ones – visit campus this week, and I was able to spend a few hours with them. They read from their work, and their writing was good. They spoke about writing, both to groups and to me in short conversations, and that also was good.

But whenever I talk to Real Writers, I always get bummed. I always figured I was going to be one of them. A Real Writer: Books. Readings. Acclaim.

Zero. For. Three.

And at 54, I’m thinking it’s not likely to happen. Oh, I always get all fired up after hearing an author read, or after hearing a couple of people who know what they’re doing dissect a poem or an essay or a novel, but the fire dies out quickly. It’s like trying to ignite ashes with gasoline. The gasoline burns, but there’s nothing else that’s combustible.

“So, God,” I would say, if I had the sense God was listening, “what happened? I read all of those books when I was growing up. I’d walk to the library once a week in grade school and lug home stacks of those cheesy ‘Childhood of Famous Americans’ pseudo-biographies. I read ’em all! I wrote those thousands of horrible poems as a teen-ager and read all of that fiction, and later, I wrote those essays, those letters. All of that writing, all of that Tuning Up for Something Big – and all I got was a newspaper gig. Why didn’t you just smite me after my first byline instead of letting me watch the deadlines suck the creativity from my soul?”

Truth be told, I’m not sad or bitter about any of this. When I look back, I can count probably a dozen times where I could have died, and a handful of times when I probably should have, so I figure I’m still here for a reason. I just wish I knew what I was supposed to be doing so I could do it better.

Which is what I want to talk to God about.

But I never get the sense God is listening, and I don’t think I ever will. Judging from the condition of our world, I am deservedly not high on the heavenly agenda.

Which is probably just as well, because I’m not sure I’d want to hear the answer to my question.

Instead, I’m going to line up this putt.

Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
tanadariel
Apr. 24th, 2008 05:04 am (UTC)
V
tanadariel
Apr. 24th, 2008 05:07 am (UTC)
Very interesting post.

I don't like to believe that God is there to give us answers. If that's the case, I've failed every test. Rather, He--or She--is more the silent type. Make of it what you will.
patrick_vecchio
Apr. 25th, 2008 12:15 am (UTC)
I think God speaks, but in symbol and metaphor, which is more confounding and confusing than silence.
thecriz5
Apr. 24th, 2008 05:37 am (UTC)
What happened? You became one of the best, compassionate and most influential professors I've ever had. Or for that matter, many JMC students who have passed through the program have had.

It wasn't until I took Newswriting II from you that I actually began to consider myself a journalist, none the less one with some sort of future.

You've provided a lot of guidance and objective advice to me over the years, and I can't thank you enough for that.

That's what happened. Or at least that's what I think.
patrick_vecchio
Apr. 25th, 2008 12:16 am (UTC)
Thanks, Chris, for your kind words. All I did was try to nudge you down the path. You did the rest on your own.
vivitalia
Apr. 24th, 2008 12:52 pm (UTC)
I'll second that, Chris. Not everyone is destined for the stereotypical ideal of greatness. A byline can have just as much power as a flyleaf, and your name on the door in the J/MC half-corridor? Now that's acclaim. What happened? The best laid plans of mice and men up and changed when you weren't looking. Life doesn't go as we planned. If it did, the world would be a holy mess, because everyone wants to be their idea of great. Everyone (generalizing here, but bear with me) wants their name in lights, on the back of the chair, in gold on the door, what-have-you. But there are quieter, simpler paths to their own brand of fame. And I would argue strongly against anyone who said that every individual does not achieve his own mode of greatness. Don't discount yourself so quickly.
patrick_vecchio
Apr. 25th, 2008 12:18 am (UTC)
Your "holy mess" concept is interesting, Lizz. Thanks for the perspective.
nodressrehersal
Apr. 24th, 2008 01:39 pm (UTC)
I understand. I become my own worst enemy when I put myself on the scale and weigh my life's efforts on any number of fronts against those of others who I admire and even of those I don't, people who sometimes seem to have achieved something noteworthy through no extraordinary effort or skill of their own.

So I try not to put myself on that scale. I try to accept certain realities: (some days it's easier than others)

I can only do the best I can do.

I can't redo any part of my past.

I'm not always the one driving.

Sometimes treading water IS winning, because it's not drowning.

I don't always know the impact my life has on others, but if I put forth a respectable effort, I can at least hold my head high.

This probably doesn't help much, but it's the best I've got. I've already told you what an exceptional writer I think you are, but there are no Pulitzers attached to my opinion. That would be awesome, though, wouldn't it?
patrick_vecchio
Apr. 25th, 2008 12:19 am (UTC)
Your best is always pretty damned good. Thanks.
nodressrehersal
Apr. 25th, 2008 02:11 am (UTC)
Back atcha.
scuba_sham
Apr. 24th, 2008 08:17 pm (UTC)
To me, fifty-four is still part of the beginning. So, there's plenty of time to publish books and conduct readings, if you'd like. However- I know many people who find your writing to be quite good and have given it much acclaim already. Your writing is VERY good.

And I agree with Chris, too. The amount of knowledge and compassion you put into the work you do as a professor is more important (in my mind, and in many of my peer's minds) than any book a Writer could produce.
patrick_vecchio
Apr. 25th, 2008 12:21 am (UTC)
I hope you're right about 54, Sam. I'm starting to think the story line here is "Wanna-be writer woke up one day and was a college prof."
penshark
Apr. 25th, 2008 01:36 am (UTC)
Except he isn't a "wanna-be" writer. He IS a writer. And a damn good one, at that. If you won't claim that title for yourself (and I do understand that feeling), we will claim it for you.
vivitalia
Apr. 25th, 2008 02:20 am (UTC)
I'd argue that anyone who wants to be a writer, is.

It's not like being a lawyer or a doctor. You can't want what you can't change.
subtlecynic
Apr. 24th, 2008 10:24 pm (UTC)
Based on my experience so far, if life is a round of golf then I'm driving the beer cart at a company sponsored event. My responsibility also includes transporting pregnant co-workers between bathrooms as we circle the course checking on the progress of their customers. Pretty weird actually.
patrick_vecchio
Apr. 25th, 2008 12:21 am (UTC)
Marcus, something tells me you're not making any of that up.
cwmackowski
Apr. 25th, 2008 01:46 am (UTC)
I'm too stubborn and too stupid not to know any better, so I keep pushing and trying and pretending I'm something more than a hack. You, on the other hand, continue to stubbornly--and mistakenly--tell yourself that that's all you are.
penshark
Apr. 25th, 2008 01:48 am (UTC)
Do I really have to come down the hall and yell at both of you?
vivitalia
Apr. 25th, 2008 02:21 am (UTC)
what is in the water over there??
patrick_vecchio
Apr. 25th, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
Have you ever considered inviting Sister Margaret to a meeting of The Arm? I ran into her Tuesday night and we had a too-short conversation about that Mary Oliver poem I have hanging up outside my office door, and, sad to say, our chat ended just as we started discussing "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek." I think she'd enjoy sitting in.
strwberryfizz
Apr. 25th, 2008 04:52 am (UTC)
Why didn’t you just smite me after my first byline instead of letting me
watch the deadlines suck the creativity from my soul?”

That's scary :( Sometimes I feel like that's what the BV is doing to me, but I think, in the end, it's just a different, more subtle form of creativity. At least that's what you told me when you were convincing me to come to Bona's :)

You ARE a real writer. Don't give up.
patrick_vecchio
Apr. 25th, 2008 11:11 am (UTC)
Don't get me wrong: I wouldn't have stayed in the biz for nearly 23 years if the writing hadn't been fun and challenging and, in its own way, creative. And I'd still be in the biz if I had stayed a reporter with the opportunity (which I had) to do columns.

The advice I would give you would be to not let go of your creative side. Nurture it. Even if you have to prune it back, keep it alive.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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Wish I'd Said It

Nota bene: “Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. ... I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” – Trent Reznor

“I hate to say this, but not many people care what you do. They care about what you do as much as you care about what they do. Think about it. Just exactly that much. You are not the center of the universe.” — Laurie Anderson

"The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time." – William Carlos Williams

“Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.” – Twyla Tharp

"My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

"The wreckage of the sky serves to confirm us in delicious error." – John Ashbery

"We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars." – Dwight Owsley

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Forget about being a perfectionist, because entropy always wins out in the end." – Darren Kaufman.

"Impermanence. Impermanence. Impermanence." – Garry Shandling

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion." – Mark Twain

"There is no realm wherein we have the truth." – Gordon Lish

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe." – Frank Zappa

“I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard

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