Insert Monty Python reference here.
I have been thinking about this post over at Metafilter on creative types who start late in life. (Mefi is just about the last place where I still RTFA) In a way, I find this reassuring and in a way I feel like it’s just false hope for people like me who failed to “live up to their potential.”
Man, if I could go back in time I don’t know if I’d start with gob-smacking all the well meaning gifted & talented teachers or with trying to get some basics through my own thick skull about the difference between talent (innate and unlearned) and craft (a product of hard work and dedication and study).
Like so many other people I know, I was told I was special and that I would go on to do amazing things. Not that I could if I worked very hard and wanted it bad enough, just that it would happen. No one put a map in my hands and told me to pack for a looong hike. And I get it. Things changed so drastically between me being 6 and me being 26. How could anyone really give advice? But in hindsight, certain virtues will always be valuable. I’ve learned how to harness my gifts and yoke them beside my skills over the years and I make a pretty decent living today.
But don’t get me started on writing. I had a vague plan of going to school for either Creative Writing or programming or both and then writing amazing stories, making mind-blowing video games, or both. And my life happened. I had a son, I got some rejection letters, I learned that programming and storytelling both needed something more than talent and ambition. I bounced around a while, finished my degree, started working in IT and finally figured out some things about myself and the missing ingredients for success.
When I was young, like late single digits, I figured out that we could all die, that everything could just… go away. I don’t remember the exact trigger for this realization, but it stuck with me. Death, as a fact and as a bogeyman, has been a persistent and present figure in my life. Dead Poets Society and the many notable poets who lived brief but incandescent lives got into me as I read and studied. They got it. They understood that we were all going to die, probably sooner rather than later, and if you didn’t grab every moment, push the throttle to the redline, jump off every cliff, then you’ve wasted immeasurable gifts.
Now here I am, a year shy of 40, second son on my lap wiggling like a fool as I type one-handed. Still alive.
Everything in my gut when I was young told me that I would be dead (or at least dead inside) by now. I had to produce my great works before my time was up. Except I really didn’t know how and couldn’t figure it out. So I wrote and drew and failed and gave up.
Except I didn’t, not really. I moved on. I worked, raised a son, fell in love, moved north, traveled, and watched the world go on. And still inside I felt like there were stories that wanted to be shared. I gained a little wisdom and a lot of patience as I lost freedom and free time. I undertook creative journeys that were abortive and doomed from the start. But the lessons I learned stayed with me as I moved on to the next project.
So here I am. Nearly forty. A dad twice over. Gray coming in. Belly permanently a little bigger than it should be. Back and knees aching just a little more than I’m comfortable with. And I’m finally starting to feel like I grasp the basics of storytelling well enough to start my journey. I probably won’t have anything worth printing for years, and yet I’m a little excited by the prospect. Maybe it will never come together, gel into the project that I can see clearly in my mind but so rarely translates into a document that others can see and experience.
And yet, if it does not, does that matter? Am I running to win a race? Or am I continually competing against my own best time? No other person can tell the stories that I can tell, so no other person could possibly do it better. So my only imperative is to do the best that I am able and hope that I find satisfaction with a job well done at last.