For Old Times’ Sake (To My Fellow English Majors, Would-Be and Otherwise, In Honor of the New Year)

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On Auld lang syne.

Going on two years I have been mired in the same small town where my mother gave me my senses of humor and tragedy, where my father taught me to work too hard for everything. It only snows as if by accident here anymore; accidental-like, I guess, is how a lot of things happen to Austin Minnesotans. Even working three jobs, I feel the hours are imbued with languorous inadvertence, full up with waiting for that long-lost sense of intention to blow in, like a prodigal former self, on the coattails of a wayward snowstorm.

The day of my commencement was sunny and too warm, the same as so many days at USC. Family smiled and patted me on the back, the first-generation B.A.-holder and the one who “got out.” Sure I was returning home, but you can bet your ass I had big fucking plans, a bucket list so romantic and well curated it’d make you cry. Such is the impudence of the English major.

I came home to find a typewriter case on the coffee table with a 1935 Remington No. 5 tucked inside, sleek and black and in near-perfect condition. I tasked myself with keeping it as such, and maybe that’s why I’ve hardly written with it. At least it still looks nice, I tell myself, and promise to put it to good use just as soon as that Big Idea hits me. Meanwhile it seems to say, I’m ready when you are.

My Remington and I, this is our second New Year’s Eve living in my parents’ basement. I can’t help but believe that somewhere along the way I traded my pluck for the grim caution one cultivates having become familiar with disappointment. People will ask me if I’m still writing. I want to ask what they mean by writing. Do they mean to ask if I’ve published anything yet? Or is it more a question of sheer production, and if so how many words per day must one write before achieving the title of “writer?”

I hardly ever write anymore. Probably because I don’t have deadlines, or I’m uninspired, or I thought I’d fallen in love and who has time to write when sorting through a thing like that?

I still have the list of resolutions from last New Year’s sitting on my bedside table. Among them are

1. Floss
2. Make eye contact
3. Help
4. Make people laugh
5. Be honest
6. Notice
and
7. Really Really Love Someone.

“Writing” is in there somewhere too, and will be again this year. But it’s likely to remain neglected, as its listmates are more romantically abstract and demand less concrete effort. I would not feed you that line of bullshit about writer’s block. Still, papers lay scattered on the floor around my desk, and each morning I have promised them I will sit on the floor and sift through them and it will be like old times with my brain gnawing away on a world that only they and I know. Tomorrow, I say.

Today I woke up and they were the first thing I saw, and I realized immediately that the scribbled ideas with which I used to have secrets and inside jokes, having become victims of too many tomorrows, have grown hard and rough and unapproachable. They are something my mind can no longer touch. Such is the doubt-laced resignation of the prodigal writer. It is crippling.

But now, two cups of coffee and three hours into this post which has been hell to write, I will tell you what the day has so far told me: There are no big ideas, only little ones that grow. And if ever you’re going to finish anything, you have to stick with the ideas and inklings and whatever elses no matter how bored, uncomfortable, angry, in-love or out-of-love you are. There are no such things as lifestyle changes and five-year plans and New Year’s Resolutions, only the days on which you do what your soul craves, and the days on which you fail, and neither has any bearing on the days gone or to come. The you that was born to do what it was born to do, the resolute yearning that some call pluck and others call spirit, needs you to sit down and do the work, physical discomfort, mental anguish, and emotional toil be damned. Feed off the doubt. Survive. Hang on by the threads of your effort and live to write another day, or languish with the could-have-beens.

From now on, there is no “I am a writer.” Only, “Today I have written.”

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