Professional squanderer: Notes from a non-writer

On this blog, there are usually posts sharing an interesting observation in a foreign country, or some great discovery of a new food or linguistic expression, or a humorous encounter with a stranger.  Sometimes you will find a plug for a great hotel or book, or an original song that stings the soul.  This is not one of those posts.  I’m in a bad mood, and not because of some deficiency of serotonin or a cloudy day, but because of an early morning realization of my own perpetual wallowing in mediocrity.  At the risk of being too sardonic, today will be a sort of episode of purging, an uncomfortable reflection that may or may not have any constructive value. It is self-indulgent and an unabashed complaint of a privileged idiot.  If you’re not into hearing that today, than feel free to scoot on over to Amazon.com, where there’s a fine collection of self-help books and an end-of-year sale on puppy and kitty calendars.  Speaking for myself, I usually feel better after a good moaning session (no, not that kind).

Lately, I have been submitting some of my pieces of writing to various zines, travel websites and magazines. Yesterday, I received a friendly response from World Hum, simply reiterating their standard submission policies, part of which states that they don’t accept any material that has already appeared online (I had sent an excerpt from this blog). This may not sound like much, but anytime an editor of a substantial and respected travel publication not only responds to my unsolicited request for attention, but says she’ll give a future, original story of mine a read, I’m sent off into a swirl of conflicting emotion, along with all the standard narcissistic pondering: What am I doing with myself? Have I been wasting my time?  Am I good enough anyway? Should I get drunk?

Yes, I know…existential crisis, unsatisfied happiness, questions of life purpose…blah blah blah. If you’re anything like me, your eye lids also grow heavy even when you hear early 90’s Pearl Jam.  But I can’t help but return to the thought that there are few things quite as sad as squandered opportunity and ability.

To my understanding, a blog is a periodic notebook of cursory thoughts, perhaps a behind the scenes look into the life of someone who is probably doing something more important the rest of the day.  It may be a way of expressing a thought or feeling that is in some way inhibited or discouraged in daily life.  It might be a plain description of a person’s daily life. Maybe its a collection of miniature Schnauzer photographs.  It should not, however, be the sole showcase for the best that a writer has to offer.  It should never take itself too seriously.  A blog cannot ever hope to be meaningful by virtue of a small scattering of readers who accidentally stop by while surfing the web.

Blogging is fun and I have enjoyed it immensely so far, especially as I see more readers becoming interested, and as I get more comments and recognition.  But persistent questions and doubts about my own potential are my demon, and I suspect that I’ve neglected my education and opportunities, as well as myself.  And I am sure that a mere blog is not going to cut it. I shouldn’t use it as an excuse for failure, but my search for a voice, methods of legitimate research, and opportunities to receive true literary criticism have proven immensely difficult.  And it hasn’t been for lack of material, and by material I mean life experiences that would be the envy of many a true writer.  Let’s go through a quick list of what we will call a “fantasy bibliography”.

  • The Patagonian Channel by cargo ferry
  • Tied up behind a car carrier in the Panama Canal
  • American Roadtrip: New Mexico to Fairbanks on the Al-Can Highway
  • A day on the line in an Alaskan fish processing plant
  • Concrete Jungle: Nightlife in São Paulo, Brazil
  • Food & Conversation: The Gastronomy of Madrid’s terraces
  • Diving with Manta Rays and Sea Turtles on the Big Island of Hawaii
  • Pintxos and your pocketbook: Gastronomic treasures in the Basque Country
  • Sailing across the Atlantic, Cape Town to Panama
  • The linguistic diversity of South Africa
  • Navigating the visa maze: South Africa
  • Salmon fishing on the Russian River, Alaska
  • Purposely homeless: Living in a tent for a summer
  • Cross-country skiing with the University of Alaska ski team
  • Lingering Communism: The quiet island of Iz, Croatia
  • Sailing the Dalmatian Coast: Croatia in the summer
  • Mafia or skillful salesman? Extortion in a Croatian nightclub
  • Scouting for coves in Menorca
  • Nudists in the Balearics
  • Cruising in the Fog: Halifax to Port Jefferson by catamaran
  • The King’s last run: Copa Del Rey in Mallorca
  • Olive oil and goats: The varied cuisine of the Balearic Islands
  • Political Balls: Life as a Barcelona fan in Madrid
  • Catalina Island: Is it still interesting?
  • Second Language acquisition series: (too many to mention)
  • Copas: The art of the mixed drink in the bars of Madrid
  • Lake Powell: The dichotomy of Beauty and Conservation

These are all real snapshots of real things that have happened in my own life thus far, but they are also fading stories that have been shelved away on my bookshelf half-assed journals, notebooks and photo albums.  I have either thrown away or lost most of the written record of my entire traveling life to this day.  Very few people have gotten a true, meaningful rendition of these stories, and this is a shame and it makes me sad.

In case anyone needs clarification: yes, it is my opinion that publication at least partly adds to the value of writing.  It becomes work that is recognized by peers and a larger public as something worth reading.  It affects more people than one’s own mom and kind friends or the cat at the foot of the bed.  It is usually interesting and worthy of monetary compensation. Ok, maybe not always that last one.  But I do know that what I thought were pedestrian short stories, the ones that went through the ringer of classroom workshops, or the one that passed the test of a group of media junkies in a local magazine, these just felt like they just had more weight than those that I kept to myself, private and untested.  Some will undoubtedly disagree with this conclusion, but I am simply saying that, occasionally, I do require validation from professionals.

As a creative writing professor told me during the dramatic last weeks before my college graduation, “Just keep writing,” she said. “Even when you don’t feel like it, even if you throw half of it away, just do it everyday.”

“But I don’t even know what I’m saying half the time,” I said.

“Well, I think I do,” she said.

For me, writing clarifies my life and helps me understand the world and the things that happen around me everyday.  No matter who happens to notice the words that I write, or if they ever find their way past the walls of my own apartment, in the end, I hope I will have given it an effort worthy of my own expectations.  The catch-22 is that I probably will not be content with what I’ve done so far.

I probably just need to relax.  It’s a beautiful afternoon and there are people outside sitting in terraces and smiling and talking under green trees and a warm breeze.

There, I feel better already.

6 thoughts on “Professional squanderer: Notes from a non-writer

  1. This is my life. I went to Spain four years ago to try something new (teaching) and write for a year, and have somehow squandered four years of not writing, save a few guest posts and a stint doing Rough Guides. If I remember later, I can pass you a list of a few paying websites.

  2. Ditto to the previous commenter.

    We all look for some kind of validation in our writing. It’s easy to get discouraged if you feel writing is just going to a blank audience, but the truth is it’s not. I may not be a professional, but (for what it’s worth) I think your work is valuable.

    ~Cat

  3. I think I can in some way relate to what you are saying… & I’m sad to say that I unfortunately have no advice… but do keep trying with the professionals (validation of a passion/talent is important and encouraging to most – especially if there is a bigger dream behind it all)… and don’t stop writing for us… I know I enjoy reading your blogs!! — As do many others! —

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