I’ve always been a square peg in a round hole.
When I was in elementary school and high school, I was one of the outsiders. (Of course, I have learned since then that pretty much everyone considers themselves an outsider when it comes to high school.) I had creative tendencies back then, but being a teen I was more interested in fitting in; being accepted. When that didn’t happen, I took the opposite strategy. I started acting up to show that fitting in didn’t matter to me. I became the class clown. I became a jerk.
In college, it took a while before I figured out that I wanted to write. Part of that was the surrender of my life to Jesus Christ, which helped me bring everything into focus. I started off weakly and finished strong, ending my tenure as an undergrad with a 3.0 GPA–barely.
After that time, I worked at a church-related newspaper, where promotion was directly related to being a pastor; in hospital public relations, where you had to have the institutional look and a master’s to go places; and finally a book and magazine editor in a denominational publishing house where I read what I did because I was paid to, not necessarily because I would have read it otherwise. I had a secular mind in an otherwise spiritual setting.
Even after 14 years at a college professor–which is actually pretty cool, mind you–I know in my heart that being a professor is not my life goal. Every time I get a chance, I talk about writing. During spring break or summer break, I work on writing projects. And my goal is someday to be able to retire so that I can, you guessed it, write.
In my Interpersonal Communication class today, we watched the movie “Juno,” and as usual, I watched it as a writer. One statement that Justin Bateman’s character makes in the movie struck me. He made reference to being a musician who was forced to become middle classed when he became married, referring to himself as an “underground musician.”
And it struck me: that’s what I am. An underground novelist. I am keenly aware that the reality is that most novelists are that very thing: underground novelists. They work a day job to pay bills to feed their nightly addiction of being a writer, with dreams of adding the word “successful” in front of that title. For me, a writer is not just what I do every chance I get; it’s an identity. I don’t think I could change that part of me if I tried. If I could no longer write, I suspect that I would meet with an untimely death, most likely by my own hand.
So where does that leave me? Is it wrong to be an underground novelist? I don’t think so. The problem I do suffer from right now is twofold, however: one, I am very successful at my day job, so much so that my day job bosses give me more and more to do, taking me away from what gives me identity. Second, making money leads to spending money. If I were a poor novelist, I probably would have gotten used to being poor. But making more money has made it harder to let that lifestyle go. I am a prisoner to my own successful day job.
There are a lot of people out there who would say I have nothing to complain about. And they’re probably right. But my identity is constantly bugging me for validation. And doing the stuff that pays the bills doesn’t fit the bill.
I guess that’s what those empty hours late at night are for. I guess.