I caught myself mentioning in a work meeting the other day that I "made my living writing fiction", and I mentally hit the pause button and told myself, no you don't, you fool. You only wish you made your living that way.
But that brief internal dialogue stuck with me. I'll make no secret about the fact that although my books do actually sell, I do have a "day job" that pays the larger part of my bills. And that doesn't make me unique - most authors - even bestselling ones - do have other jobs that allow them the option of spending their free time with their literary pursuits. But is that my living?
I still consider the first time I held a printed copy of one of my books in my hands as one of the great and individually triumphant moments of my life - up there (but not above) my wedding day, the birth of our daughter, my first real kiss, et cetera. Just above listening to my CD for the first time, or that time I was on stage with Douglas Spotted Eagle. Or being with my belly dance troupe "Parthenon" at the 1999 Kismet Bellydance festival. It's just a certain kind of creative triumph that sets itself apart from other moments in my life, and one that has only been replicated with each successive release of my other books.
It's become, for me, a strangely altered sense of success and joy. Like the proverbial game of "Poohsticks" (a reference that will only make sense if you're a fan of Milne or Hoff), it's not about who wins so much as the playing which makes it a joyful game. It's an unusual manner of self-consideration, reminiscent of a piece I recall from Robert Fulghum, speaking of what he did for a living. He summed it up by saying he breathed, slept, ate and wrote, among the many sundry activities which comprised his existence. I first read that some time back, and it kind of stuck with me like the summit of the mountain calls to the climber. "Here I am," the philosophy waved to me, "come on up and claim me for your own!"
It takes me back even further, to my days of reinvention back in high school. Did anyone else think of that as a specifically elective period of time, wherein we deliberately craft ourselves into the people we want to be. Granted, we're teenagers, so our perspective is often quite limited, but it can - if we really think about it - help us learn the valuable skills of self-guidance and self-determination. Or, in the words of that great classic Oingo Boingo song, who do you want to be today?
But I have to be honest. I have days where I'm more successful at that than others. I have a few tracks off my CD on my iPod and they pop up from time to time, and it often takes me several moments before I realize it's me. I glance at my books on their section of the bookshelf and smile at the thoughts of the many little miracles that happened to bring them to print. But at the same time, it doesn't always FEEL like a big deal. If I check the map, sure; the 'You Are Here" button has changed places, and when I really consider the last few years then I have no choice but to accept that things are in fact in a different sphere than they were back then. I'm a different person, too, with a whole assortment of new recognitions of experience waiting to be sorted out and offered up as material offerings to the gods of fiction (and when I say "gods of fiction", I'm talking about the metaphorical ones and not people like Neil Gaiman, Tom Clancy or the rest of you lot who really aren't actually reading this blog, even though I wrote this sentence as if you did).
I keep reading so many articles on line about "what it takes to be an author" or so forth - - lots of fantastic advice and suggestions for what it takes to be successful. But along with all of that, I can't help but think that the best advice I ever heard on how to be a writer was.... "Write."
I know, I know. That sounds oversimplified and trite. But doesn't every journey start with the first step? Doesn't being begin with believing?
So, I'll ask you: who do you think you are?