Don't Call It a Comeback
I've been here for years
This is the first time I’ve published in a month, which means the guilt kicked in about a week ago.
At first I figured this was ego and treated it as such. I told myself to chill out.
You aren’t Stephen King. People aren’t monitoring their email inboxes for your latest musings. It's fairly unlikely that someone will find your virtual silence so offensive that they unsubscribe, send you hate mail, and then Tweet about how much you suck.
I also reminded myself that I have good reasons for the occasional publishing hiatus. Sometimes I’m working on a longer piece that needs more time. You can’t rush greatness. (Editor’s note: Yes, you can, and sometimes should.)
Other times life just gets in the way. A two-week trip to meet my girlfriend’s unfathomably large family for the first time at her brother’s wedding followed by four straight days of dancing at a monstrosity of a music festival, sandwiched between sweaty mobs of half-naked pubescent kids taking draws from their berry-flavored vapes, does not, it turns out, lend itself well to much writing. Even Emily Brontë would’ve needed a break.
And yet, the guilt persists.
When people ask what I do, a bunch of thoughts scream through my head at once.
Part of me doesn’t know how to answer the question. “I bought a wallet business and I recently started a pressure washing company and I’m working with two partners on developing a product to fix a problem for lacrosse players, but that’s just the stuff I do for money and actually the pressure washing and lacrosse companies aren’t profitable yet so I guess they don’t count, oh and speaking of things that don’t make money I recently got EMT certified and I also have a blog where I write about random stuff” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
Part of me wants to sound impressive and mysterious, which sometimes leads to an answer like, “Oh, I just own a few random businesses,” followed by the realization that I sound like a douche.
Part of me thinks the question is stupid to begin with. That there are much more interesting ways to get to know someone.
But the predominant thought when I’m asked what I do is an instinctive answer most accurately captured by Alex Cameron’s brilliant Twitter bio: “Many things by trade, but writer by heart.”
I am a writer by heart. I always have been, even when I wrote nothing but emails for the better part of a decade. When asked during an interview for a tech sales job back in 2018 what I wanted to accomplish outside of work in the next few years, I reflexively answered that I wanted to write a book, even though I had written precisely nothing to that point and had no conscious plans to do so. Somewhere, many layers beneath my awareness, I knew who I was and where I would end up.
But it took a while for my actions to catch up with my soul.
I finally published my first blog post on June 2, 2022, a 2,800-word manifesto that was the product of three months of marathon writing sessions on my living room couch, feedback documents with more scratch marks than a meth addict, and countless nights knocking my dog on the head as I bolted out of bed at 3am to scribble down a sentence. I loved every second of it.
A little over a year and forty-eight published essays later (along with twice that number tucked away in virtual purgatory), I find myself both ecstatic and pissed off. Ecstatic because I have the privilege of knowing precisely what lights me up; pissed off because I sat on this knowledge for so long. So while part of my publishing-related guilt is undoubtedly ego-driven, the root of it is more expansive. This guilt looms over a time horizon of decades, not days.
I knew that I was a writer.
But I didn’t write anything.
Now that I’ve finally crossed that threshold and felt my life flip upside down in the most wonderful way, I feel a sort of responsibility toward writing. The guilt comes up when I feel I’ve violated this responsibility. When I minimize the words I pore over for hours by calling them “existential ramblings” or “a little blog thing.”; when I delay publishing a piece for days because, on one hand, that comma in the third sentence creates a crucial pause for the reader and gives the paragraph a nice cadence, but, man, I don’t know, it could work really well as a run-on of sorts, or, actually, wait, what if I went with an emdash?; when I let the fear of not being good enough prevent me from putting any words on the page at all.
One of life’s greatest tragedies may be to have the privilege of knowing who you are and to ignore or hedge against it. To not truly give yourself over to it. To reach the end of the road and be left with nothing but the haunting feeling that you had one chance at a divine opportunity, and you held back.
The thing is, living on your own terms is scary. It’s easier to keep an emotionally safe distance from what we really care about, especially in an age of detached irony where it’s fashionable to throw pithy virtual rocks at anyone who shows the slightest sign that they give a shit.
Well, I do give a shit. I’m just a girl, standing in front of a Google doc, asking him to love her. I’m a teenage John Cusack, holding up my boombox blasting “In Your Eyes” outside writing’s window.
I’m not going to let it be the one that got away.
So here I am, armed with a better understanding of my guilt but no less free from it. What’s a guy to do?
Though misguided, I think I gave myself the right advice when I saw this as an ego problem. The solution is still to, in a manner of speaking, chill out. To color in the rest of the picture.
I’m reminded of two truths.
First, I’m reminded that writing is meant to process living. We write to understand ourselves; if we fail to live in the first place, there’s nothing to understand. It’s like running the washing machine without any clothes.
All of the parts of my identity inform my writing, from the part that starts home service businesses to the part that fumbles around with a stethoscope to the part that used to get drunk every weekend. It’s a virtuous cycle: I live freely and fully, and then I write to process and understand and share, and then, by virtue of my writing, I live even more freely and fully. Such is the beauty of a writing life. But if I subtract the life part, the whole thing breaks down.
The second truth is that writing, like eating or breathing, is an infinite game. There is no winning or losing, no scoreboard. The only way to lose is to stop playing.
I’ve been writing for a year. It makes me happy. The best way to honor this is to keep doing it, to let it develop organically and see where it takes me. It doesn’t make me any more of a ‘real writer’ to drop everything and fuck off to the woods with a fountain pen, just as it doesn’t make me any less of a ‘real writer’ to not publish to Substack for a few weeks.
I didn’t stop playing the game. I just took a breather.
And now I’m back in it.
Thank you to , , , and for their thoughtful feedback on this piece.