As I say ‘Farewell’ to my 31st birthday, I’m tempted to think that the best is behind me, that my opportunities to find success and joy are lost to regret.
This temptation can’t be farther from the truth. In fact, it is riddled with lies and foolishness.
Being a writer truly gets better with age.
The Coffee Story
At first “The Coffee Story” was an absurd experiment with play-writing. Plotless and random, it was written in the throes of a painful breakup and mid-collegiate self-discovery. It was as ambitious as youth can be brash.
I assumed I could perfect it. For months I tinkered with each scene and every word. If there was a time when I should have been able to write literary gold, it was my budding college years.
So when “The Coffee Story” was produced my senior year and I believed it to be exceptional, I was crushed when several mentors and professors (and, not to mention, members of the professional theater community) saw my play and shrugged. Some even disliked the heavy-handedness of its author.
So for 5 years I didn’t touch it. It had failed me.
Or, as I began to discover, I had failed it.
A Lot of Life
In those 5 years, I was a very busy guy.
I taught high school English and directed plays for the drama club. I counseled at summer camp and worked at Disney World then fell in love and spent every moment trying to prove it.
And became a father.
I lived a lot of Life since college. And having lived so much of it, I changed in equal proportion. Better said, I grew.
And when I gave “The Coffee Story” another go, things weren’t the same.
Neither was I.
Growing Old, or So I Thought
A thought haunted me in those 5 years without my story:
You haven’t lived long enough to write this story.
As a young man, this tortured me. Weren’t my young years the ripest and best for creativity? Shouldn’t I sculpt my David and paint my Mona Lisa before I settled down?
I despised growing old.
It’s hilarious to look back on those days. I was a fool of a thing, as most of us are at 22 and 23, filled with horror at the Life’s cruel expectations and humorless opinion of my dreams. Despite every effort to capture my Writing Grail as a boy, everything felt like failure.
For a season, I sat outside a bookstore, smoking clove cigarettes in 55 degree weather, watching people live out their quaint lives and typing out my last-ditch effort at youthful greatness. My protagonist was cheerless, cynical, and very, very angry.
He was me.
The Irony of Age
The elderly aren’t known for their gentle opinions. Just ask your grandparents about politics, tattoos, or the best dinner service in town and you’ll get a heaping of thoughts on the subject.
Questions of life and death. Good and evil. God and Sin.
While there are certainly exceptions, the aged and wise usually share their opinions on these matters hesitantly, quietly, often judiciously. Heavy matters are not for tossing around.
This is the great irony of aging. Questions don’t always have answers. They are weighty things, and the wise take their time before opening their mouths.
Yet as youngsters we can hardly speak quickly enough. Such is the race to be correct, to be first, to be unique. These pursuits feel incredibly potent in the moment.
Yet they often amount to nothing more than a pissing content, a How-‘Bout-Dem-Apples? moment for the ages.
Only to be forgotten.
Trust the Meta-Process
A common piece of advice is to “trust the process” – an adage familiar where practice and talent merge, like sports or art.
It wasn’t the process that was flawed. It was me.
Within each context the first six times my fear was true: I wasn’t the man I needed to be in order to tell the story well.
Little did I know this would be an incredible blessing. I wasn’t the man I needed to be, and THANK GOD.
And yet without those numerous “failed” attempts in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012, and 2013, I wouldn’t have the bulging files and folders and boxes with which to build the draft of a novel.
A novel which I completed on December 22nd, 2014.
It has something from every single one of those previous versions. I shake with excitement just thinking about it.
When we string the story-telling process together over time in a long chain, a greater process appears: a Meta-Process. In a Meta-Process, the growth of the writer directly affects the growth of the story, in accordance with the writer’s ability to reflect on his/her growth and practice his/her craft, over lots of time.
It is a Process, composed of lesser processes, of Life and Story.
Better With Age
I am only 31.
To the 41 or 51 year-old reader, or older (bless you…), this column may inspire painful laughter. Who am I to write a column on age, anyway?
If anything, I am a convert to the conclave of grown-ups. I am a new member in a society of men and women who no longer idolize youth and its promises and threats.
If you don’t write your masterpiece now….
If you don’t get published before you’re 25, 30, 35….
What about your David and Mona Lisa, old man?
I don’t subscribe to the bullshit anymore.
Sure, my head balds and my metabolism lollygags. But I love looking back at the journey of me and “The Coffee Story”, and appreciating the treasure trove of experiences and truths I’ve absorbed as a writer.
It’s a delight to be an aging writer, young or old as I may be. To my high school students, I am a fossil. To my family, I’m a whippersnapper. Which hat shall I wear next year, at 32?
May your 2015 be the year of new experiences, growth, courage, many pages, and the continued death of injustice in this world.
May you, dear reader, only get better with age.
Whatever that age may be.
What do you think? How do you, as a writer, get better with age? Share in the Comments below!
Cover Image Credit: stevepb, Pixabay, Creative Commons.
Body Images: Sarah J. Watkins, 2005, Used with permission.