Luck and Pluck and WTF

categories: Cocktail Hour


I’ve been thinking about how much of any career is luck and accident, especially a career in the arts.  You get an idea or you don’t.  You meet the helpful person or you don’t.  You listen to good advice or fail to.  You ignore bad advice or don’t.  You connect with a mentor or you don’t.  You move here, you move there.  You’re hired, you’re not.  You get a little affirmation, you get a little discouragement, or a lot of one or the other, despite simply being who you are all along.  Slowly you learn what you’re good at, but always you insist on trying things you’re not good at, on doing the thing you can’t do, on reaching higher.  It’s the Peter Principal applied to the arts, though it’s entirely self-imposed.  Call it the Bill-and-Dave’s-Cocktail-Hour Principal.

I’m interested in hearing about other people’s trajectories. What did you used to do and what are you doing now to sustain and nurture the writing bug?  How’d you get where you are, or aren’t?  What did the early years look like?  What accidents pushed you this way or that?  What makes a reader a reader and a writer a writer?  And don’t you have to be a reader to be a writer?  (Our notes on our reading are on our Reading Under the Influence page.) Dave’s first installment of “Talking to Ghosts” compellingly visits his literary influences, his mentors, his youthful artistic vision, wonderful.  But he was also an Ultimate Frisbee champion–how does that history play into the current work?  Or does it?

I was a paperboy for a year or two before I was really old enough to work, a mile or so on my bike each morning.  I stocked groceries at the A&P.  I cleared brush for a day with my friend Kurt and the lady paid us in Pepperidge Farm Goldfish.  I played in bands, good and bad, not very remunerative.  I dropped out of college, worked for an electrician for a year of partying, then went back.  I used to wake up and worry at night, but now I just lie there and think.  I don’t know what accounts for the change.  I used to gaze in the mirror for long intervals, trying to see who was there (also secretly vain).  Not so much anymore.

For a short time, a season or two, I worked with cattle and sheep and various machines in Nebraska, rode a horse named Bill.  In various parts of the country I worked construction a little, then a lot.  I was a dishwasher for four days once.  The owner told us to recycle any decent-looking pickles.  I got fired when the cook got fired, because he was a friend of mine. I worked a lot of construction, come to think of it. I played in more bands.  I was a bartender in a disco for a year, and then at a jazz club, both in Seattle—I used to travel solo.  I worked as a waiter in a lunch place for tips only since my whole paycheck was taken up by dishes I broke.  I was a musician one place and another, ultimately New York City, which just meant I was sometimes broke.  I was a handyman often—just make a poster and tape them up everywhere and wait for the phone to ring.  I once painted Barbara Walter’s apartment in Manhattan.  She had Egyptian antiquities on display and a poodle that got paint on its butt, big crisis, also a telephone next to her toiwet, first time I ever saw that.  I remodeled kitchens and bathrooms all over the city for people who wanted to save money: I underestimated everything drastically.  I tiled showers and rooftop patios and the floor of a fancy hot-dog shop.  I never wondered what the hell I was doing.  I knew what I was doing: I was making money so I could write.  That was a romantic notion, too.  The artist in his garret.  A few dimes here, bowl of gruel.  At least I didn’t have tuberculosis.

My theory was you had to have experience if you were going to write.  I still subscribe to this theory, which doesn’t mean it’s correct.  Another theory would be to sit down and write and just keep writing, do and think nothing else.  But I’m always telling students to defer grad school till they’re fully broken, to join the Merchant Marine, to quit their job, to forestall marriage.  For my part, I got good at all kinds of things—cards, pinball, shooting, plumbing, mixology, sailing, gardening, birding, memo-writing—and I did a lot of stuff I don’t do now.  I used to fly-fish extensively, for example, and play tennis, play golf, downhill ski, bike to work, go parachuting on a lark, rafting, whatever.  I could drive any size truck (but never learned to drive a motorcycle: too scared after my brother’s roommate was killed in a jumping accident).  I used to drink large amounts of beer, but became allergic at age 45, go figure.  Now it’s Jack Daniel’s or good wine, not such a bad fate.  Before I published anything else I wrote a how-to book called Tips and Tricks for Home Repair.  It was a contract deal, a work for hire, $2500, a vast fortune at the time.  It looked like a phone book, really cheap, illustrated by a film-strip guy, those cheerful stick-figure people pointing out the pliers, thin paper, lots of pages.  It was on my resume for a long time, but then I went to grad school and realized it didn’t count.  For three years at Columbia I taught a course called Logic and Rhetoric.  Later I taught at the University of Maine at Farmington, then in the grad program at Ohio State.  I got tenure there after just two years but found the fact and nature of tenure depressing and kind of medieval and after a while I quit, moved back to Maine.  Most recently I taught at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, a five-year position, but now that’s done, twenty years of teaching altogether, yet another thing I was good at and loved and did in order to write, and now have quit in order to write.  Till I go broke, that is.  Or miss it too much.

All of these things were accidental.  I mean, I was handy with tools, so I did construction, which I was not always good at.  I found anything outdoors romantic, so I stumbled into one thing after the next, any work, any project, any road trip, fine, as long as most of it was outside.  I was good at the piano, and could sing at least a little, so I played in bands.  I was comfortable in front of a classroom—a natural entertainer—and took sustenance from the minds of students, so I taught.

When I was five I asked for a desk for Christmas.

My mother told the story often.  Why a desk?  she asked.

Because I am going to be a writer, I said.

I don’t understand this.  Maybe I knew what a writer was because Mom read to us so much.  She’d sit at the kitchen table and read passages from whatever she was reading, didn’t matter.  A page from Elmer Gantry. An Ann Landers column, whole.  At bedtime she read us the unabridged Gulliver’s Travels, with Gulliver climbing around the cleavage of Brobdingnabian women who thought him a pet, these huge disgusting pores and overpowering perfume and quivering bosoms, illustrations, too, awesome.  The desk was a miniature oak roll-top from the Sears Roebuck catalogue.  I gave it to my daughter when she was five, and she loved it for a while, but now she’s already too big for it (but maybe best to leave the discussion of the influence of family to a future post!)

And I wrote, another knack, got through High School on bare verbal talent, college the same, though here and there an English teacher lit new fires.

No matter what else I was doing, college forward, I was writing.  Writing was the thing, writing was the point.  I filled notebooks.  I subscribed to literary magazines.  I wrote two, no three, apprentice novels.  I haughtily eschewed writing programs—I can’t quite remember why.  I sent stories to the New Yorker and the Paris Review and Raritan and collected mountains of rejection slips.

I read and wrote so much that the guys in one of my bands called me The Professor.  This long before I’d even considered such a thing.  Everything I did, I did so I could write.  I published nothing of substance until I was, like, 35.  I still don’t know what kept me going.  Bands, maybe.  The instant rewards of playing music pretty well in front of crowds, people dancing, yelling.  That’s where I could be an artist and hear applause, take home some cash.  Just never quite seriously.  What was serious was writing.  And because I was writing and reading so much I was failing to keep up with my peers in music.  Not enough practice, not enough study, not enough focus on the music of the day, the trend-lines, the new equipment, the shifting attitudes, the grimmer lineaments.

And one night in Norway in the back of a friend’s friendly band bus somewhere between Bergen and Stavanger, age thirty or so, I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. The two things, music and writing, they came from the same well, so it seemed.  I made a decision, one of the few in life that wasn’t made for me: I quit playing music.  I just simply quit.

I used to play in Bands.

That’s the same as saying I used to be young.


A couple of quotations on my way out the door:

“Whoever, in middle age, attempts to realize the wishes and hopes of his early youth, invariably deceives himself. Each ten years of a man’s life has its own fortunes, its own hopes, its own desires.”  –Goethe

“Everything in life is luck.”  –Donald Trump

Please click  I used to play in Bands to see the first installments of my video memoir.  If you watch on YouTube, you can leave a comment.  Just click the YouTube logo lower right.

  1. Jess Robert writes:

    Wow, so good to see so much activity on the blog. I’ll post this and catch-up reading after. Hope that’s okay.

    I teach at Clark University in Worcester Massachusetts. Teaching I’m good at. Teaching I love!

    I write, on occasion; it’s painful and I battle myself, have not fully learned to silence the inner critic or drug him into submission. (Yes, my inner critic is male. The good news is, I seem to have only one.) I publish poetry and nonfiction, also on occasion. The publishing aspect has yet to be my focus. Writing has been like many other challenges in my life: two steps forward and three back with self-punishment, a good deal of whining and resistance, resistance, resistance all the while.

    I appreciate your piece here, Bill, because it has reminded me of the luck and support I have had. I’ve been on this trajectory since the age of 8 –childhood dream? Dunnoh—but at the fork in the road, many teachers, friends, and family members pointed me down the writer’s path. Even then I resisted. I wrote for myself. On top of that, my father was a painter and my mother a high school English teacher (AKA a frustrated writer). My parents made it clear that art sucked. A life of art was a life of pain.

    I resisted hard. I loved science, but stunk at math–end of that path. I danced. I wanted to be a dancer, and travel the world. Then I grew breast and hips—end of that path. I landed my first big job not with love in my heart, but out of a need to survive and support myself. At the age of 19, I worked in hospitality management and ran two resorts in Southern Maine. I made enough money in the summer to pay for a year of college and drove my bosses’ Porches and BMWs up and down Rt. 1 and 295. But I had grown up secluded in the woods; I could keep up a hospitable ruse for only so long.

    In college, it was with a great deal of luck that I fell into teaching—it was in the genes—resist as I may. Turns out, I got to teach science, theater, work with homeless students, and develop a creative writing curriculum for an arts middle school. And I was good at it. I forgot that I told my parents I would never teach or welcome a life of art. Instead, I remembered how writing, how the arts, could save a person. I wrote alongside my middle and high schoolers and remembered how much I needed writing.

    Then came the greatest challenge of my life—parenthood. For ten years I dedicated my self to play groups and volunteering at local elementary schools. I so feared fucking up as a parent that I gave myself over totally to my children. In the process, I lost myself. I stopped writing.

    As luck would have it, a relative reminded me of my 8 year old self and said he’d like to give me some money to get my MFA. And so I did. I found that I still had supportive family and friends and now wonderful mentors, all of them like mother fawns nudging me to take baby steps back into the writing world. It would seem that with all the good fortune and luck I’ve had, I could stop resisting. I could buck up, and beef up, the pluck.

    And I guess it feel okay to realize that most of my life has been spent in what I would call survival mode. Maybe I would be better off if I could admit that writing is survival—survival is why I started writing as a child in the woods of Maine with no one to talk to, it’s why I write now. And survival aint such a bad thing.

    Well, I’ve said way more than I intended, and I’ve discovered some things I didn’t know I knew…and that’s the way writing, luck and pluck work I guess.

    Luck and pluck at work, life is a process, like writing. I write and learn how my parents informed me, how every crappy job that I took for survival, from bar tending to telemarketing, informed me. We edit, we revise , we keepon keepin on. Cheers. Looking forward to spending more time with the blog. Jess

    • Bill writes:

      Thanks, Jess, for a reminder of the deeper challenges writing women face–especially when it comes to children. And all the teachers and mentors and anti-mentors out there. Survival! That’s our game… What would happen if you put a bunch of writers on a desert island with limited resources and … wait–we’re already on that reality show. I’d like to hear more about survival, and a lot more from you…

  2. Dan Stolar writes:

    Loved this. Inspiring. I just had a piece published at Word Riot on an embarrassing incident on my way to “being a writer.”

  3. Richard Gilbert writes:

    Great story, Bill! Your energy in the writing, let alone in doing what you did, amazes—and humbles.

    No disrespect to Goethe, but aren’t we ALWAYS trying to redeem the dreams of our youth? Seems like that’s what your story is about. It seems it took you thirty years to begin accomplishing what you dreamed of, precociously, at five.

    I messed around too long in newspapers. Then again, it took me four years to learn to write a decent news feature. I am a slow learner. It has taken me four years of writing and rewriting a memoir to begin to learn what I should be doing (telling a story, scenically, to share experience). You have been instrumental in that, as I’ve told you. I have been blogging about creative nonfiction for two years, and apparently I’ve got two more years to go before I have a clue what I’m doing there.

    But I have a vision of myself in twenty years, a busy geezer writer who knows what he’s doing, at long last.

    Keep the party going. I look forward to another round . . .

  4. Gerry Boyle writes:

    At 4 this morning I wondered why I write. By 4:20, sitting at the keyboard, I remembered.

    This is a great discussion, Bill and Dave. Thanks for throwing the party. Yes, you need luck and pluck to be a writer, though it should be the other way around. Pluck, and perseverance and stubbornness, creates its own luck. Without the former, you’re nowhere.

    I had the pluck way back when, and the luck followed, in a modest way. A first manuscript accepted, published, nobody booing me off the stage. More than a decade and eight mystery novels later I had one of those wake-up moments. I had a brush with the movie biz and being a writer with the requisite active imagination, I could immediately (we’re talking nanoseconds) see myself in one of those canvas chairs with my name on the back, a personal assistant on each side, stars and starlets all around. Well, that movie project eventually fell through and in the depths of disappointment (did I say I do melodrama, too?) I heard a voice calling from on-high with some sage advice. Well, it wasn’t really on high. Actually, It was my wife Mary (who’s not tall at all) who said, “You didn’t get into this way back when to hang around with movie people. You did this because you’re a writer. And writers just write.”

    So I savored my victimhood for a few more minutes and then went back and sat down at the desk. The same desk. The same room. The same blank screen, as they say. And the process began anew. Making up people. Making up what they say to each other. Making up what happens to them. And at the end of the day, there’s something there that didn’t exist before.

    It’s the same for making music, furniture, a new barn door, a painting, a photograph. Writing just happens to be what we’re drawn to. Something about all those words, all those choices. You can’t stay away. If you try to, you’re deeply unhappy, which I found leads to vices, most of which are meant to try to get you to forget that you should be writing.

    It doesn’t work. I know.

    So don’t take too much credit for having written. You didn’t choose writing; it chose you. If it brings you that quiet rush, accept that as your reward. And the movie stars? Now, that’s just getting greedy.

  5. Carrie writes:

    This was a fun way to start my day- Thanks guys-
    reminds me, too, that I have a lot of writing to do- Inertia is the best excuse I got.
    and the day job is a bit of a problem.

    Bill, I was wondering who was playing the piano at the end of your “I used to play in bands…” ? It was lovely

  6. Dick Weaver writes:

    So, having given up for now on the great mystery (I don’t actually like conflict, and don’t see why the protagonist has to be flawed…) is biographical history “literature?”

    I’ve had a few articles and a couple of short stories published in a couple of magazines related to my hobby–but while they’re good magazines and good enough editors, their literary requirements don’t match “The New Yorker.” So I still claim to be writing about this dead guy–and last week I actually did write about him.

    I’ve always wanted to be a writer too, but with about the same intensity as I wanted to do lots of other things. It seems to be partly about self-esteem somehow. So I try, but my attention span keeps–say, did I mention I’m in the chorus in “The Barber of Seville”?


  7. Steven Stafford writes:

    As Updike said, “one writes by faith.” Writers are mystics–it’s during the dark night of the soul that the real work gets done, that the motives are purified, that the weak are weeded out.

    Great post, great site. I’m still getting started as a writer–even though I feel like I’ve been getting started my entire life, but I’ve already found your words very helpful.
    I’ve played in a lot of bands, too. For this and for other reasons, I feel like you know how I feel. Very cool.

    All writers have faith coming out their noses; all writers trust Providence that they’re not wasting their time (even when there is evidence to the contrary); all writers sacrifice their own pleasure for their work (i.e. sunny days spent at the desk). I’m still on the runway, but as a writer, I have no choice but to trust I will take-off. The only other option is despair.

    • Bill Roorbach writes:

      My teacher Edward Hower (Ithaca College, c. 1971) told the class that the only thing worse than writing was not writing. I’m not sure if he was quoting someone. And I’m sure if I’m quoting someone when I tell students that writers have to have a pretty big capacity for suffering. I see it in these replies, people who’ve struggled but just keep going–and look how good the sentences are here! John Banville, the critic, said recently that the sentence is the greatest creation of humankind, or something like that, that the word is matter and the sentence form. I don’t know what that makes this website, but thanks in any case for the encouraging words!

      • Nick Steiner writes:

        I love both the concept of this “novel” website and its charm, wit and useful info. It will serve many useful functions. Will forward to a few friends. Thanks and best of luck!

      • Lea writes:


        As I’m sitting here with some less than exhilarating student poems in front of me (end of the semester blues), I am thinking about beautiful language and what makes it. I’m wondering what you and Dave think on a really basic level about what makes a beautiful sentence (or in my case, line). I know there’s a million quotes about this like Emily Dickinson saying poetry takes your head off and all of that, but I’m thinking more about the actual craft of good writing. When you read a line by a favorite author or–perhaps even better–a new and unknown (at least to you) piece of writing, what is it that stops you and makes you read it again? For that matter, what are some of your favorite lines of all times? –Lea

        • Bill writes:

          This is such a good idea. We’ll have to do a page or two on language at some point. Meanwhile, I’ve read a lot of poetry and my head’s still on…

  8. Dave writes:

    We gotta get this John Jack guy a tiny cartoon head. Seriously, thanks for being part of the discussion.

    • Bill Roorbach writes:

      Dave, I’m with you. John Jack rocks. He’s full of subjects. I see half a dozen books hiding among his paragraphs here.

      • John Jack writes:

        Thanks, Mr. Roorbach and Mr. Gessner. If you-all get a round tuit, for my cartoon head draw a zippy, pin-headed mad scientist.

        If I ever decide to bare my soul more publicly publication-wise, have I got stories that will curl steel. Maybe what I need is a foundational recurring thematic message for the sake of building audience rapport. In the meantime, I’m writing and submitting fiction thinking that my nonfiction stories won’t matter to audiences because they come off whiney.

        There was the time I was hitchhiking in South Florida and wound up doing a month in a public psyche ward, padded cell and straight jacket and pants, stewed to the gills on thorazine and valium the first night, because I almost escaped the leather restraints in admitting. Discharged in lost-and-found clothes, what I’d come in wearing was cut off in admitting, and mismatched flip-flops. That story doesn’t end there. There’s a kindhearted pimp involved and a harrowing 24-hour “express” bus journey north before I returned to sanctuary. Or the story of the 1992 Democrats’ Congressional Black Caucus dinner where I was head watier waiting on Jesse Jackson’s table and passed by presidential nominee Bill Clinton and his Secret Service entourage a dozen times.

  9. Dave writes:

    When I read Bill’s blog entry, I thought about David Quammen’s visit last spring to the Southern University where I teach. He was there for our school-wide celebration of Darwin and evolution, a celebration of both the 150th anniversary of the book and the 200th of the author’s birth. On the first night of his visit, over martinis in a downtown bar, we talked about evolution. It was not the evolution, however, not of field mice or mollusks, but of careers, specifically literary careers. He told the story of how he had written since he was young, mostly novels, and how he had published a novel in college. The novel did what most novels do, which is to say not much. But he kept writing, and after school moved out to Montana, where he scarped together a living while writing another novel and doing a lot of fly fishing. He remembered that as a happy time, writing hard before any real success. (One detail about this happiness I remember: his parents were supportive.)
    Anyway, these days most people aren’t very familiar with David Quammen the novelist. If they know him, and have read him, as many have, it is because at some point a young editor from a fledgling magazine wanted to do some fishing in Montana, and, after making some calls, was put in touch with Quammen and a friend, who were to act as a guide. Quammen figured that the editor would be hoity-toity, that he would have to be on his best behavior, but low and behold the guy was about his age and a good guy to boot and they ended up having a great week of camping and fishing. Sometime after the trip the editor decided to start a column in his magazine and remembered Quammen and gave him a call. The magazine was Outside, the column was “Natural Acts”, and it became the platform that launched Quammen’s career as one of the country’s best and most respected writers of nonfiction.
    Bill says a career is built on luck and I believe that. But it is also built on adaptability, that cornerstone of evolution. Stephen Jay Gould said this was the quality that most defined homo sapiens. The subspecies of humans known as writers have to adapt, too, that is they have to balance their resolved determination to do one thing with the possibility that they can do others. Of course, there are exceptions: stories of someone who has worked on one project for forty years, rigid in their discipline and aim, the writerly equivalent, in evolutionary terms, of the fairly un adaptive horseshoe crab, who has stuck to one simple gameplan for millions of years. But for most of us, there needs to be some fluidity mixed in with our resolve.
    Like Bill, I spent my twenties working at a variety of jobs—bookstore clerk, substitute teacher, (bad) carpenter, homeless shelter counselor—and, like Quammen, came late to the realization that most of my time would be spent writing nonfiction, not fiction. Now that I have my first “real” or at least consistent job, as a teacher of creative writing, I sometimes worry about a recent trend among my graduate students. They seem to be getting younger and younger, and not just because I’m getting older. No, what I am noticing is what I would call the career track approach to creative nonfiction. Major in it in college, graduate and proceed directly to grad school. The problem here of course is that you work on the writing before living the years you likely end up writing about. But maybe I’m just being an old guy grumbler here, making a virtue of my necessity. The truth is that the writing of grad students that I read these days keeps getting better and better.

  10. kate writes:

    Dear Agony Writer Uncles,

    Please Help. I haven’t written ANYTHING except the odd diary entry (and barely one of those lately) since struggling with trying to survive as a full time teacher in England 3 years ago. Some days I kind of like teaching and other days I want to get on a plane to somewhere where schools were never invented. Before I got this teaching job I would write stuff all the time – nothing I can now read without cringing – but at least I was writing!

    I have always wanted (also since about the age of 5 although I was more keen on Mr Frosty than a desk) to write a book about ‘something good and partly real’. I keep telling myself that when I get to grips with increasingly difficult tasks like making it to work on time, and making something besides toast, then I will suddenly sit down and write this wonderful book.

    Except I don’t. This makes me feel a) Guilty B) Sad C) like a Fraud D) big liar E) big loser 🙁

    However, I did try playing Frisbee last week running up a hill with two men and a dog. The dog drool was disgusting.

    Please tell me I have not gone all rusty from not writing like the bad toys in Toy Story.

    Yours sadly

    The Non-writer

    • Bill Roorbach writes:

      Hi Kate–Teaching and writing can be a tough mix sometimes… My method was to make a schedule at the beginning of each week that included my writing time, five minutes here, an hour there, four hours on a Sunday afternoon. And then I tried to stick to it, and make everyone else stick to it. “Sorry, I can’t do that meeting–I have to work.” I called writing “work” so I’d get some respect. If you say “I have to write,” you get that smirk, you know? But I noticed that if I said, “I can’t make it–I have class at that time,” people were very accommodating. So: “Nope, sorry, I have to work.” Tennis? “Let me look at my schedule… no, sorry, I have to work.” Then of course the problem is getting anything done during the minutes at your desk. But reporting for duty is the thing. It’s your job. If you don’t show up, you’re going to get fired! Another trick was to reverse the old “Teaching really cuts into my writing time” thing by reversing it in my head: “Boy, oh boy, all this writing really cuts into my teaching time!” And find ways to do your teaching chores more efficiently, or not make so much work for yourself. Assign less! Make the kids do more! Whoever’s working hardest in the room is learning the most… So, Kate, make a schedule and get to work and let us know how it’s going. You’re a funny, terrific writer, from what I can see here. It’s just a matter of getting to work. (Much more on this in my book Writing Life Stories.)

      • kate writes:

        Thank you, Bill! Your encouraging words made my day! 🙂 I would write more in reply, but now I have an important weekly writing schedule to devise. Very wise advice – I may even threaten to fire myself if I don’t follow it. Keep the faith everyone! X

  11. John Jack writes:

    I know why I write, why I’ve always written, at least since my earliest childhood memories, and they go back to my earliest identity crisis, the one that started a lifetime of identity crises. It was a dependents’ Christmas party at a military club where I was crushed in the press of the crowd rushing to “see Santa Clause.” I fainted and came to still standing up several steps closer to Santa. The press was that tight and unaware, everyone unaware, even my parents were unaware, to say the least.

    What with one thing and another, it was the moment that defined me. Learning all at once the failings, frailties, and falsenesses of adults, the truth about Santa and all the rest of childhood’s myths from being overlooked by everyone who meant something to me. I came away with trust issues, emotional indifferences, an outwardly happy-go-lucky facade masking a deeply wounded psyche.

    I read and write to try to emotionally connect with the larger world in the only way I’m able. Both have been lifelong passions. Everything else is fleeting, especially enduring, meaningful relationships. I’m even emotionally estranged from family. Alhough they do love me and I do love them, after a few days, we get on each other’s nerves too much to stand being around each other, mostly because I can’t sustain being considerate of other people for long.

    In the same vein, casual acquaintances along the journey have felt the same way, but are inclined to indicting me for being weird, crazy, a loser, scary smart, emotionally cold, or just plain too far off the normative ideal for any meaningful emotional connection, except the ones who I allowed to use me for their own ends. There have been a few true friends here and there, people who are as much if not more emotionally damaged. We got along because we took each other as we are and made allowances when unpleasantnesses arose.

    Freelance editing work pays the bills and has for the last ten years. If only I’d been more career oriented, I might have made something of myself at one or another of the many vocations I’ve been good at. But no, even jobs have been fleeting because I’m not an insider type. I’m the proverbial outlier, reluctantly, but uncontrollably a true maveric.

    Lately, traditional vocations are no longer possible even for the short term. Physical handicaps, not to mention my emotional handicaps, caused by chronic health conditions keep me from getting an entry level job anymore, even dishwashing, which was my fallback consolation job in the past.

    Boozing it up to self-medicate for enduring the loneliness went by the wayside due to diabetes. I had to learn to like myself without chemical companionships.

    Paperboy, lawnmower, restaurant trades, construction trades, manufacturing trades, printing and publishing trades, tourism trades, transportation trades, technology trades, agriculture trades, a transient laborer, I’ve done most of the jobs there are in one capacity or another. The taxi driver job was the most harrowing, though it allowed me time to read and write in the slow hours between the last-call bar flies going home and the morning shift coming out to work. Robbed, mugged, stabbed, shot at, crashed into by oblivious drivers, deranged psychopaths with urgent messages for the President, beat up by zealously competitive coworkers, and then some, I experienced it all.

    My first published work was an opinion editorial about labor relations during a labor action brought by the union local against my employer at the time.

    Harrassing phone calls, halfhearted death threats, malicious rumors, and social shunning plagued me for about half a year after the article appeared in the newspaper. In an offhanded way, the employer rewarded me for my efforts to expose the union’s shennagins. I was hired to ghost write a performance standards manual for the shop, my first paid publication. It was handsome pay, too, yet the manual was never distributed to the target audience.

    The thing from writing that has been my redeeming grace, I found myself, know myself because of writing study and application. It’s not a pretty picture, but it is one I can live more comfortably with than from not knowing. The clinical diagnosis was what got me discharged from military service in my late teens, but took me a lifetime to understand. No therapy, no counseling, just an otherwise well-adjusted, harmless personaliity unsuitable for military service. Thanks, but no thanks. So long and don’t come back. I’m a loner like J.D. Salinger, afflicted with a similar personality disorder spectrum. Reading connects me emotionally. Writing is catharsis and an outlet for saying what I want to say in the forelorn hope that I’ll find kindred travelers.