Were I to ever write a memoir, I suppose the easiest thing to do would be divide my life into chapters of every ten years or so; my life has sort of been divided that way, almost corresponding with the calendar decades. I was born in 1961; ten years later one chapter of my life closed and another opened when we moved from the city to the suburbs; ten years later we left Kansas for California; 1991 marked my move to Florida, and 2001 was the return to New Orleans from a year in Washington D.C. (what I often refer to, in my head, as ‘the lost year of misery’). 2011 was the year I turned fifty, the aughts being my first full decade of living in New Orleans. Those chapters could then be divided into smaller brackets; the years in the suburbs, the years in Kansas, the bridging year in Houston, the transitional months in Minneapolis, the pre-published years in New Orleans; the pre-Katrina time as a published author, the post Katrina recovery years; I supposed I could mark 2011 as the beginning of another time, the manic productive years when I wrote so many novels and edited so many anthologies and so many short stories. 2017 was the year I took off, to catch my breath and relax and recharge and recover; it was also the year of paralyzing self-doubt and terror that I was never going to write again. Sometimes I wonder if the manic years were precisely what they were because of that fear: the fear that if I ever stopped I would never start again, that I would never start again.
One would think now, after the prodigious output of the last seventeen years or so, I would never doubt myself anymore, would never fear the fount might run dry; but I am just as worried and nervous and as full of doubts as I was in the years I dreamed of making this my reality and wrote and wrote and wrote. It never gets easier, the doubts and fears never go away. At least not for me; I cannot speak for other writers. But I do define myself as a writer. That has been my identity since I signed that first contract all those years ago; above every other identity I can be labelled, be it male or gay or American or New Orleanian or Southern; above and beyond all else I identify as author.
In an interview recently about Lindsey Buckingham’s departure from the band and Fleetwood Mac’s decision to continue, and tour, without him, Stevie Nicks said, This is terribly sad for me, but I want to be happy and enjoy the next ten years. That may not be the exact quote, but its very close to what she said, and it hit me right at the core of my being. She–and the others–have always been about writing and creating and performing their music; but now they are getting older and wondering how much more time to do they have to do this thing they love so much? I would imagine Tom Petty’s death weighed pretty heavily on her; they were very close. It also made me feel my own age, and wonder about my own future. How many more years do I have to write the books and stories that I want to? What will I do if the day ever comes when I cannot do this anymore, when people don’t want to read what I’ve written, when no publisher wants to invest in getting my work out to readers?
Heavy thoughts, indeed, my own mortality isn’t something I’ve ever cared enough about to think about. But I would imagine, that no matter what else happens in my life, as long as I can type, as long as I can sit up in my chair and see my computer screen, I will keep writing. This compulsion will probably never go away; I know the stories will most likely never stop coming to my mind. Even when I wasn’t writing last year, the ideas were still coming; characters and stories and plots and those stray thoughts that always begin wouldn’t it be interesting if or I wonder what would make a person do such a thing or I wonder what would happen if…
My conscious decision at the beginning of this year to focus on writing, on rediscovering the joy I once always felt when I was creating, the sense of satisfaction felt upon finishing my work for the day, was perhaps the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I do enjoy doing this, even when it frustrates me, when the words won’t come, when I get behind, when I procrastinate and don’t do it even when I know I must, and that the best way to fight off those horrible self-doubts and fears and insecurities is to just fucking do it.
Nothing else matters, really, when it all comes down to it.