the circular runner

the 10-year itch or why i am still struggling with my career…

In life, media, observations, teaching & education, Uncategorized, writers & books on December 3, 2011 at 8:50 pm


Age is like a riptide. Without realizing it, you get sucked out farther and farther until you die. I say this and I’m not sad or depressed–not a bit. I’m just feeling a little sheepish because whenever I try something, I’m always about 5 years behind.

When I turned 15, I decided I was going to be a professional violinist. It’s an odd thing considering I came up poor an no one in the family was musical. But I met a great teacher my sophomore year of high school, and he made me think I could do it. So I went for it.  I mean I WENT for it. From the age of 15 to 23, I practiced 7-8 hours a day and missed no more than a handful of days in the practice room. It was hard. Not only is the instrument brutal to learn, not only was I not a great talent, I also was ancient in the classical violin world. I can’t tell you how many times I had these little 7 year-olds go up before me at a recital and just sound amazing while I, the old teenager just sucked it. I mean, SUCKED it. Out of tune, bad rhythm, the whole sucky stew of lame. But I didn’t give a damn, or I tried not to. I stuck to it, and I started getting better and I think I might’ve even ended up being pretty decent by my early 20s. I started to gig a lot. I played some nice venues and in some good orchestras. If I would’ve stuck with it, I would’ve never been an amazing musician, but I could’ve made a decent living between gigs and teaching. I also had caught up with all the little kids who were now in their early 20s and who were not quite so amazing as I’d once thought. I was, if not as good as them, then certainly in the running for my age.

And then, I started getting antsy. I’m that classic case of a person who won’t be part of any club that would have him. SO, just as I was getting decent, I bailed on the violin–left it and didn’t look back.

I’d been a good student in high school, and I guess I realized how much I missed reading books at that time, so I took a philosophy class at a community college and POW, a year later, I was off to New York to study Religion. I was 24 when I entered Columbia University, young by most standards, but once again, I was the old man for what I was doing. Undergrads thought I was the TA in almost every class. I was starting to lose my hair, which didn’t help me any with the young ladies. I could’ve gone for a grad student, but I felt inept and lame, so I kept to myself and my books. In a way, I didn’t have a choice. I’d been out of academic classes so long that I was always behind. Once again, I was the lame old guy who couldn’t keep up.

8 years later, I’m inn grad school, completely miserable because again, I had the itch. I didn’t want to spend my life chasing after academic minutiae AND there was the fact that I finally had caught up again with the people around me for where I was. I wasn’t the youngest person in class, but I wasn’t the oldest, either.

To cope with grad school, I started writing fiction, and I loved it. I started a novel the same year I left school. I was 33–kind of old for a first novel, but not impossible except for the fact that I didn’t have the chops for the medium. Seven years later, I’m still at the writing thing. I feel old, though. There are a lot of people in their 20s and 30s who are trying to break through as I, 40 with a wife and kid on the way, am trying to do the same.  Struggling to get an agent to rep a collection, a graphic novel and a first script, and not having much luck. I’m trying to get out there. Network. But the tide is pulling at me and it scares me a little. I’ve never been one to look back, but some times when I hear people my age who are making a life in the arts, and I hear how they’ve been cracking their heads against walls since they were in their early 20s, not more than ten miles from where I was sawing away at a violin that now is quite dusty and neglected, I get a little wistful. I wish I’d started to put myself out as a writer then, not now.

Again, but by necessity, for the last time, I’m the old guy.  Again, I’m late to the party.


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