I sometimes wonder if the answer to this question is akin to that old saying that history is written by the winners. If you’re not getting my drift here, then let me tell you a little story. (If you have already received my drift and are thanking me for its wisdom, well, then my story is gravy–haha.)
OK, so about 8 years ago, a good year and a half before I met my wife, I was dating someone at work. She was a lovely woman–an ex-ballroom dancer, intelligent, pretty, ambitious. All good things. I was living in Brooklyn at the time in a big shit hole with a good friend, but I was hating my office job. I had an interview at a think tank in D.C. for a job heading their communications department. I hated D.C., but I liked it more than my stupid job, so I was willing to entertain the idea of moving. The woman I was dating, let’s just call her E., had been through a bad divorce a couple years before and was surprisingly supportive of my prospects. As I’d later find out, these two things were connected.
At the time, I took E’s enthusiasm at face-value. We’d been dating a few months, and it was nice that she’d be so happy for me. But the enthusiasm was a little odd, if not in type then certainly in intensity. It seemed almost personal. Still, I tried not to suspect anything.
As it happened, E had an old friend in Baltimore, and she contacted him and asked if I could spend the night after my interview. The friend, a slightly older man who had a family, was gracious and offered me a home-cooked meal and a nice bed in his home. All was great. Great until we sat down for dinner. That’s when he started in about E. “She’s been hurt a lot, Gabe.” I nodded. “But E. is turning a corner. She’s moving up the ladder at work. She’s going to be really successful, Gabe.” I smiled, agreeing. E. was moving up the ladder. Nothing unusual about the comment, though I have to say that I felt like he was lingering, seemingly waiting for me to say something. What exactly, I had no idea. It almost felt like I was her prom date getting interrogated by her father. Which, as it turned out, was almost exactly what it was, because the very next comment brought into focus something I had suspected but did not want to face: E. wanted to move things along with me, but she wasn’t sure if I had the stuff. And by stuff, I mean, earning potential. I know this because the next thing out of this man’s mouth was a pointed: “E used to be a dreamer. But she’s grown up. She’s gotten past that silliness, Gabe.” GIANT PAUSE. “Have you? Are you a dreamer?”
Over the next couple minutes, this man would go on to tell me how E. had mentioned numerous times how concerned she was about my wanting to write for a living–a concern she had never voiced before to me, though I knew she was not a fan of my stuff–“too dark, too depressing,” she used to say.
I guess I could have been angry. I mean, we’d been dating for a couple months, and I was not looking to get married any time soon, so it was kind out of line for her to go and have this guy vet me. But the truth is I wasn’t pissed. I was hurt, actually. And yet, at the same time, I was sure of what I needed to do. I needed to break up with E. I was never good at breaking things off with people, but the fact that E. just didn’t get me–because if she had gotten me, she never could’ve have doubted my intentions as a writer–made it easy for me. I called her that night from the man’s home. While lying on a pink, frilly comforter that I imagine belonged to the man’s daughter, I basically broke up with E.
All these years later, I’ve had a few little things happen with the writing, but I certainly haven’t broken through. I can’t say I ever have felt a need to prove E. wrong about my earning potential as a writer. My wife believes in me. I’ve had some support from people I trust and respect. The money, I still hope, will come. The only unbeliever I have to deal regularly is myself. Sometimes, I feel things are coming. Lots of times, I have no idea. I know that as an artist, this doubt, this constant back and forth between dreaming I can and the nightmare of failure is par for the course. Hell, I’m not even sure what failure really means to me.
No. That’s not true–not exactly. I know that failure really means giving up. And if that is the case, then I have already won. That’s right, dear E. Regardless of how it goes for me, I have won because I won’t give up. That history has already been written.