“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – Bilbo Baggins
I wonder how many writers find themselves, from time to time, torn between wanting to tell brilliant stories, and wanting to live them.
I dunno, random thought of the day. And there are many such days lately.
Certainly, you read the biographies of J.R.R. Tolkien, Jack London, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Paulo Coelho and other favorites, and you see narratives in their lives that would seem suitable for any novel.
Tolkien lost his mother as a boy and embraced the Roman Catholicism that would define his life and stories to honour her faith. Living in a rented home with his brother, young Ronald got to know the older school girl who lived upstairs, Edith, whom he would marry.
Make a pilgrimage to Tolkien’s gravesite at Oxford – and I plan to – and you’ll find the name “Beren” inscribed, named for the mythical hero that Tolkien created in The Silmarillion, the grand, labyrinthine precursor to the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Look under Edith’s name, and you’ll see the name “Luthien”, the Elvish princess that Beren fell deeply in love with during his adventures, and with whom he spent most of his latter years.
To be together, Luthien had to surrender the immortal life of her people, a precursor to the familiar sacrifice Arwen Undomiel makes for Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. Luthien died before Beren, and in a sad case of life imitating art, Edith died years before Ronald, leaving him miserable and depressed for the rest of his days even as his stories changed Western society in the 20th Century.
If you’re a wordslinger like me, it’s second nature to build your life experiences into your stories. Much of the time, you just have to in order to cope with your life. That’s what Stephen King did when he worked as a high school janitor, among other shitty jobs out in the middle of Maine. Walking into the girls’ changeroom one weekend along with another janitor, King saw an object he didn’t recognize, which his colleague explained was a tampon dispenser. Somehow, King’s mind shifted to an article he’d read earlier about telekenesis, and how it normally appears in children around puberty…..and the two ideas merged to become Carrie, the big hit that lifted him, his wife, and their two young children out of poverty and into popular culture.
Early success, however, could not save Stephen King from alcoholism and drug abuse, and in those darkest times, he wrote several bestsellers in the horror genre that were his way of venting that darkness out from inside of him and onto the page. Cujo, The Dead Zone, Salem’s Lot: King cites these and others as creations of that dark time until his family and friends intervened and he began the road to sobriety. To this day, at appearances where the other guests are drinking champagne, King keeps to his water or soda pop.
Was addiction and its costs to his friendships, health, and inner calm worth the memorable stories that emerged from it? My answer, for myself, is no….but my, what an interesting story his life is, nonetheless. It makes me wonder.
I could go on to talk about Jack London – who, like me, worked several menial jobs in his twenties before embracing his destiny, making his way to Alaska to write Call of the Wild and White Fang – or Jo Rowling -a former worker at the United Nations who would later find herself in Edinburgh on social assistance with a baby, writing about wizards and magic on napkins in a cafe when she couldn’t afford paper – or Paulo Coelho -a Brazilian whose wealthy parents had him committed because they thought him insane because he wanted to be an artist – but that would be a little dissertation in itself, and my point is clear by now, I’m sure.
Tony Robbins has a favourite saying: “biography isn’t destiny”. You’re not necessarily bound by the story that you’ve had so far, but it does influence you, has brought you to the point of awareness where you know you can start taking control from here. It’s a truism that the less eventful your story has been, the less interesting it seems to others, and that for most outsiders, “eventful” usually equals “traumatic”. That “thing” I try not to talk about as often as I used to – le divorce – will always be a defining moment for me, and given the relative peace of my life for the majority of it, and its joys, that will be, for many people, the most interesting part of my story so far.
Still, not all interesting stories are rooted in tragedy or heartbreak. Some of us aspire to do great things and actually accomplish them. A teacher friend of mine decided to save for years and took his wife and their child on a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia for the summer. One of my Fraternity brothers climbed the Seven Summits, culminating in an ascent of Mount Everest in 2002. A young chanteuse that I met as she was first making the rounds of the bar and bookstore circuit in 2010 now has three albums out, finished a tour of Germany, and is steadily building her fame and prestige: I’m quite sure that we’ll be able to say, as the cliché goes, “we’ll all say we knew her when” much sooner than expected.
Each of these individuals, and all the other ones I haven’t mentioned, who we all know exist somewhere in our lives, have a few common traits: they have “one thing”, as Curly said was requisite to a happy life in the film City Slickers, and they never let the circumstances control them. They make the decision to go, and the obstacles fall by the wayside, maybe not easily, but inevitably, there will be nothing between them and the dream. There is nothing that makes them fundamentally different than me, meaning that I can do it, too.
Am doing it.
My guild is planning an event for our books. Like some of my stories, the idea came to me in a flash of insight: a dynamic image of ourselves at a lush party in Toronto celebrating the work that we love. Within minutes of this vision, I was on my guild’s private Facebook group, hammering out the vision in words.
Now, An Evening of Sex and Romance, featuring my own time travel romance Convergence and my friend and fellow “rat-pack” leader (as Amanda puts it) Lucianna LiSacchi’s erotic drama Mommy’s Little Playgroup is a reality, and you can keep checking back at the Toronto Wordslingers website for details as they emerge.
I’ve had another vision lately, this one for myself. Like our event, my new coaching program with LifeSuccess would categorize this as a “C” level goal: something on the level of fantasy, that I currently have no idea how to accomplish, and yet it inspires me to grow. All I see myself doing is walking out my door in Brampton and heading east…..and then returning from the west, two months later, having circumnavigated the northern hemisphere in a single trip.
Who would I have to become to be that guy, and what a story that would be to tell….and live?
I really wonder….