Updated: Dec 1, 2020
[Listen to an audio version of this blog HERE.]
I don't know what I'm doing. Sometimes I write something down and it's terrible. Awful. It doesn't sound like me, it sounds like I'm trying to sound like someone who knows what they're doing. Writing is a dreadful, disheartening, thankless profession. We all recognize when it's done poorly and barely blink when we see something written well. Some days, I feel as if I could tap away at this keyboard forever and nothing would come of it. The greatest wish a writer has is that their words might mean something to someone someday, and that's a tall order. Coupled with the overabundance of writing available online, it is difficult to stand out, but I'm not even trying to stand out. I'm just trying to be. To find my voice, maybe. To figure out life as I go, and share my figuring-it-out with the world, hoping something I say might stick to someone, someday.
When I graduated from high school, I had a big party. The whole town came, although my hometown is barely a dot on most maps, so "whole town" isn't quite as incredible as you may be thinking. Long lost relatives came. In the spirit of celebrating myself, I wore a nice dress. I hung up pictures of me, and showcased my athletic awards. I cut newspaper clippings about me running and stuck them in a binder along with some of my *best* poetry. Even then, at 18, before my frontal lobe was fully formed, I knew I needed to pursue those two things: running and writing. I just didn't know where that would take me.
Life can get weird though. I went to college and considered a practical, profitable degree. Business maybe. Law. Medicine. The same tired things we all know about, and groan about. None of these things set my soul on fire. I wanted that--to feel like my soul was on fire. I wanted that not just for a day or a month or a year but for my life. People without souls won't know what this means, and words are too drab to quite do the job, but I know when my soul is on fire when I can't imagine doing or being anywhere else. Bliss. Fulfillment. Joy. Whatever the fuck you want to call it. I don't think most people find their bliss in financial advising or car insurance, but what do I know. My soul is on fire some of the time, and right now, that's just about good enough.
I went for a run the other night, in the dark, down a bike path in a residential neighborhood that does not set my soul on fire. I feel no joy when I run down streets where every house looks the same. Where all the cars are shiny and perfect and the mothers wear pleated pants and the fathers wear ties and carry briefcases and both can't wait to come home and have a drink of something strong and bitter to take the edge off. I am at once full of edges and edge-less. When my soul is on fire my edges disappear, but then I have to dress in nice clothes and drive to office-boxes, and speak office-speak and write office-words and the only way I know to feel alive again is to do something a bit reckless. Run very fast, on rugged terrain, or in the dark, or both. Write some nonsensical shit that nobody will read or care about. Write a poem, maybe. Ride my motorcycle and think about how out of sorts the world is. How we all agree on some things that seem sane: traffic laws, for instance. And all agree on other things that seem less sane, like living with souls that are not on fire.
I don't know what I'm talking about most of the time, but especially now. It's sort of funny how, as kids, we all just believed the things our parents told us. They said, "This is your left hand and this is your right" and we never thought to question them. They said, "dogs say 'woof' and cats say 'meow'" but I for one, did not investigate this fact. I just believed. But then somewhere along the way we start believing bad things, like living with a soul that is not on fire, for the sake of responsibility or some other half-baked bullshit. We're all going to die someday, whether or not we are rich, whether or not we are drab, whether or not our souls are on fire.
Anyway, I suppose my larger point is that I didn't study economics or business or medicine or law. It takes some degree of audacity and overconfidence to believe, as a writer, that you will succeed. That you have something important to say. Important enough for someone, or lots of people, to read. But I have known, for a very long time, that running hard and writing often set my soul on fire.
A friend asked me last week if I still find time to write when work is busy. There is no question that I find time, always, to set my soul back on fire once the flame begins to die. There is no other point to living. It doesn't feel like a chore to me, either. It is simply something I must do, like breathing or blowing my nose or scooping the kitty litter.
Often, blogs or other such internet-ish things have a point to them. A tangible takeaway. Some useful tidbit of knowledge or the solution to some very puzzling problem. If I had to identify a takeaway here, I'd say don't settle for a life that does not set your soul on fire. Just don't. Don't settle, even if that's what everyone around you is doing. Don't settle because your parents or partner or teachers tell you too. Don't listen to anyone who tells you how to live your life.
Just listen to you.
P.S. Ken Jennings is the most winning Jeopardy contestant ever and you should read his books (find them here).