Here is what I don’t miss about living the life of a writer, the life I lived for 25 years of adulthood. I realized recently that even when I was happy and fulfilled, publishing my work, novels and nonfiction, I was continually in a state of wanting.
I wanted to write a good sentence.
… wanted to write a good paragraph.
…wanted … a page, a chapter, a book.
I wanted a jackpot, to win the lottery of book advances, to have publishers wrangle over my work.
I wanted my editor to pay attention to me .
… wanted him to love my book.
… wanted my publishing company to go all in on it, devote thought and resources to promoting it. I wanted to punish them when they didn’t: want, want, want.
Oh, you’re a writer, people always said. And it was fantastic to be that creature, a writer. Except when it wasn’t.
I wanted to see my book in the world.
I wanted to see the cover in a bookstore window.
I wanted readers.
… wanted readers to love my book.
… wanted readers to talk about my book, to talk to me about my book.
I wanted to talk about my book.
… wanted to talk to readers about me.
… wanted to talk in front of audiences.
… wanted to hear applause.
I wanted my book to be reviewed.
… reviewed in The New York Times.
…(USA Today would be okay.)
…I wanted notices in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.
…I wanted those reviews to be starred.
…I wanted people to read the reviews and buy my book.
I wanted my peers to read my book.
I wanted people to see me in my book.
Oddly enough, I got all these things, just not enough. Could it ever be enough?
When I decided to take a hiatus from publishing I freed myself from all the wants. I didn’t know it would happen, that I would become an arborist, just that I needed a job and loved the idea of saving trees.
Wants are painful, even if you get what you want some of the time. You know the jewel-toned leaves on the forest floor, dreams right in front of you? You can touch them, but you can’t possibly collect them all. I was always caught up in the desire, and the reality invariably fell short. Gautama Buddha: Desire is the cause of all evil.
What do I want now that my work is so different? I want to be wantless. What’s right in front of me every day: a strong cup of coffee. A restroom near the site. Clear weather. Protecting a root. Seven hours of sleep. The foreman smiling at me, chewing his cigar. (He doesn’t know I’m a writer, and couldn’t care.) Not having to endure too much of a logjam on the drive back home. And again, saving a root. Simple.
Saving a root, I am saving myself.