MY PROVERBIAL LUCKY BREAK
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
I am in dire need of a lucky break.
I knew that I was avoiding my fate a few years back, that I was not doing what I was cut out to do, therefore I resigned from the best job I had ever had, and plunged my life savings into the realization of this command:
Be one of the greatest authors the world will ever OR never know.
I did not say writer: I said author. There is a big difference between the two as far as I’m concerned: the writer is a craftsman, perhaps a master craftsman, while the author is an artist, perchance a creative genius. Of course one may become the other, or the two may happily meet in one person.
I inserted the OR in my command because Success in this world can be a real bitch no matter what one does. With that OR my life might end blamelessly, with either success or failure. Either one of two essays would then suit the occasion: How to Succeed, or, How to Fail. Both might be put to good use by aspiring writers who want both sides of the story. No doubt Perfectionists would argue that, since no author is perfect, every success constitutes a failure; wherefore history, no matter how it is written, is always a mistake. But never mind, for it behooves us to stick with Either/Or in order to get something done.
As for worldly success, I followed the good advice I received. At least everybody said it was good advice in those days. First of all, they said, be yourself and do what you were cut out to do. That is, do what you love to do most of all, follow your core passion.
I had always fancied myself as a great author. I wrote a cool story in the second grade, about me saving the world. I scrawled out quite a bit between marriages and jobs, but wrote nothing of great note. I was not fully committed to the Work yet; my hand was not set firmly and consistently to the task. After all, there are many ways for a dreamer to avoid reality in between marriages and jobs. Nonetheless, quite a few of my little articles were published in the local papers. More than one substantial person said:
“Never stop writing.”
Not only did I stop writing, I stopped reading everything except financial statements and reports. Nor did I watch television or listen to the radio, hence I knew little about what was going on in the world. “Why do the black people look so mad today?” I asked. “Didn’t you see the papers? Because the Italian gang beat one of them to death with baseball bats last night.” “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
What did I do instead of write? I worked and saved. I danced modern, ballet, jazz, and Afro. I acted Method and I sang Blues. I quit smoking everything and I drank lots of Bass Ale to make up for it – I eventually kissed the ale goodbye. That’s about it, until 1997, when I quit my job, turned down an even better job, sold my stocks at 5% of what they would be in two years, and fled to paradise to pursue the real love of my life.
“Never stop writing.”
I wrote and wrote and wrote, I wrote so much that my worst critic called me “an infernal writing machine.” I don’t know how much inventory I have saved up, but I think it is quite a lot. When I was not writing, I was in the library stacks, sitting on the cold, tile floors in the aisles, studying, studying, studying, for years. After all, I was determined to be more than a writer, more than a craftsman who can succeed with superficial thinking and writing. Again, I was to be an author. Wherefore I needed to figure things out, deepen my thinking, study the greatest literature ever written, absorb the thoughts of geniuses, and so on. That is what I had literally dreamed of doing one night; the dream included a voice that said, “This is what you must do.” I showed up as instructed the next day – at the Hamilton Library in Honolulu.
Sometimes I resorted to magic; I stood in my favorite sections of the library and intuited the contents all at once. Eventually, things started coming to me, out of the deep so to speak. The voices of the masters silently spoke. I was haunted. I was beside myself. I was I and not-I at once. Writing became an interpretive meditation and an addiction. I had been a dancer for several years, in fine shape: and now I was wasting away physically. I no longer “lived here.” That ‘here,’ Hawaii, was an earthly paradise that I barely noticed.
Never stop writing, indeed! Writer’s block was unknown to me. After all, what else was there to do at the time but write? Nothing, so I had to sit down and do it or go absolutely mad! And here is my beloved work, the product of my core passion and the advice I took from you and you and you, for what it’s worth.
What? What credentials? Tear sheets? What tear sheets? The editor wants my credentials and tear sheets, he says, to prove that I can write well, to prove that I know something about my favorite subjects, before he will even read my work, let alone accept it for his publication. That is, the editor is not qualified to judge the quality and substance of my work. I don’t understand. My works are my credentials and tear sheets in more than one sense of the word “tear.” (I am tempted to embark on an excursus as to why the quotation mark must always follow the period in the United States).
“Before all,” I was told, “Be original!”
That was the easiest advice to follow, for I have always been a bit rebellious. As my father puts it, I have a “conflict with authority.” Most of us do, and I would capitalize on mine since I have managed to survive authority somehow. Think outside of the box? Hell, I have never been in that box. No, I did not play the ropes, I did not mount the slippery rungs of the ladder to success: I just read some of the best thinkers in the world, wracked my brains for my own positions, and I wrote and wrote, I strove to become my own author and authority, my own man, something more people should do instead of relying on the authorities – believe me, their works should be subjected to a thorough investigation.
Another piece of good advice: If at first you do not succeed, try and try and try and try again ad infinitum. Now I have done very well at whatever I set out to do, even though the work I took up ran against the grain according to occupational preference inventories and the like.
“David does a great job as the company’s accountant, but he’s not an accountant,” said the accountants. In fact, according to the tests, that was the last occupation I should have taken up, but I was hungry one day and the bookkeeping job was immediately available instead of a job as an author, professor, public relations director, interior decorator, hairdresser. I was very good at a lot of other things: dancing, singing, acting, playing instruments, making love and so on, not to mention a few business arts. But just as I was on the verge of completing something, I dropped it and went on to something else.
A ballet teacher once screamed at me: “David, you’ve got to finish things! Don’t fly across the stage, then slump down as you get near the curtains, and slouch into the wings! The audience must believe that you are going somewhere, that your performance has a purpose. ”
Yes, finish things. Good advice. Perhaps not the best advice for all aspiring writers and authors, however, given the odds against getting accepted by publishers. Finishing things can be a prescription to write oneself to death, to commit suicide by writing. According to the television show about cold cases, it might be a prescription to become a lonely serial killer living in a crummy room papered with rejection slips. But here I am. The ground is coming up fast, for I also took the advice to be courageous, to risk everything for what I love to do most, which is being and becoming myself as one of the greatest authors the world will ever or never know. To wit: I jumped without a parachute, and I need a lucky break, not a crushing blow, so we’ll see.
An anecdote: One day I heard Luigi, the jazz-dance master, ask a dance student how he made his living. “Waiting on tables,” said the young fellow. “Are you a dancer or a waiter?” Luigi asked. “Uh, a dancer,” he replied shamefacedly. “Then dance, don’t wait on tables. Dance! Get a job dancing!” exclaimed the master. The last I heard, the young man was studying to be a Jungian psychologist.
Ballet provides a different anecdote: a famous ballet master I know approached a persistent ballet student who believed she would become a professional ballerina. He walked her over to the window of the studio, pointed at the bus stop, and said, “You are not going to succeed at ballet. Take the bus home. Find something else to do.” She left in tears.
Here is more good advice for those who aspire to succeed in any walk of life: Be generous with yourself. You must give first, then you will get. If you are generous, your generosity will be returned several fold – or at least with a ten-percent profit margin.
Given my incorrigible vanity, being generous with my work came easily for me. I went to considerable expense photocopying and mailing my brilliant pieces to friends, politicians, activists and editors. But I practically gave up on editors when the Internet was made available. Most publications did not accept online submissions, and one could always publish one’s own work on open publishing sites – how convenient! Renting computer time is an expense I can hardly afford any more, but I still am quite generous with my work, posting it here and there. My rule, however, is to hold back 90% of my inventory for commercial use. Even so, one critic told me that I am giving myself away, wasting myself, pissing into infinity – he said that since my work is consistently good, that I should get off the Internet and do some marketing.
Market? Grub for dollars? Who, me, one of the greatest authors the world will ever OR never know?
Money isn’t everything. Of course writers make money. Great authors must be independent, must they not? What they need is to be discovered, to be adopted by understanding patrons, publishers, editors. What they need is a break! I am getting very lonely for dollars: I want to invite my leggy neighbor from France to dine with me at one of those sidewalk cafe’s on Lincoln Mall – by means of a note under the door, she suggested that we do so, but I must beg off with a lie because I do not want to tell her I am presently married to Lady Poverty and simply cannot afford $50 for dinner.
No, of course not, money is not everything. The best things in life, like free lunches, are free. Thousands of people have read my work on the Internet since 1997. I even have fans. I enjoy the comments people make – I have learned to feel sorry for the nasty commentators too. But I would not mind getting my money back. All told, my investment in becoming one of the greatest authors the world will ever or never know is about $100,000. At the very least, I suppose I should receive $100,000 in return for being so generous with my money and self.
Thus far I have received $600. Perhaps the best is to come. I certainly hope so. Now it is too late to start all over again and do it right, play the ropes, climb the slippery slope to success. Just for beginners, I would be long dead before I saved up enough tuition to buy a degree.
I am in dire need of a lucky break.