"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." -- Stephen King
To be a writer, you also have to be a reader. All my life, since I first read Go Dog Go, I have been a reader. Over the years, I moved on to Little House on the Prairie then Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Once a reader, always a reader. During my twenties, I became a voracious reader. I lived in Boston, didn't own a car and took the subway to work. This was the period when I discovered John Irving, Ann Beattie, Louise Erdrich, Isabel Allende. The list goes on and on. I was once reprimanded by my boss for stepping off the elevator into the office, while simultaneously reading Lonesome Dove. Apparently, the work day began when those elevator doors slid open. For the next eight hours, I was not a reader, I was a number crunching accounting clerk.
It wasn't until recently that I became a writer. I have spent my entire working life in accounting, a job I was not temperamentally suited for. I had attended a business college outside of Boston because they gave me a full scholarship. I wanted to live at college but my parents couldn't afford room and board. This was back when private colleges cost $8,000 a year. They wanted me to commute to the state university. When the scholarship came through, my parents could no longer deny me the opportunity to live in a dorm and party on campus. I was 18, what did I know about the future and a lifetime of work in a job you didn't like?
"You should never read for enjoyment. Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends' insane behavior, or better yet, your own." -- John Waters
The accounting trade has served me well over the years. I have been able to work no matter where I've landed. I have weathered layoffs and job losses with temp work. I am currently temping now while pursuing my dream of writing. It seems there's always work for someone "who is good with numbers." This always seemed like a curse to me, to be good at something you didn't like, but at the very least it pays the bills. Someday I hope writing will help to pay the bills.
"And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." -- Sylvia Plath.
Accounting was what eventually led me to writing. I never liked my work enough to get on a career path. I had left jobs to backpack through Europe, travel cross-country, ski bum in Vail. I ran a small bookkeeping business from home when my children were young but the rising cost of health care finally caught up with our self-employed household. I took the job with benefits and landed in a cubicle as an Accounts Payable clerk, making royalty payments to writers.
"Any life will seem dramatic if you omit mention of most of it." -- Ann Beattie, Snow
Crunching numbers in a cubicle eight hours a day was driving me mad. Literally driving me mad. I began to write in earnest. At first it was just a journal for my own sanity, I had to make sense of the life I had been living. I was 54-years-old and miserable. I suddenly hated my life. It made no sense to me, so I wrote to make sense of my life.
As I drove the 45 minute commute to work, the story in my head reeled before me on the open highway, like a movie in my mind. The radio played the soundtrack. The journal became a screenplay and then the screenplay became a novel.
"If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." -- Stephen King
Today I am reading. Last week my car needed new front brakes. They cost $380 and we just returned from a 12 day trip out West to visit our daughters. I am feeling guilty, sitting here reading while my husband works. But a bit of serendipity occurred at the Meineke shop in Boca Raton last week. The avid lifetime reader picked up a recent issue of Travel & Leisure and discovered this article, "Love, Hotel Style", which led me to the writer, Thomas Beller. I have always loved the romance of hotels, the little shampoo bottles, the comfortable bedding and yes, hotel sex. I wanted to read more of his writing. I found his website, I read more of his work. I was hooked. He writes the kind of stories I like, the kind of stories I try to write. Slices of real life. I went to Amazon and bought one of his books.
"We read to know that we are not alone." -- C.S. Lewis
One particular story in the book, "Portrait of the Bagel as a Young Man," grabbed me. He writes about a time when he 27, struggling to become a writer and working as an inventory clerk. His descriptions of the job, and how he saw himself in this job, made me realize I was not alone. So many times I was criticized for hating my work. "It's a good job, everyone has to work," some of my friends and co-workers would tell me.
Today, I read Beller's description of a co-worker who had worn black leather and cowboy boots to work to maintain his self-image as a trombone player in a Latin band, working gigs in the evenings after work. He eventually changed to sweats because the clouds of flour in the bagel factory were ruining his wardrobe. He "surrendered his identity to being an accounts receivable guy at a bagel factory." I smiled and thought, I am not alone. There is another scene where he gets to leave his dungeon of an office to make a bank deposit, savoring his brief time away from his work when "the outdoors always seemed to be especially great and open." I remember that feeling so well. I wrote a scene in my book where one of the main characters, Sophie, takes a lunch break in her car with the window rolled down. As a train passes by the parking lot, she daydreams about being a ticket taker on a train, chatting to customers, standing at the open door, watching the scenery of another town pass by. Anything but an accounts payable gal in a windowless cubicle.
Many people lead happy lives working in accounting. I envy them. But not all of us are suited for this type of work. Some of us have made missteps and blunders along the way. Choices we made, and sometimes circumstances beyond our control, caused us to get off track. I am trying to right my ship, get back on track. By reading, we can find solace in the fact that we are not alone. We all have dreams and I firmly believe we need to attempt to live those dreams, whether we are twenty seven or fifty.
Because I started my day reading, I was finally visited by inspiration. I am now writing this piece and will remain at my desk, working on my second novel. I am a writer. It sounds really nice to say that.