Are you whom you want to be?

We are whom and what we make ourselves to be.

No, no,” voices scream from crammed intersections, a cacophony of blaring horns and indignant chalkboard wails, “we would have preferred having been born rich(er), and naturally, more handsome, beautiful, healthy, intelligent, charming and talented, and with a few hugely influential family ties at our disposal. Moreover, this state of our existence is not due to us, but to God/society/responsibilities/our addiction to meth/the devil.”

I grant some truth to the foregoing.  But still—we make choices. Every day, every minute.  I am a writer and doll artist because I have juggled, made deals with myself, consciously chosen lower income and a part time job as a writing instructor so I have the time to pursue my own creative projects.  I have done this for about thirty years.

There are other jobs I could have chosen, even while I was in Saudi Arabia where there is a paucity of jobs for Saudis themselves and certainly for foreign wives (who have to work illegally—read Sylvia Fowler’s fabulous memoir, The Red Sea Bride, for more on that bizarre experience).  I could have been an aerobics teacher or photographer. Why not? I used to do a lot of jumping jacks. I had a camera.  I could have started a kindergarten.  Hell, I could have been a clown.  Three American ladies in Jeddah formed an illegal clown company.  (What a way to thumb one’s nose at a government! Be an illegal clown!)

I was always writing something, moving that pen, typing on keyboards, playing with words.

The acclaimed American writer William Vollman used to hide under his office desk when the end of the work day came, sleeping there, so that he could use the computer (being too poor to afford one himself) to write his first novels.

Sometimes I get mad at myself.  Should have been a radiologist, I mutter in my head, could have had a far, far better income. That doubt returned to me a couple days ago when a lovely young student revealed she gets twice as much (if not a bit more) in a monthly government grant to take six units as I get to teach six units.

At first I felt bad.  I went to the doctor (not for the jealousy, for a nasty cough).  He saw me with a book on my lap (by Vollman, that’s why I am thinking of him). “I consider that such a luxury,” the doctor said. “Totally self indulgent.”

My doctor, a very intelligent man, doesn’t get to read.  He (has to, cough, cough) work six days a week.  Last time I was at his office, I had a school textbook, so he was more—how can I put this—supportive. But with Argall, Vollman’s innovative literary approach to the history of Captain John Smith and Pocohontas on my lap, my doctor clearly felt jealous—of my cushy life, my time to read.  Though he probably earns ten times a year what I make, he can only take off about three weeks to travel to exotic locales. He has a lot of patients.  We are all waiting for him to return. And that is what he chooses to do: return to his patients.

I felt a lot better after seeing him. The cough medicine isn’t really working and I may need antibiotics, but he made me grateful for having followed my heart and for having made choices consciously, willingly.  I paid for the freedom to write, and I have it.  If I tell you how much fun it is, you will be jealous.

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Writers and the technology trap

There’s something about modern technology that sends writers running for cover. If we were characters in LOST, we’d know exactly why we wanted to get back to the island—as long as the timeframe we landed in was the 1970s. Like Sawyer and Juliet, most of us would embrace the simpler lifestyle those days provided (less the weird Dharma Initiative folks, of course). Alas, the world keeps changing, pushing us forward. Writing a book is no longer the end of our journey, it’s merely a step along the ever-lengthening path. A path where new obstacles seem to appear every day.

Back in the 90s, when MP3 players were first coming onto the scene, I asked both of my daughters if they’d like one for Christmas. Each carried her CD Walkman with her most where ever she went. Given how CDs required a bigger or extra carry case and were easily stolen or lost, I thought the idea of having a tiny device that held more music without the hassle of CDs would be a huge hit. Instead, they rolled their eyes and told me MP3 players were stupid, and no one wanted one.

Now of course, both girls have numerous devices that make MP3 players seem like dinosaurs. CDs will ultimately go the way of vinyl and cassettes, leaving us with the digital only format for music. Regular DVDs are being replaced by higher quality Blu-ray discs, which in turn will eventually give way to digital downloads. Analog TV is out, high-def digital is in. Next up, 3-D TV, complete with those silly 3-D glasses (only they won’t be so silly at $500 a pop).

As much as we might wish it were so, the publishing world is not immune to technology. Many well-known newspapers have folded in the past five years. Those that have survived supplement their hardcopies with on-line versions. Most publishers have added e-books to their printed catalogues, and new e-book readers to compete with Kindle arrive every few months. As Spock from the old Star Trek series might say, logic would dictate it’s only a matter of time before those printed catalogues disappear entirely in favor of digital books.

There are tons of writers and readers out there who will scoff at that prediction. I used to be one of them. And some days, I still am. After all, I did use a notepad and pen to jot down notes for this article over breakfast this morning. Old habits die hard, don’t they?