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The Lesson of 2013

Published on January 27, 2014 by in Uncategorized

I had to have the Lesson of 2013 spelled out for me this year, and even then, I didn’t “get it” until a couple days ago. I could blame the bronchitis, I guess. Shall we blame the bronchitis? Let’s.

Today's Style

I take a lot pictures of myself–and living with a photographer, have many pictures of myself taken–and 2013 was no exception. I like this one the best. I’m wearing a fantastic tie. It looks like I’m laughing,  and that I’m going someplace.

(I’m not, of course. I’m posing for a picture. But I like the illusion photography creates in general, and this illusion in particular. Some illusions are true in spite of themselves.)

I’ve just got done reading John Green’s THE FAULT OF OUR STARS. I’m familiar with Green through his videos, not his fiction, so it was nice to see actually what people were raving about besides the articulate and slightly nervous bespectacled individual on YouTube. The novel is great, and I’ll get to talking about in this space eventually, but I want to talk about Green first, because in order to understand the Lesson of 2013 you need to understand that I always thought of John Green and my friend Will as very much alike.

The Q&A at the back of my copy of THE FAULT OF OUR STARS where Green talks about his love of intellectual puzzles and David Foster Wallace’s INFINITE JEST do not disabuse me of this notion.

Green is very much Will, and Will, Green, though Will does not write novels (yet) and Green does not make out with my friend Alison (…yet?). All through THE FAULT OF OUR STARS, I am making all sorts of mental notes of what Green is doing as writer and what I can, should and won’t get away with stealing. And while some of those note are valid for everyone (Green has a brilliant way to get around the “how does the narrator describe themselves?” question) the fact remains that I’m not Green. Will is more Green than I am, and he doesn’t even write novels (yet).

If anything, I am more of a Paul F. Tompkins. But Paul F. Tompkins is doing his own thing, as are Green, and Will, and Alison.

(You may be able to see where the Lesson of 2013 is going, here)

I received an email in November in which a person referred to my writing having, and I quote,  “changed my life in the most wonderful way possible.” It is something I treasure. And yet, even after I have received such a wonderful validation of who I am and what I do, I still find myself clawing for the recognition of others. “I don’t win awards,” I bitterly said to my wife recently (who does win awards, because she brilliant and also doing her own thing), ignoring the fact that who cares about awards when you’ve changed someone’s life? Augustus, one of the main character of THE FAULT OF OUR STARS, rails against the heavens for the chance to save someone’s life, and here I am, not only not dying of cancer and not fictional, but have done it. Without even trying, at that. Just me, doing my own thing.

Go me.

So here we are, nearly a month into 2014 and I am just now understanding what the Lesson of 2013 was. I have to do my own thing. I need to not care about being recognized, about what goes on this site, about whether my internet persona is appealing to enough to people and what I need to do to get noticed. That stuff, all of that stuff, comes after. What’s important, what changes peoples lives in the most wonderful way possible, is the writing.

I gotta do my own thing. Part of that is laughing. Another part is going places. And wearing fantastic ties.







The Battle of Blood and Ink: A Fable of Flying City
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2 Responses

  1. My friend, may I just say, that you are not alone in your struggle. I have a whole page from an annual review 2 yrs ago that has written across it “It’s not about me.” It is a near-daily frustration for me to overcome the angst of not being… famous, for want of a better word, although that’s not really correct.

    And, like you said, we do good work. I relish the small moments when a theater-user (patron, actor) ends a night and says to me, on the way out the door, “Oh, I had such a good time tonight.” The formal accolades cannot take the place of the individual moments that come from doing our own thing.