Nina Wolpow | Why I want to be a writer
Guest Column | And why, despite it all, I am not afraid I’m crazy
July 11, 2012, 9:41 pm·
Everyone who knows me knows I want to be a writer. It’s been that way since the first grade, when I’d take my “Weekend News” home and redo it on pads of paper brought home from my dad’s office. These were my first clips. I wanted them longer. Back then I could get more words.
These same people often wonder if I’m fearless. You are the only person, my mother says at regular intervals, who would do [such and such] without batting an eyelash.
For the record, I’m not. There are a lot of things that terrify me in this world: that I’ll never fall in love, that I’ll do so falsely and find out late, that I’ll die alone in an apartment too small for a dog, still too stubborn for a cat. Birds petrify me. I’d rather stroll a Central Park stocked with tigers than approach a pigeon.
But writing, and more particularly, being a writer, is not one of these things, though perhaps it should be. Shows like “Girls” and films like Midnight in Paris condition us to believe that writing is a dangerous pursuit. Not dangerous in a noble, sword-bearing way, but dangerous in that it is a path with no foreseeable end, except maybe a very steep cliff or a very snug pair of skinny jeans bought at Buffalo Exchange.
Certainly, there is some truth to this. Both of my aunts are writers and though I’m sure they do not regret their careers, bouts of smooth sailing have been few and far between in their lives. Of course, discontent is not exclusive to writers. We are all unhappy at some point or another. But one need not be a defeatist to identify the historical relationship between writing and misery. Hemingway, Plath, pick your poison. The great ones were all crazy.
And mental illness is not the only cause for concern. We’re hysterical about the job market, and the headlines don’t help. We’re all wondering how we’ll hold Penn diplomas in one hand and gas pumps in the other. But in my opinion, wanting to be something that is not, has never been, and never will be lucrative is not so risky. It is about as steady a career choice as they come. Writing is in my DNA. I’m stuck with it, and though most likely it won’t make me much money, it is my fittest gene.
We’re all determined to succeed, at the very least to survive. So we’re obsessed with predicting how the world will end. Creation and apocalypse are the greatest human stories. Last May we heard word from Genesis. This year it’s the Mayans and their sagacious calendar. Some say we’re going down as socialists. Others predict wasteland and the one percent. Personally, I think we’ve got a ways to go, but I don’t mind the dialogue.
Robert Frost took interest in this topic, too. I imagine most of us have read “Fire and Ice,” but I won’t make an ass of myself in the event that you haven’t:
Some say the world will end in fire, / Some say in ice. / From what I’ve tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire. / But if it had to perish twice, / I think I know enough of hate / To say that for destruction ice / Is also great / And would suffice.
This is a heavily ironic poem. Frost knew that for him it did not matter how the world might end. Explosion or implosion, it would be his job to write about it. He found a way to capitalize on the barest of situations, to make something out of nothing. That’s my plan.
My advice to you isn’t to be a writer. Like I said, that’s a DNA thing. It’s to do that thing you do, that thing you go to bed every night swearing you’ll never do again and wake up the next morning craving like a short stack.
See you at the Mobil station.
Nina Wolpow is a rising College junior from Wellesley, Mass., and editor of Summer Street. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.