I coulda been a contender…..


Virtually all of us are disappointed in some element of our youthful aspirations and delusions about who we are and what we are capable of.  Everybody has to learn in his own way and by his own mistakes who he is going to be in the aftermath of this revelation.  Many accept with a shrug and nary a look back: others grow angry, bitter, or resentful,  blame anyone but themselves, and project their sense of failure onto the world at large – in other words, they wholly fail to accept their situation, like the hungry ghosts of Chinese folklore; still others continue to hope against hope and spend the interior episodes of their existence in parallel lives of their own edification.  But unless we have suffered especially bad luck, most of us will have to learn to live with the fact that our circumstances and accomplishments are largely the results of the choices we have freely undertaken to make. (125)

Jesse Browner, How did I get here? Making peace with the road not taken  (Harper Wave 2015)

A shot of sanity for all of you frustrated geniuses who have to work for a salary instead of being free to create.  Jesse Browner, a minor novelist and full-time civil servant, mulls over the path taken and the path not taken. This would be a very interesting book for a book group, particularly a group that contains writers.

9 thoughts on “I coulda been a contender…..

  1. When it comes down to it, it is how we measure success. I remember some rather famous person was asked about his success and about his greatest accomplishment. In his own words – “I haven’t killed anyone yet.”

    1. Ah, modesty. I wonder what he really, thought, though. It’s fine to be modest when you’ve made it. This book is interesting though because lots of people who want to be artists, or top sportsmen, feel that they’re held back from what they could have achieved because they can’t give all their time to it. I;m not so sure about that. I think if you have a great work in you it will come out no matter what.

      1. Interesting — reminds me of a sort-of lit crit book about being a minor writer [http://www.uiowapress.org/books/pre-2002/gilbeia.htm] — “Being a Minor Writer” by Gail Gilliland. I have gotten about a quarter of the way through it, and stopped because it was too much angst about moral and ethics and purpose. The review at the link makes it sound fascinating, so maybe I should slog on a little way further. “I Coulda Been a Contender” sounds more interesting.

        I decided in my early twenties that there was no evidence for the notion that I would ever serve the world by birthing great art, so I had better get busy and do something else worthwhile. I think that was a good choice, and am delighted now to have the chance to be a better writer.

        1. How sane you were in your early twenties- and still are, of course. I do feel a certain impatience with people who feel they need to devote their lives to writing when what they produce is, well, okay, but not anything the world couldn’t do without. There’s an Australian writer who shall be nameless who says it takes her four years to write a book, full-time, and having read a couple of them I definitely think there would be better things to do with four years of your life. I also think that it’s really important for writers to have a life other than writing – to be engaged in the world as other than “a writer”.

          1. So many examples of people like Anthony Trollope, Wallace Stevens, and more who were otherwise employed. And, it turns out that these days many excellent writers make their livings as teachers.

            My all-time favorite is Francis Trollope, Anthony’s mother who wrote what were characterized by one biographer as Grade B romance adventure novels to pay for her travel books (other biographers characterize the novels more kindly; some were anti-slavery in the 1830s; others were anti-clerical and anti-Catholic) She was an early traveler in the United States, and went around Europe and the U.S. with a small entourage (including her children) but without her ne’er -do-well husband.

            1. And of course P.D. James used to get up at 5 am to write before setting off for her work as a civil servant. didn’t know about Trollope’s mama.. I think Mrs Aphra Behn had a similar story of needing to provide for a large brood, didn’t she?

  2. You can’t live your life again (and would I want to anyway?) so there seems little point in having regrets or, worse, moaning about it. But not everybody wants to live in the present, and the good thing about ruminating on the past is that one might learn some lessons from the paths not taken. Another title to take note of. Yet another, dammit!

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