Flotsam and Jetsam
"Do you plan on working in cafes all your life or do you have bigger plans?"
"I want to write." I said without thinking, "Live by my writing."
This is a conversation I had at a coffee shop in my neighbourhood where I worked. I held the place in the mornings, a cook, a cleaner, a waitress, a hostess and a dishwasher, all of them locked inside me and perform when needed.
I had a regular customer, let's call him S. A lovely espresso drinker who always had something to say. Every time I went for a cigarette break, and he was out there, I'd sit and very quickly drift and smoke five in a row. S was old, diabetic and had many other kinds of illnesses he preferred not to talk about. I say "was", because unfortunately, he passed away last year.
"Well, that's a beautiful dream," he said, "but there's a great distance between wanting and doing. What do you do about it?"
"I occasionally send material to various places, magazines, anthologies... but my novel is not yet finished." I said, and then leaned forward as a secret holder and added, "People are constantly suggesting that I post material on the internet, but internet and I... it doesn't work. I don't have Facebook, I hate social media," I sat back up in my chair and added, "Besides..."
"What if I succeed? I'll be exposed to everyone. What if my ex read me, someone I went to school with growing up, or, oh have mercy... my parents. In the past, a secret diary was as it should be, secretive. If anyone read it, one would be upset. Today, one would be upset if no one is reading it."
He chuckled, "Most people are afraid to fail, to be incompetent, and you afraid to succeed? And even if you where to succeed as an author, do you think you'll still have your privacy?"
While he lit another cigarette, I was pondering. At least the literary world belongs to the masters. The Web is the cheapest place to put manuscripts I've worked so hard on. It's the same network where 14-year-old girls write touchy posts about a gel nail polish that didn't last long enough. Several times I tried to apply as a journalist. A newspaper is a place that allows you to learn how to write, explore the world, see everything at once but also break it down into portions. I could improve my writing skills and get paid for it, but my attempts were fruitless. Only people that are already famous manage to write in the papers. My manuscripts were usually received enthusiastically, but published in books or newspapers that no one had heard of; I was confined somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle of the Literary Ocean, and getting out of it requires... lots of courage. I inhaled my cigarette, at the same time gathering the strength to admit what no one aspires ever to admit, "I'm scared."
S looked at me for a few moments, and then he said, "You know, when I was young, I was afraid of talking to the ladies."
"That doesn't sound like you," I said. S was in a great relationship with all the women in the cafe and not just with me. His words overrun quickly through the flirtations of young women.
"I know, but I wasn't always so savvy and cool," he smiled with his yellow teeth, "I used to be very cowardly. I was scared that a pretty lady I hit on would reject me; I didn't even know how to respond to rejection. Couldn't handle it. One day, a good friend of mine said to me, 'S, what are you afraid of? If this lady says no, there are other ladies. In the end, you'll have a huge selection of rejections - but that only gets you closer and closer to the one that says yes.'" S drank his long espresso and looked at me justifiably, "and I tried, and went, and told the lady that I wanted to go out for coffee with her, and she declined. And I did it over and over. Until I reached my wife, who ruined my life, but that's another story. Do you understand the point?"
After thinking about it for a while, I sincerely answered "No".
"You want to be successful, but afraid to be exposed. One can't happen without the other. One has to get out of one's comfort zone to succeed. Do you think I didn't feel exposed when I hit on the ladies? Every time it was like running naked down the hill with my bollocks dangling, but I kept going because I knew that in the end, after all the humiliation and anxiety, I would get somewhere. Don't overthink it; do what you know to do best. It gets easier and easier the more you do it, like it got easier for me from one lady to the other. Your success is out there, waiting beyond the exposure and nudity, you have to arrive at where it is. You have to run down the hill naked as if your life depends on it."
I smiled. "I'm making you another espresso," I said, don't know how else to express my gratitude.
"Make me and make one for yourself," he said, "And then I want to hear about this novel of yours."