By Shanti Perez.
Picture credit: Shanti Perez
Over the years I’d lost something precious: Magic. Perhaps the magic went out with struggles of teenage years, exhaled through my lungs to make room for business degrees or, like the pouring of a candlewax mold, was sealed in concrete. Whatever the case, during my early thirties I started to wonder how to conjure the magic I’d known ‘before,’ prior to a time when harder life lessons had snapped their fiery jaws, so shrinking my imagination in order that ‘seriousness’ could take control.
The great thing about being a writer is that you are not a rock star—O, but then again you may be. When you mention this, you might hear from those who are hopeful about aging rock stars, “Ah, but look at so-and-so, still rocking at seventy.”
“Still rocking at seventy. But started rocking at twenty, no doubt.”
Behind the walls of our homes, we writers are like vampires. Why not dress ourselves up a bit? Let’s sprinkle a bit of pretending into our lives, shall we? Writers are ageless. Face-less. Name-less. We are inventors who wear unlimited disguises, and if we are exceptional at our craft, we are invisible. We are entertainers—behind-the-scenes mechanics who open magic doors. We writers, if we find that balance between ego and doubt, work critically and effectively. We achieve a natural ‘high’. When our knack gets lost, the world knows. If we’re one of the lucky ones, we know we’ve got it. What we do with it is up to us. So many take their magic to the grave having never shared a word.
Last week I tried listening to a classic rock band (from the late sixties and seventies) that I used to enjoy when I was a twenty-something, my walls back then decorated in black light posters of the front-man, my car stereo out of sync with my generation's taste in music. I suppose I thought something cool about this rock group. Cool and tragic.
The critical ear that has become me, easily bored and unimpressed, switched the iPod off after trying to listen to this group recently. All I hear today listening to this once revered musician are drug-addicted mumbles and his drug-addicted band scolding his drug-addicted audience. No thanks.
Call it art? People loved this band for something. (Maybe as an alcoholic likes a companion to drink with.) I loved it—at one time, too, though I may have been too naïve (and sober) to understand the appeal of all that surrounded that band’s music scene. Alas! The front-man died of an overdose like so many others.
Were his lyrics and sounds fueled by drugs and youth? Is it true that legends die young? Is a fast and furious lifestyle necessary? Perhaps for some there is a small window of vitality lived quickly and killed with a bang before the sun sets. For those artists the evening never comes. But for many writers the evening contains the deepest hues, the soberest lyrics and one’s reflection has aged a fine wine.
Yes, there exists the allure of the round-table where writers smoke and drink and talk. One thinks of Dorothy Parker or Charles Bukowski. Generations of hip authors hanging out and reading in bars. Edgar Allen Poe staggering drunken—be it his last night on earth to tell a tale from the heart.
This is not for everyone.
Alice Munro is a rock star. She is eighty-three.
I’ve tried some of that—the bars, the groups, hanging out with these people and those people and attending this and that. But going way back—to when I had magic—I was awkward and ridiculously shy, a loner who kept an immaculate bedroom and studied ancient Egypt and bred guppies—just a little girl, without any close friends, who checked out too many books at the library before considering how to get them home.
Then I got lost trying to please others, trying to be ‘different’ from the kind of different I was naturally, working as hard as I could putting degrees under my belt. The wrong degrees, perhaps, though no one was pushing me but myself. I had to ‘prove’ that I wasn’t any of those nasty things people had claimed I was.
I had to surpass the opinions of others.
And that is where the trouble lies. Magic dies when we struggle nonstop against the tides. When we want to be the opposite of what our parents see in us, just because we don’t get along with our parents, have lived a loveless childhood. Or, our parents may have pushed us to be what they had planned for us, so we became a doctor instead of a writer, and then must go back and find the writer again, resuscitate our muses and start from the beginning.
We middle-aged (and beyond) writers can be thankful we’re not determined to become rock stars in the literal sense. (Maybe it’s a good thing I have a crappy singing voice.) Better optimism lay in believing our stories have matured with us and only now must be told. Think of it this way: the world is our stage. When published, our stories are on the radio. Signal strength is determined by our personal ingenuity with words. Once we step onto the platform, the music begins and our true voices ring out if we are ready, if we are ‘there’.
We will rock you, but we have to answer the call when the muse rings.
Are you ready?
Shanti Perez is the Fiction editor at Open Road Review.