It's Friday night, and like most desperate people I'm out with forty three of my best friends in a dorm room talking about how to meet guys I attend college with while eating dive-hole pizza. An old season of "Felicity" mindlessly plays in the background as I stuff my face and five guys gather around a computer to see if they can web search a picture of a girl they go to class with, but barely know her name. These geeks always go for the hot girls who are a whole terabyte better than their 2-bit game of pong. I swear one of them is breaking out his Palm Pilot to see if he can find Hot Chick faster than the red-headed guy feverishly writing code on his Gateway to see if he can create a small bot to do the searching for him. Mark, then looks up from his computer and says, "what if I created a private network of just our campus so we could find out who everyone is without having to harass them?" Oh, wait- that's not my life or my Friday night.
It's Friday night, and I still can't tear myself away from my computer to call my parents on the west coast. Graduate level computer science classes my sophomore year are fascinating. My friend Paul Allen and I caught wind of a new computer, the MITS Allstair 8800, that is rumored to run on an Intel 8080 CPU and if I can just convince my parents that dropping out of Harvard to start my own software company is the way to go, Paul says he'd go all in with me. Wait, that's not my Friday night either.
So, what am I really doing? It's Friday night and I'm doing research. Boring-ish research on writing, what to write, publication, the pros and cons of self-publishing versus securing your writing from a publishing house. There's no clear or direct path. Sooner or later I will have to jettison this laptop, and not to begin my future multi-billion dollar start-up, but to do mundane things like wonder if I can get by without shaving my legs one more day or wonder if I use any more dry shampoo, will it will make my hair turn blonder, and is that fleck of gold paint out of my hair? (According to today's feedback, it's still there and still noticeable).
Unlike Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, I did graduate from college and a dang, hard one, too. I won't spell out the university, but its initials are, "Go, Tar Heels." I worked in banking for a year, since I lived in the banking capital of the United States, after convincing my boss that a misappropriated English major wanted to "know how money works so I can get money to work for me". True statement; that happened.
I knew it was only temporary. Like my friends Mark and Bill, I needed a break away from academia. My off-shore bank account is like theirs, too. Not a true statement; that hasn't happened. During my gap year of study, I applied to graduate school for English Literature. I decided I would be a professor. I loved school. I loved learning. I loved listening to those potty professors tell me my writing wasn't worthy of a trashcan. Wait, that sucked. That really sucked. So, I got mad, wrote better, worked harder, and became one of the first writing fellows at another university. Lucky me, most of my graduate school was paid for by my assistantship, but what I obtained in luck I lacked in sense. You see, I wanted to be a Shakespearean professor. What an idiotic, lofty, blow-hard I was. My epiphany came my second year when I was researching the bard for yet another paper and went to the same floor of the library, only at the other end of the hall. It dawned on me: every book on the east side of the hall was written by fellow Shakespearean researchers. Every book on the west side of the hall was written by fellow Shakespearean researchers. Did those two sentences sound almost identical? That's because they nearly are. Every book on the whole manila-smelling, paper-aroma-quaffing, student-coughing, card-cataloging floor was on William Shakespeare. My only question to myself that day was, "what else could I contribute?"
Within the larger scope, and along those lines, what else could I write? Once you've marveled at Frederick Buechner, cried at the inducement of James Joyce, been shamed at the altar of Thomas Hardy, matured enough to accept that the last bit of Hermann Hesse's "Steppenwolf" is a drug trip, and wondered how S.T. Coleridge would have written the last lines of "Christabel," you know you're a peon amongst giants. Salieri's chant from the movie, "Amadeus," rightfully mocks you—"I am the champion of mediocrity. I am the patron saint. Mediocrity is everywhere."
If I was big pharma, I was trying to create Viagra, but what I actually made was hemorrhoid cream. So I stopped writing. A husband, three kids, a few wrinkles, and possibly a firmer grip on reality later, I'm happy with hemorrhoid cream. People use it, people like it, and it gets the job done without any hard side-effects.