Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Modern Man's Hustle

This piece appears in the La Vida Local section of today's Durango Telegraph. 

I have a confession to make: bookstores make me feel insecure. Well, at least until two weeks ago they did. Ever since I started being published as a writer, ten plus years ago, I’ve had a strange feeling, ever increasing throughout the years, about the fact that when I walked into a bookstore or library I didn’t have a book of my own on the shelves.

That all changed when I finally got my first book, Climbing Out of Bed, onto the shelves of Maria’s Bookshop and the Durango Public Library a couple weeks ago. I feel like I finally lost my literary virginity, and when I walked into Maria’s the other day and saw my book, well, it was a first time I’ll never forget.

Bob Dylan once said, “there’s no success like failure and failure’s no success at all.” Of course Dylan, he said it all, and along with some of my other favorite artists: Jack Kerouac, Ed Abbey, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, John Long and Jay-Z, I realized long ago there was nothing new under the sun. If I were to become an artist myself it would only be through imitation, after the first artist, only the copyist.

I had the dream about my book a decade ago, and mostly used it as a conversation piece while flirting with girls. I was a climbing bum, who wrote every once and a while, calling myself a writer, but hardly dedicated. Girls seem to be impressed by my aspirations, but I only really got serious about writing when I had tendonitis and couldn’t climb full-time anymore, stranded in Salt Lake City, Utah for a winter. I decided to start applying for a full-time job as a writer.  

I eventually landed a gig with my alma mater up at Western State, in Gunnison, writing public relations stories for the college, learning that writing nearly every day is the only way you’ll ever make it as a writer. I had access to all sorts of academic types that had been published, and saw the vision of my dream coming to fruition, if I really wanted to write a book I could make it happen with dedication and discipline.

The ironic thing about my situation: my co-workers were some of the same ones that mentored (and tormented) me through those awkward young twenty-something years of college. My brother has this theory that when a young man is say, 20 years old, he is like a one year old puppy. The puppy may look like a full-grown dog, but he is just stumbling around, making a mess, and making mistakes along the way, until he learns how to be a dog. I couldn’t agree more, at least for my own former self.

Looking back more, perhaps my greatest collegiate accomplishment was an English class I got an F in. No joke, it was called Bob Dylan 301, an entire semester of studying Bob Dylan’s work. I loved the idea of getting credit for listening to Dylan, but didn’t exactly enjoy having to analyze another writer’s work, I never have. I’d rather create my own art than analyze another’s.

Instead of dropping out, I just stopped going, hence the F. I later joked with the professor of the course when we were colleagues, “You know Bob Dylan would have been proud of me to get an F in that course.”

Without hesitation he replied, “I think you’re right,” with a big grin.

About seven years ago I compiled a list of drafts for my book, untitled, unorganized, but a draft nonetheless. One summer I managed to get into a writer’s conference at Western State for free, and one professor who had been brought in to instruct at the conference was particularly impressed with the way I wrote words. “I work these writing conferences all summer,” he said. “Usually most of the people don’t belong here, I’d say only one percent are actually going to make it as writers. You are part of that one percent.”

Ego swelled. I went on to pitch him on my book. (The professor had twenty-some books published.) It would be a collection of climbing and mountain town stories, covering topics ranging from buildering (climbing buildings) to couch surfing. He quickly replied back, “I don’t think that’s a very good idea. It won’t work.” Ego deflated.

My dream of getting my book done only came to fruition when I left the 9-5 gig. Like Forest Gump’s mom said, “God works in mysterious ways,” I had to leave my writing job to truly write what I was destined to create. After two years of solid work on the book, writing and editing every day I wasn’t on a climbing trip, I finally had a draft. Then the process of pitching to publishers began.

Writing a book is one thing, getting it published is another ball game. It’s like getting into a nightclub when you’re not wearing the right clothes, or with the right people. If you’re a dirtbag-climbing bum-writer like myself you have to sneak in the back door.

I do have some connections in the publishing world, mostly with magazines, and I solicited each and every one for advice. They gave a surprisingly short list of companies that publish writing from the climbing culture. I submitted my manuscript the most recommended first, and after four months of waiting got my first ever rejection letter, on Valentine’s Day! I was single that particular V-Day, adding to the sting. Ouch. After submitted to a couple more publishers and getting rejected, I eventually decided to self-publish.

I discovered that back door is increasingly open, and all types of new technology are making it easier and easier (not to mention financially feasible) to self-publish. The process wasn’t easy, but the story has a happy ending, and my dream was finally realized.

Being a writer is something I have to do now, rather than something I’m trying to become. It’s in my blood and if I go a little while without writing, I’m simply not myself. Just ask those close to me. In the end, that’s the reward, my work doesn’t feel like work most of the time. 

Like usual I’m struggling how to wrap up my La Vida Local for the month, so I’ll leave you with some words from another artist, Macklemore, who after years of struggling, finally made it in the hip-hop world, in his own way, without the support of a major label, “A life lived for art is never a life wasted.”

1 comment:

Al Smith said...

cheers to this! stoked for ya buddy bear.

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