My mother gave me that album when I was seven years old, and it changed my life … for the better, I used to think … but now I’m starting to wonder.
To make a long story slightly less long than it’s probably going to end up being anyway — because we all know how much I love the sound of my own voice — that album, and the band that made it, basically carved into my young and impressionable DNA the lifelong belief that I should never give up on my dreams. (Spending one’s childhood worshipping four dudes who not only became rock stars, but who also became bona fide comic-book superheroes, will do that to a kid … especially a scrawny little pipsqueak of a kid whose love of music became both an escape from a rocky childhood and adolescence, and a source of strength and inspiration straight through adulthood.)
That “You can make your dreams come true” philosophy allowed me to spend most of my life believing I was destined for greatness … although just what form that greatness would take always remained something of a mystery to me. Would I be a rock star? For a while, I thought I would. Learned how to play the drums and everything. Sadly, KISS never called. Assholes.
Unsure of what to do next, I joined the army and spent a few years operating under the misguided notion that I would pursue a career in law enforcement. Fortunately, I got over that … and, even more fortunately, my time in the army gave me some much needed discipline and self-confidence, attributes in which I had been sorely lacking, and both of which served to further steel my resolve that I would, in fact, achieve greatness … whatever that might mean.
Having ruled out careers in both music and law enforcement, my search for the path to my dream life continued. A Howard Stern-inspired foray into college radio followed, and it was while attending college that I discovered three very important things:
- Radio is a shitty industry.
- I am not Howard Stern.
- I have a natural talent for writing.
Fortunately, that last one finally gave me something to work with. Music was out, law enforcement was out and radio was out … but, lo and behold, I could write. Hallelujah.
I’ve already documented in great (some would say “excruciating”) detail my adventures with Van Halen, and have often mentioned my post-Van Halen life as a music journalist (which, much to my inner child’s delight, actually included interviewing and photographing KISS). Suffice it to say that finding a way to make a living by listening to music, going to concerts and occasionally hanging out with some of my musical idols felt like the ultimate validation of my decision to hold on to my dreams and pursue a career that I loved. I worked hard, I took some chances, I believed in myself … and it all paid off — for a while.
For years, the writing I did as a music journalist was the only writing I did at all … and whatever part of me believes I have some creativity of my own to offer was always painfully aware that, as well-written as I like to believe my reviews, interviews and other articles may have been, working as a music journalist is, by its very nature, a parasitic existence. Someone else would create something original and entertaining — and, sometimes, inspiring — and I would write about it. Great way to make a living; not a great way to prove to yourself that you, too, are capable of creating something original and entertaining — and, with any luck, occasionally inspiring.
Then, about six or seven years ago, I discovered Dooce.com, and immediately was inspired to launch a blog of my own. The realization that I could just start publishing my own writing on the Internet, and that there might actually be an audience for such nonsense, was a life-altering moment for me. There’s a big difference between walking around for years saying to yourself “I know I can write” and actually writing … and there’s a big difference between writing in private and putting it out there for all to see. Blogging finally gave me the forum I’d been looking for.
And so, for a number of years, I made a living as a music journalist while simultaneously finding my own writing style, or creative voice, or whatever you want to call it, as a blogger. It wasn’t necessarily the dream life I had envisioned, but it seemed like a pretty good place to plateau for a while. Plus, watching Dooce.com go from being a little website with no ads to being an Internet behemoth that generates oodles of cash left me (and 9 bazillion other bloggers) thinking, “Hey, I might be able to pull that off, too! Blogging will pave the way to fame and fortune!”
Five years later, I’m famous among dozens and my blog has generated enough cash that, if I budgeted very carefully, I could probably take my wife out for a nice meal and have enough left over to buy myself a pair of pants — assuming that the pants are on sale and can be paid for in monthly installments … all of which would seem less depressing to me if I was still in my 30s, working from home as a music journalist … but the music-journalism job came to a crashing halt last year, and now I’m in my 40s, working in a cubicle as a web developer.
That dream life I mentioned? I’m fairly certain it doesn’t look like this:
I also am fairly certain it doesn’t involve perpetually being one unexpected automotive repair away from financial ruin.
And, above all else, I’m absolutely, positively certain that it does involve writing my own original material.
When I was in my 20s, achieving personal, professional and financial success as a writer seemed like an excellent goal that I had plenty of time to work toward. When I was in my 30s, achieving personal, professional and financial success as a writer seemed like a goal that I was moving toward, albeit in a slow and meandering fashion.
I’m 41. It’s time to either make this shit happen or shut the fuck up and embrace mediocrity.
Fortunately — or, depending on how you look at it, unfortunately — I’m not capable of doing the latter.
Problem is, I haven’t had any luck figuring out how to accomplish the former.
I had long been counting on my father-in-law to help guide my writing career. It is one of the main reasons I was willing to relocate to Pennsylvania. Sadly, that plan got annihilated in mind-blowingly epic fashion last summer. Looks like I’ll have to figure this out on my own.
Blogging has most definitely helped me grow as a writer, but it seems clear that blogging alone ain’t gonna pay the bills, nor will it completely fulfill my personal and professional career goals.
So now what? Write a book? Write a script? Write a ransom note?
Financially speaking, that last one is probably my best bet … but the threat of ending up as some prison bully’s wife has me shying away from that option. Thus, the answer right now is a resounding “I don’t know” … but I intend to figure it out.
And then I intend to do it.