Choose a job, say nine to five; making art is fine if you don’t need to pay rent or buy shoes, but say you do. Find a job – any job will do, you’re still young – so get something, but first don’t finish college, no, not right away, first fall in love in your third semester with a dark-haired young man and get married. Marry the first idealistic young man you meet whose black hair falls into his baby blue eyes and is so painfully shy you eventually ignore your path and your dreams change.
Sometime later in your life you can choose art over money, but not at first. First, you are twenty-something drinking tequila for breakfast while devouring books by Salinger; you are trying to find your writing voice, though in truth you may not have one, certainly not Salinger’s. You don’t even have a desk in the two furnished rooms you’re renting. Your rented rooms sport a lumpy bed and a horsehair couch; what further reason do you need to drink heavily and wait for your husband to be drafted to Vietnam?
Earn less than $3.00 an hour, but hey, there’s a war/no war going on, what do you expect? Break open the penny jar for carfare and keep your two rooms scrubbed while you watch Martin Luther King die, then Bobby Kennedy. Take mental pictures and think of adjectives to describe these horrific events even if you are too distraught, too preoccupied, to write them down. As you join the convention march in Chicago and find yourself in the bowels of Maxwell Street. Take mental notes on how desolate and deserted in the darkness it is, except for you and your still painfully shy, idealistic husband. Life will change again, but take heart: these remembrances could become a story.
Choose education for yourself to learn more about your craft as you try to unravel the secret to Salinger’s brilliance. But first wait until your husband struggles to finish his degree via night courses and your firstborn is in kindergarten. Choose your philosophy courses carefully, avoid the didactic English classes, take more anthropology and music theory and start your career as a librarian. Working in a library, see all the stories waiting to be written. When you meet someone who loves stories as much as you, start an affair.
Consider writing about the affair before it spirals down to its inevitable end. Suddenly notice your aging Holden-like husband has turned real estate broker in a three-piece suit. Wish this were someone else’s story. Attempt to choose between your husband and your lover, but first get pregnant while on the pill. Nevertheless, buy maternity clothes, diapers, and tiny t-shirts for precious Emily or little man Zack, though naturally who cares what you have, this is your child, your ultimate creation. Should the pregnancy end in a miscarriage in your fifth month, think fate, destiny, that claptrap about how this was probably meant to be. Don’t think: a better outcome might have occurred if you’d chosen to name them Franny or even Zooey. Don’t let yourself talk or even think about this; certainly, vow never to write about it.
As you go about the daily business of not talking, thinking or writing about this or any number of things, you may or may not feel like writing anything, but not to worry. Working, housekeeping and the upkeep of your husband and lovers will keep you busy, but those bits of stories you started and never finished will be safely stashed in a drawer, and are certainly in the underpinnings of your mind.
This will give you something to confess when you enter graduate school in your late thirties and start to teach creative writing. It is perfectly fine to confess that your teaching is an ode to Salinger’s charming Esmé, or perhaps call your class "Confessions of a Writer", just as long as you teach everything you know about writing (and not writing) to your young students wishing to become famous writers. Explain about the inferno in your gut that flows out through your hand when you are free to write anything; teach them how to just keep their hand moving and write. As you admire your students works, or not, watch them try while you don’t. Unlike your students, you cannot sit down to a blank sheet of paper on command, you have to wait for an inspiration or a new story by one of your favorite authors to move you. Never admit to your students how you work; instead counsel with patience and art and watch a few of them grow into powerful, prolific writers and move on.
Watch your youth fade.
When you feel like writing, write an email.
Begin a story about a writer who can’t write anything, not even emails.
Make friends with a medium. Take up meditation and tai chi.
Consider writing a story about a psychic but intuit it would probably go nowhere.
Once you’ve raised yourself, divorce your husband, and quit that anxiety-filled day job you finally admit is making you crazy; then watch the stock market suddenly plunge and the jobless rate rise to nearly double digits. As the jobless months go by, inform prospective employers you have been working on a novel for the past six months, a story you repeat until you start to believe it. Believe you have never stopped being a writer, you only stopped writing, and begin the job of tapping into that fire you know has been inside you forever. Begin cleaning out your drawers, your junk-filled garage, that jumbled mess you call a closet. This is the perfect time to shampoo your cat-hair-saturated carpet. Once your house is in order, your children raised and your desire for new lovers have passed, at long last you will have an uncluttered heart, an unfettered mind with which to dream.
Once your house is in order, begin.