I’ve been writing this post about writing stories with hope, and I was about a third of the way through when I stalled out. It isn’t that I don’t have a lot to say about writing hopeful stories, or why I think we need them. It’s just that something more personally important to me took over my brain and insisted that I write about it first. Okay, brain, you win.
I’ve been thinking about the Big Why, as in “Why do you do X thing?” aka “What’s your motivation?” It’s been on my mind for a while, actually, combined with thoughts about legacy and how much fame is enough. It’s all entwined together in my thoughts, so I’ve been pulling at the threads.
I’ll be 56 at the end of the year. Even though I don’t feel old, creeping time and a body dealing with chronic illness have really brought those thoughts to the forefront. A brush with death will really make you question what you’re doing with your life! In my case, I’ve been considering the path I’ve taken and what I want to achieve with it. It comes down to three big questions:
- What have I done?
- Where am I going?
- What will I leave behind?
What I’ve done [so far]
I can’t be mad at the list of things I’ve done so far. It isn’t “distinguished” or “laudable” I suppose, but I managed to achieve so many things I always wanted to do.
I’ve got the ridiculous job list of: performer, musician, DJ [both club and radio], fiber artist, small business owner, writer, teacher of arts, professional cook, barista and coffee roaster, office manager, restaurant manager, occult bookstore/botánica manager, boutique manager, and for a short while… clown. Some of those jobs were things I’d dreamed about doing, like being a DJ and singing in a band.
If you’ve read my books you’ll see many of these jobs come up as things the supporting characters do for a living. Food service in particular is a forgiving occupation and perfect for those who might be considered outsiders. Bar/club jobs, too. They allow musicians, writers, and other creatives a way to make a living, because creative pursuits aren’t generally lucrative until you reach the big time, and sometimes not even then. Those jobs allowed me to pay bills and also look the way I wanted to look, with brightly dyed hair and piercings. These days it’s more accepted, but I had a lot of rejections back in the day thanks to my style alone. As that was something that brought me joy, I didn’t compromise, and found ways to make it work. Those values show up in my characters, too. They believe in who they are and how they want to be seen in the world.
Now I write full time, and I share the stories with the world that I’ve been creating since I knew what a story was. I am not a well-known writer, though I’m making strides in getting my name out there. There are a lot of other writers out there, and although I don’t look at any other creative as competition but rather as a colleague, it does make it a little harder to be seen and noticed. I know that it takes time and hard work to establish oneself. But I do worry that I’ll never get the readership that I’ve dreamed of having. It takes so much labor to get one’s books seen and picked up by anyone!
Where am I going?
Here’s part of what’s been kicking around my brain: what do I expect from this, from being an author? The concept of fame and what it gives – and its toll – have been something I’ve thought deeply about.* I am quite far from being famous right now, and maybe it’s presumptuous of me to even think about being well known in the SFF world, or any other world. I don’t want fame as much as knowing that there are enough people out there enjoying my work that I’ll know that I left at least the smallest ripple on the water. It’s an “I was here, dammit!” but also a “I felt this, and if you did too, I wrote things that will make you feel less alone – did you find them?”
I can’t control how my legacy is finalized. But I can keep doing the things that I do best, and I can keep trying to improve on them. I can continue to share my words and thoughts and encourage others who want to follow the same path that I’m on. I can pay attention to the world around me, especially the parts that are different from the ones I’ve experienced, and talk about them in my stories, and in social media. I can contribute money and time and words to the causes that I think need me.
It’s not any different than what I’m already doing, though.
What else? I can keep making connections. I can do my best to educate myself, both in honing my craft and how to connect better on behalf of my works. I can keep working to make myself a better person. I can keep building community by sharing what I’ve learned and by lifting other creatives up, especially those with less privilege than me. I can continue to be open, honest, and vulnerable about my struggles and triumphs. I can try to keep myself positively focused, even when things are a struggle.
In my dreams, I want to have written books that are widely read, the kind that somehow win prizes and acclaim and get my name in the conversations with other authors with the same kind of themes and goals. I’d like to sit on panels about kind stories and the power of hope in SFF and bringing magic into urban landscapes that aren’t all gentrified. I want to attend more conventions and other events [health willing, of course] and feel like I actually have a peer group and that I belong there. Some of these goals I can’t control, but there are enough here that I can actually put effort into manifesting. Let’s see what the future holds, shall we?
What will I leave behind?
That’s the big question, the one I can’t answer. Will I be forgotten? Will my stories disappear? Will my legacy be a moderately infamous small goth club night that happened during the late 90s/early 00s in Central VA, and some remnants of my personal musical taste that linger? Or will I be able to leave something more lasting and [hopefully] more impactful?
In some ways, I guess it’s none of my business. I won’t be here to take joy in what people say after I’m gone, so I’d better focus on what I do now.
I promise that I’ll always be open and honest with you, reader. Maybe [probably] oversharing at times, because I have a policy of showing the lows and the highs equally. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that it’s helped them, to see their struggles mirrored in what I share. Maybe that’s my legacy. I don’t know. Maybe a legacy really doesn’t matter if I help someone now.
* I wanted to share the new track from RM’s latest, Indigo, here. It’s called 들꽃놀이 [Wild Flower] and the lyrics are deeply personal and talk about fame and the toll it takes. I’ve probably cried over it a hundred times since it released a couple of days ago.
Even before the start, I imagined들꽃놀이 Wild Flower, RM
An end where I could applaud and smile
That’s what I wishеd for
When everything I bеlieved in grew distant
When all this fame turned into shackles
Please take my desire away from me
No matter what it takes
Oh, let me be myself