In referring to Madeline among my friends, I call her “my protégé,” though I doubt she’d call herself mine. It’s a joke, mostly. The epithet is more expressive of my feeling about her and her work than descriptive of any influence I’ve had on it, or her.
This is lovely.
Those are two lucky ladies right there, to have you in their lives. So are the rest of us. Thanks for this
Tim, this is so moving.
I was just talking to my cousin, a music producer, about the creative life, and he said, "The bad news is, you didn't have success in your 20s. The good news is, you didn't have success in your 20s." I think the best we can do is, like in second grade, keep our eyes on our own paper. It does feel easier, somehow, as I get older, to keep a steady grasp on the fact that we are all on different trajectories, coming from different contexts, with wildly different troubles and glories. Thanks for this beautiful and humane reflection.
I'm a parent and my two children roughly fall into these two categories. One succeeds at everything he does seemingly effortlessly, though he is also a hard worker. The other is incredibly capable, but often crushed by anxiety and social uncertainty. Your description of the father rejoicing in both is the first time I've read an articulation of how I feel about them. Thank you, you can't imagine how much I needed that this week.
"... I still feel like John Milton’s Lucifer or Wagner’s Alberich or fucking Gollum whenever I contemplate the acclaimed hacks and beloved frauds who are my own artistic nemeses—some wretched creature seething with ressentiment, sneering and spitting spite and vengeance from the pit. I just learned the Czech word litost, translated as “the humiliated despair we feel when someone reminds us, through their accomplishments, of everything that has gone wrong in our lives.”
I also feel this constantly, and it's made so much more difficult by the fact that I'm also a struggling and yet-unpublished writer (partly because I have yet to really finish anything.....). I'm terrified that I'm not trying hard enough, and/or it will all come to nothing. I can't help but wonder why others are lucky and I'm not. I know it's not fair to them or me to make those comparisons, and that mid-20s is too early to call quits, but it's a lesson that my heart still refuses to learn.
Thanks for writing! I read one of your books last week and I loved it.
We’re all crazy and lost here, my dude. We writers just leave proof.
Shamble on, shamble on.
Wiping up the coffee I just spit out over "who’ll just end up department chair" (I feel seen) -- and pausing long enough to say that this was thoroughly lovely but also: do we not covet others' inner lives? That line struck me as brilliant at first but then a second later as maybe not quite right. I covet others' equanimity, resilience, "secure attachment" all the time. But that is speaking as a stone-cold Judith. Thanks, as always, for writing.
Tim, this is such a beautiful, truthful, and heartfelt column. Thank you
I was just thinking about the profession of writing yesterday in a similar vein. It seems like everyone in my college writing classes were going to be novelists, poets, screenwriters, etc. Now, the vast majority are not: it's impossible to know at that point who is going to go the distance, weather the vagaries and almost necessary periods of poverty, etc. (I'll say that those I know who are working artists tend to have married someone who is in tech or some other high-paying field because this is America.) I earned an MFA, published a few dozen short stories, wrote non-fiction that got published in good old hard covers (and made almost no money). Decades later, despite the fact that I don't get to sit in front of my computer, tent fingers, and create worlds of beauty or ugliness for my bread, I never regret giving it a shot. As Kurt Vonnegut Jr said, art makes your soul grow, and it still makes mine grow. I hope that wherever these two young talents end up that they enjoy the time of just making art. I envy them your mentorship (or whatever you want to call it). My own ended up being a bad guide who encouraged the notion that if you're a good artist you need not be a good person. Once I figured that was bullshit, I dropped him, but that's a whole story. Nice essay. I'm glad you're a teacher.