I'm a writer, not an author.
This thought came to me on a recent trip through California. I was enjoying being 55 years old -- for a month longer, or so -- and thinking what I often thought whenever my age ends in a "5" or "0."
Here's what I thought when I turned 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, and 50:
Where is the book I've written?
I have always thought this — especially on those milestone birthdays — when I'm walking among bookshelves — in our home, in my office, at the public library, in your home.
Where is the book with my name on the spine? Where is the story I've told or the insights I have substantiated? What is the aspect of the human condition that I have relieved through my research or analysis?
After all, I've had a richer formal education — one that has been more focused on writing — than Dickens, Twain, Shaw, and Conrad combined.
So, where is the book I've written?
I haven't written a book.
The book I've written hasn't been written yet.
I came close once. Laura Chu Stokes and I almost published a book. It had a publisher and an advance. But it was a terrible book. The publisher's editor quit (not because of our manuscript, I hope) and the replacement editor was someone who had, months earlier at a former publishing house, rejected our book proposal. "I thought it was a bad idea then and I don't think it's a better idea now." He canceled the contract and asked us to return the advance. (We didn't.)
He was probably right, but that's not what I'm writing about.
I am a writer, not an author.
So much has been written about being an author that I've always thought the goal of my being a writer was publishing a book.
Whenever people ask me to describe myself, I say, "I'm a writer."
They often ask, kindly, "Oh, yeah? What have you written?"
I've always hemmed and hawed that I haven't ever written any books. And I've always felt a little sad about it.
I gaze at my bookshelves and look for my book.
Now, however, I'm not sad.
Something is different about being a 55-year-old writer. Because I've suddenly realized I am A Writer Not An Author.
Here's what it means to me to be A Writer Not An Author.
- Whenever I have an idea, I want to write about it.
- Whenever someone writes me an email -- or even sends me a photo -- I might be inclined to write.
- I don't write for an audience. I don't write for the reader. (I'm glad you are here, of course. But I'm writing as a form of my breathing, not my offering you mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.)
- Given the choice to read, to watch, or to write, I nearly always choose to write.
Here's an example.
A long-standing family friend sent me and my sisters a photograph of our mother, Jackie Isaac, of blessed memory, at a baseball game.
My immediate reaction was to start writing. Here's what I wrote:
How nice. Thanks, Sharon, for this "postcard."That's Carol Stoff at the ballpark with Jackie. We sat with Jackie in Rich and Carol's seats up and behind homeplate from time to time. (Last season, we started splitting the season tickets with them. We have six games. Let me know if any of you want to go this coming season.) Very nice affair. Six desk chairs on wheels with fancy armrests, and a common table top for sportswriters -- or our hot dogs and peanuts and beer. Jackie always had all three at every game.Jackie loved baseball. Especially, of course, her Cardinals -- she had a real heart for the St. Louis nine. We never saw them live together -- that's a regret for me -- but we watched them on television whenever they made the postseason, especially in the World Series. She showed her crooked tight smile of sadness when Boston swept the Cards in '04, but was full of pride in '06, when "my redbirds" beat the Tigers and especially when they prevailed in seven games against Texas the wild back-and-forth of 2011. (I don't remember any of these facts, of course -- I'm relying on the Internet for all the names and dates. But I'm confident that this is what happened and what we did together.)Alisa and I — the kids would sometimes join us — would accompany Jackie by her television and drink beer and eat chips and cheer. I'd done this with her stepfather, Andy Sokol, during my years in New York. The only difference was he loved the Yankees and he really, really knew baseball. I'm convinced that Andy's wondering what would happen to the Yankees each next year added several years to his considerable longevity. He was a sports fan. He knew the players. He had once seen Babe Ruth pitch at the Polo Fields. (Before the Babe was the Sultan of Swat, he was a pitcher.)I am a fan of baseball in the spirit of Jackie, not Andy. I don't know the players' names. I just like seeing young people — big, strong young people — swing at the ball. (Jackie also liked watching tennis and golf -- neither of which hold my attention.) Watching young people excel has a way of returning us to our own youth. During the mid-80s, a client of mine joined me at Yankee Stadium, where we sat in the front row inside the third base dugout (thanks to Char Witkind, of course, then a limited partner of George Steinbrenner), both of us slackjawed watching the visiting players take their cuts in the on-deck circle. He said: "In a ballpark, adults are immediately returned to childhood."I think what Jackie liked, I like — the amazing display of talent: talent bestowed, talent developed, talent coached, and talent manifest. She liked that in all of us.
Speaking of Jackie, my mother always asked whether a described passion made money. Acting. Public speaking. Teaching. "Are they paying you?" She thought that money-making was proof of quality.
I'm in this for the action. It's an action that won't sit on my bookshelves. Or yours.