This memory has resurfaced recently, probably because of the recent positive developments in my writing career. I’m not sure what my point is in sharing it, so I’ll let people take away from it whatever they will.
I was 23, maybe 24 when this happened — about three or four years into my life as an aspiring professional writer. I was at my job in a local convenience store and chatting with a co-worker about our respective career goals, what with neither of us at all eager to spend our lives stuck behind a cash register selling lottery tickets and rolling papers to the rudest human beings on Earth.
A customer, an older man, overheard us and chimed in, “Forget about it. It’ll never happen.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“I heard you saying you wanted to be a writer,” he said. “I’m telling you you should forget it because it’ll never happen for you.”
He proceeded to inform me that in his youth, he too wanted to be a writer, and he gave it the ol’ college try but nothing ever materialized.
“Writing’s a really tough field to get into, and if it didn’t happen for me, it’ll never happen for you,” he said.
Without pausing to consider a more measured response (especially since, technically, I was speaking to a customer), I said, “Maybe you just sucked as a writer.”
No no, he insisted, that wasn’t it. He was good, but he could never get a foot in the door because writing is such a competitive field. His sage (and completely unsolicited) advice to me was to give up on my dream right there and then, while I was still young, and focus on getting a job I could make a real living at.
He then rambled on about how young people nowadays all wanted a job they could enjoy, and that’s not work was about, it was about making money so you could enjoy your golden years. Then he crabbed that the county just hasn’t been the same since they started letting black kids go to school with white kids.
(No shit, he said that. Yeah, blew my mind too.)
There was every reason in the world to dismiss this cranky old racist who was obviously bitter about his own failure, which he was trying to project onto me. He wasn’t trying to spare me the pain of repeated rejection or a dream unfulfilled; he wanted me to fail so he could feel justified in his own decision to quit.
To this day, I wish I had that old man’s name and address, because I want so very badly to one day send him a copy of a novel or a movie I wrote along with a note twisting the knife of my success in his back.
And yet, that incident has driven me to keep going as much as anything. For 22 years, in the face of countless rejection letters, it’s kept me going, because I refuse to let that one, lone nay-sayer, that complete stranger who felt it necessary to crush my spirit, be right.