Sorry this is so late. Had news of the death of a relative. No one close in blood, but someone who was very much a positive presence in my childhood. So I took a little while to be … cogent.
I was talking to one of you on AIM and I said my family is half crazy and half stubborn and that all the best people are crazy.
And it occurred to me you need a good bit of crazy to get anything done.
When I was very little — oh, four to ten or so — I loved Enid Blyton’s books of adventures. In them kids went camping on their own, solved mysteries (usually, this being WWII era) espionage or smuggling or the like and had adventures. For a while, I had “clubs” like her “Seven club” and such, but though the other members wanted to plan expeditions and camping trips, I was held back by knowing it was impossible.
You see, English culture between the wars might have allowed boys and the girls with them to go camp somewhere relatively safe, but Portugal in the sixties wouldn’t allow any kids to go camping on their own, without vigilant adults. Different culture. (I suspect it still wouldn’t, not unless one of the kids were legally an adult. And even then…) Particularly not girls. So while my friends indulged in those dreams, I knew it was impossible.
It is somewhat of a mystery whether I thought it was also impossible that I’d grow up to live in Denver and be a writer. I suspect I did, but it was a nice dream, and one I often resorted to. From the window of my 9th grade classroom, (it was an attic of a five story building on a hill) I could see the road that (then) led to the airport, and I spent many a dull class day dreaming about going to the airport, taking a plane to Denver. I suspect that dream was cherished BECAUSE it was “impossible.” I didn’t have to worry about “with what money” or where to live when I got there, and I never even though I’d be leaving all my friends behind. In the daydreams one or two of my childhood friends came with me, and we set up house and met nice men.
But these were dreams and it was impossible.
I can honestly say the day I went crazy was NOT because of that daydream. For one, I had no clue what the poster was actually about (I often wonder if that ineffective advertisement was the MOST effective.)
It was a weird concatenation of circumstances, in that after 9th grade we no longer had gym classes, and I missed playing badminton. So a few friends and I, after finals, arranged to have the gym, and to get together for a friendly game of badminton doubles, after which we were to go to a coffee shop for tea. (So many days have dropped into the soup of the indistinct past, but that one is clear as a bell.) It was a good game, we showered and changed in the gym showers, and then, as we were headed out the door, my friends decided they needed to use the bathroom.
This was an exit of the school we NEVER used and we only used it because it was the day after end of classes and only the front door and that exit were open — and that one was closest to the gym.
So they went to the bathroom and I was left loitering in the hallway. I suspect the bathroom was a makeup emergency, because they took forever. (At sixteen I only wore makeup on weekends, so it didn’t matter to me.)
The hallway had an enclosed-in-glass bulletin board, and I read all the stuff on it, because it was printed. In those barbaric days, before a kindle was always at hand, I didn’t have anything with me that I could read (this itself was strange, as I usually had a science fiction paperback in pocket or purse.) I no longer remember the other announcements. Probably lost and found and the gym schedule for the summer (If you were a student, you could reserve it and come back to do stuff in the gym) But a full quarter of it was taken up by a poster, with a picture of a girl emerging from a suitcase. It said “Come out of your shell” and had a number to call.
I called because I didn’t know it was impossible. Had it said “Call this number to become an exchange student” I’d have known it was impossible. My parents would never let me. We didn’t have the money. It would mess up my normal education flow. I had no business doing it. It was impossible.
But I didn’t know what it was for, and curiosity took me to a phone booth where I called the number and asked what it was. They told me, I thanked them and was about to hang up. They said “Can we send you an application?” and it seemed impolite to refuse. So I gave a friend’s address, so my parents wouldn’t freak.
And then because the paper said only one in ten people were selected, and I knew the chance was remote, I applied. I finally told my parents before the final family-interview, before they sent my paperwork abroad, to find a host family.
Even though it was “impossible” for various reasons, I ended up being placed with a family in the US. My future husband lived down the road. (Though it took us four years to get it through both our hard heads that we liked each other. We were young and stupid.)
Four years later, when I moved here, and we tried to decide what I should do for a living, I tried all the sane things first. I wasn’t markedly successful at any of them. Translating (particularly multilingual scientific translation) IS well paid, but I hated it. It is also a job that takes time to build a clientele in. I was halfway through doing that when we moved to Colorado (that itself the result of my husband saying “you wanted to live in Denver, right? We haven’t done too well here; I shall apply in Denver” and us moving across the country, to a place we’d never been and where we knew no one.) I lost my few clients. In those days translating was often intensely local.
When we got here, Dan said I could rebuild my clientele, or I could try pursuing my dream of becoming a novelist. By then I’d written a few books, sent out a few submissions, and I KNEW it was impossible. I mean, it was pretty difficult when you were native born and writing in one of the more popular genres. I think the ration of first-novelist to accepted/published was something like one in a hundred thousand. But for SF/F it was closer to a million. And to “author who makes a living” it was even more difficult. And then add in that English was my second language. It was crazy. Insane.
But I was home with a little kid, anyway, and I REALLY hated translation. And, hey, I could always go back to translating in a few years. It’s not like I could get less successful than I was at that moment.
So I tried. took me five years of concerted effort to start publishing short stories, seven to novels. And then my career crashed after nine eleven (Ill Met by Moonlight, my first-published (though Darkship Thieves was written three years earlier) book came out the month after 9/11. It crashed so badly)) it was impossible to get back in. But I’m really bad at giving up. Once I knew it was POSSIBLE I was going to keep beating at that door. (That’s the second half of the family character; the stubborn.) And things picked up. And most years I even make a living at it. Of course it’s impossible I’ll ever become a bestseller… but it doesn’t mean I ain’t trying.
I’m using my history because other people’s I know is not mine to tell, but almost all my closest friends have something like this. They’ve done the statistically impossible. Heck, even my kids, once or twice.
I’m afraid I’ve got in the habit of disregarding “that’s impossible” which, yes, I know is crazy, but if I weren’t a little bit crazy, I’d never get anything done. And I’m afraid I’m very stubborn, so any setbacks just make me try harder.
Is it worth it?
Who knows? In the long scheme of things my books are probably forgettable and to be forgotten but I AM living in Denver, and I am a writer.
Whatever your crazy dream, you can do it. The only thing that can stop you is an unwonted bout of sanity. Don’t let it. I have the greatest faith in all of you.
Illegitimi non carborandum.