Friday, September 18, 2015
BURN THE BOATS!
BURN THE BOATS!
This is going to be a post that some will like—most likely a minority—and some will dismiss or even hate—most likely a majority. Which suits me just fine. I’m a contrarian and I like being in the minority.
I’m a lifelong Notre Dame football fan. I’m relishing the Showtime series currently playing each week, focusing on Irish football. This week really registered with me big-time. As is his custom, Coach Brian Kelly brought in a motivational speaker, this week that person being Joe Plumeri, the CEO of City Group for 32 years. What he had to say gave me chills. It spoke directly to my own personal philosophy that I’ve lived under almost my entire life.
(If you want to watch it, here’s the link.) http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/watch/A-Season-With-Notre-Dame-Football/6837476258415459112/526228035751/A-Season-With-Notre-Dame-Football/videos
Since I was five years old, I’ve been committed to being a writer. Not for a second have I ever envisioned any other calling. Never under the worst circumstances I found myself in have I ever wavered from the goal of being a writer.
I didn’t know there was a rallying cry for this mindset—this philosophy. Now I do.
BURN THE BOATS!
This was the message Mr. Plumeri delivered to the football team.
When he began talking to the team, he asked them: Are you willing to do whatever you gotta do to win a national championship?” In unison, they all nodded emphatically that they were. He then said, “You nod your heads—it’s easy.” He then asked if they knew who the Vikings were and then related their philosophy. “The Vikings were the conquerors from the north. When the Vikings landed, the very first thing they did was they burned their boats. Why do you think they burned their boats? They can’t get home. They burned their boats because they were committed to win. To win.
“They didn’t say, ‘well, we landed. We’ll win.. well, maybe we’ll win.’ That’s not commitment. You gotta ask each other today—are we compelling enough to burn the boats? That’s commitment.”
That instantly became the team’s rallying cry and team and individual philosophy. As probable All-American Sheldon Day said, later on, “Burn the boats is so important to us. It means to do anything and everything we can to get a win.” One of the team captains, Joe Schmidt, reiterated the same sentiment: “That full commitment and burning the boats is something we’re going to lean on all year.”
And, in looking back on my own life, that’s always been my own committment as far as writing is concerned. I burned the boats a long, long time ago and I continue to burn them.
I’ve walked away from good jobs more than once, simply because it was taking up too much of my writing time and/or it was changing my goals into more material ones than writing goals. I’ve left relationships with terrific women for the same reasons. Married to a person who resented the time I spent writing. It’s what William Faulkner meant when he said, “An Ode On a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies.” It’s the mindset I’ve always, always had. Writing comes first. Always. I’ve never allowed anything to threaten that nor will I ever.
And, much of society rejects such a philosophy. That’s all right. I’ve never trusted anything a majority of people are for. Almost always, it’s a compromise. And, if you want to be a writer, compromise is your enemy.
Has it cost me? Absolutely. But, whatever the cost was in each particular instance, it was simply worth that cost to achieve my goal.
Several years ago, I had a man with whom I’d been working with on his novel, announce to me that he was quitting his very lucrative job as the manager of a large hotel, to pursue his writing full-time. He told me his wife was probably going to divorce him as a result of that decision. At first, I wanted to grab him and tell him the common wisdom—“Don’t quit your day job, dude! Not until you’re making a secure income from writing. The odds are against you, man.” I almost did just that… but I didn’t. I could tell he felt the same as I did and who was I to deter him from following his own dream? How could I, who’d done exactly the same thing—several times—as he was proposing to do, tell him not to do so? I couldn’t. That wasn’t my place nor my job to do so. I’ve lost track of him and I don’t know if he ever realized his dream, but it doesn’t matter. For at least one shining moment in his life, he was a Viking. And, people like that are my heroes. I know what has to be given up and it’s considerable. So, even if he didn’t make it as a writer, it doesn’t matter. He knows that he stood tall, at least one time in his life, and that’s something that wealth or even the love of another person can never take away. I expect heated response and arguments on that statement and that’s fine. But, all the arguments in the world won’t sway my own beliefs in what’s best for me.
The vast majority of those who want to be writers won’t achieve their dream. I think in at least some cases, it’s because they weren’t willing to burn the boats. I suspect it’s because a lot of folks want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to keep their job, concede to their wives’ or husbands' demands to employ less time behind the computer, bow to other demands… and yet, to somehow crank out a publishable novel and gain riches and fame. To be fair, there are a great many writers who don’t burn their boats (or bridges) who do just fine. They sell tons of books, have lots of fans, win all kinds of awards. And, that’s great. In fact, that’s ideal. But, for me, if I’d followed that path, I don’t think I’d have become the writer I am. I would probably have become an author, but that isn’t the same as becoming a writer. Not the kind of writer I wanted to be and the kind I am. All in.
There’s a reason the term “starving artist” is a well-known term that has roots in antiquity. I’ve more than once been that guy. And, may be again. So be it. I’ve burned my boats and since I don’t know how to build one, that avenue is not possible. That’s by choice. There have been many people who have burned their boats and it didn’t work out as they wanted or even expected it to. That’s all right. They made a choice and they stuck by it. Even if they didn’t make it, they know what it feels like to go out on that ledge by themselves and without a net, and you can’t put a dollar value on that. It’s a priceless feeling. It’s freedom. It’s living with your own rules and not those of others. When you do away with the possibility of compromise, you’re free. You either learn to survive on your own, or you don’t. It’s that simple.
This won’t be seen as the smartest philosophy in the world by most people. And, I simply don’t care. It’s mine and I own it.
I was a presenter at a writer’s conference in Indianapolis many years ago with a woman writer. At the end of our presentations, we held a Q&A, and the first question we got was, “What if your husband doesn’t support your writing?” To which we both spoke in precise unison and without even looking at each other: “I’d divorce him.” It was just the feeling we both had. We both felt the same—husbands (and wives, and boyfriends/girlfriends) are fairly easy to get. A book—a good book—is hard to get. Especially if you’ve got an enemy of that book in the same room with you. Actually, I’ve achieved Nirvana. I’ve been in several relationships that interfered with my writing and I severed them. My wife now is the most supportive person I’ve ever known and I’m a very, very lucky guy. There aren’t many like her. Probably why we’ve been together for over a quarter of a century. Trust me—there aren’t very many out there like her.
I don’t expect many to understand how I feel and that’s fine. A person that intensely dedicated to something in life is difficult to stomach for many people who don’t have anything that compelling in their own lives. I suspect it’s a threatening idea to many.
So be it. As for me, I say only:
BURN THE BOATS!
P.S. I just know this is going to piss someone off and who will want to take me to task... That's fine--I'll be here all week--remember to tip your waiter or waitress.