by Marissa Macy
Younger me had high expectations about my “writing career.”
Though the likelihood of ever encountering ten-year-old me, or even nineteen-year-old me, is somewhat unlikely, I imagine how I would explain myself. How would I account for my failures? Would younger me accept excuses or spit in my general direction? Would a twelve-year-old me scoff or guffaw at my “it’s tough out there” explanations? I imagine sixteen-year-old me beginning a lecture with, “You’re better than this.”
Younger me wouldn’t understand that I’m actually doing fine. I’m doing the work. I’ve made great art. I have amazing collaborators. I have worked tirelessly on my “craft.” Never mind the personal successes – a healthy relationship, great friends, a home within the improv community. Mentioning that to eleven-year-old me would likely get an eye-roll and a “yeah, but none of that MATTERS.” Younger me was ambitious, and dangerously presumptuous – dreaming of book deals before graduating high school, of red-carpet appearances as a film producer, of book signings every weekend. I was supposed to be the Next Great American Novelist. People would call me “ground-breaking.”
It’s easy to be ambitious as a kid, when you don’t have any idea how the film industry works, how the publishing industry works. In a kid’s mind — money is easy when you’re talented, praise is easily earned, and book tours are handed out like chicken fajita samples at a grocery store.
Slowly, I learned. By learned, I mean my childhood dreams were slowly crushed with each passing year. I worked hard, and yet, there I was, with no reward but the feeling of a job well-done, and a mountain of rejections that proved I had at least “tried.” Thirteen-year-old me would interject here – pupils firing behind glistening layers of eyeliner – “Trying isn’t good enough!” Many books have been written – none of which were crowned as the novel of a generation (and rightfully so), and I eventually came around to the idea that this kind of thing takes a lot of time. And that even after all that time, I probably still will not be the next Margaret Atwood (a title that seventeen-year-old me wanted very badly).
Despite these revelations that come from living in the real world, I made something of a pact with myself when I was twenty.
I had, at that point, largely come to an understanding of the difficulties that would accompany being an artist for a living. At twenty, I was working in France as an au pair. I was living in someone else’s house, had no bills, and had lots of free time to write when I wasn’t working with the kids. I was waffling about finally going to college. I had just finished revising a book, and felt that it would finally, certainly be the book that got me an agent (spoiler—I’m three books later, and I still don’t have representation). My situation was lucky, and it was a romantic time. I was literally handwriting parts of my novel in historic cafés by night, spending my Sundays reading James Salter by the Seine. Maybe because of that, I had a stinging feeling that soon, I would need to be rational. I couldn’t live off babysitting money forever. And France wasn’t going to let me stay and continue to eat their bread. I told myself that I had until I was twenty-five to get myself on track. And by then, if I didn’t have an agent, or a publishing deal, or some sort of film industry job, I would need to initiate a back-up plan. I would go back to school, start a career – maybe teach elementary school, or get into “the sciences,” whatever that means. Something that would provide me with money, stability, the ability to start thinking about a house, kids, vacations. I would give up writing, because it’s too hard for me to do both.
Even at the time of making the pact, it felt like I was betraying the irrational, annoying, pseudo-precocious younger me. But I had learned. I was an adult. And adults know that at some point, you have to give up.
I turn twenty-five this year. I don’t have an agent, or a book deal, or a film-industry job. In fact, I have the same amount of money in my savings account as I did when I was an au pair. I know that twenty-year-old me would be disappointed. Ten-year-old me would be disgusted, and would angrily journal about my failures and then crumple up the pages as soon as I was finished (as I had an odd habit of doing). When I made that pact with myself, I was so certain that it was an unnecessary thing to do. Surely, by twenty-five, I would have it together. Obviously, everyone who is twenty-five had houses and careers and “things figured out.” No back-up plan would be necessary.
And yet, despite my failures in the eyes of the past, and having made it to the focal point in my self-made pact, I have no intention of pressing the big, red button that instates my back-up plan. In fact, I have abandoned all ideas of a back-up plan.
I’m going to break my pact with younger me this year. I’m not going to start a new pact. Instead, I’m going to obsessively apologize to younger me for it taking so long, and try to explain the nuances of querying your novel or financing a film, or the state of the middle-class in America. She won’t get it. She will continue to glare, disappointed, with the weight of a thousand copies of Crime and Punishment (I was a literal terror as a child). But I’m fine with continuing to gruel, to cast my notions of success. And maybe, just maybe, by writing this, I have jinxed something good into happening before my birthday.
Not everyone can make the choice to give up job opportunities, to live without responsibilities, to skip college, in order to have enough time to create. My ability to scrape by without consequences is a privilege. But that’s not my point, I know that I remain irrational in a lot of ways. However, I do believe, in big ways or little ways, you have to be irrational in order to make your art.
Marissa Macy is a writer, filmmaker and improviser based in Austin, TX. For more of her work, visit her website: www.marissamacy.com