It took a couple years of writing this column before I allowed myself to mention the years I spent working in a restaurant writing the novels I couldn’t sell. I was happy to write about my childhood, or the sketch comedy show I wrote and performed with my brother in my early twenties, or the brief time I spent in Hollywood trying to be a screenwriter. I would also write about my relationship with my wife and the experience raising two boys. But I didn’t want to touch that time in the restaurant.
That time was twenty years. I was vaguely ashamed of how long I’d spent as a waiter, and how many books I’d written that I hadn’t sold. I say vaguely because I didn’t spend my days after leaving restaurants living in fear that someone would find out about my dark past. I just didn’t know how to talk about that time in a way that would be useful to someone else. I still had the feeling that it shouldn’t have gone that way, that I shouldn’t have taken so long to sell something, or that I should have woken up and gotten out of the restaurants after a year. While I was still new to writing personal essays, I had learned that you couldn’t write about something until it you saw its value.
To write about your own past you have to accept that nothing should have gone any differently than it did. To tell the truth, you have to forgive yourself, and life, and other people completely. On the other side of forgiveness is always appreciation of the very thing you resented and resisted and devalued. I am at the point in my life now where I am eager to write about those twenty dry years. To be clear, I am extremely appreciative of where I am now. I don’t want to go back to the desert. But I can’t really imagine knowing how to write what I do now without those twenty years.
There is nothing like dying of thirst to appreciate a simple glass of water, and there is nothing like living with failure to understand it can’t kill you and that success can’t save you. It is impossible for me to say now that things should have gone differently for those twenty years. Sometimes the shame I used to feel is replaced by guilt, as if the storyteller in me willed all that suffering on my younger self. It doesn’t last long however. I remember that Younger Bill only suffered when he thought he should be someone other than himself, that even then the desert bloomed as soon as I changed my mind.
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.
Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com