Thursday, December 11, 2014

Anybody seen my path? I had it when I got here

I have another question for you.

Have you ever been going along, pretty comfortable with who you are, quite sure that the opinions you share with others are, if not Dali Lama deep, at least Salvador Dali deep? Then all of a sudden a voice in your head says, “Poseur.” Or maybe it says, “Poser,” or “Poophead” or “What are you going on about?”

Anyone? Anyone at all? It happened to me a few days ago. Actually, it's happened to me plenty of times. The difference on this occasion was that when you decide that the things you think about are of sufficient interest to others to have them printed in a column in the newspaper, or online... you better be sure that what you write has some value to anyone who isn't you.

Whaaaat?, I hear you say. “Not you, Jim Arnold. Of course your thoughts have value. You're brilliant.” Yeah, sure. Don't kid a kidder people. What if I'm not even all that interesting? Suppose I just had a limited number of semi-interesting thoughts stacked up over the years, and I've used them all up?

Well, I thought about that, and decided, no, regardless of what else, I'm still the person/writer I was when I began writing “Finding the Pony.” Technically, if anything, I'm a better writer now than I was a year ago. I certainly have become more serious about writing than I ever have been, and have actually thrown away a number of completed columns that just didn't feel write (get it?). There have also been dozens of false starts, an idea that was foreign to me in the past. If I started it, I was going to finish it, by cracky. And not to brag or anything, but I won awards for column writing in New York. Yes, the last one was 16 years ago, and, yes, I gave up writing columns when we moved to Maine, but give me a break. I'm having a crisis of confidence here.

So, if the writing itself isn't the issue, what is? Well, I think I might have gone off the path... a little bit.

When I started to write about having cancer, I had no idea what I was doing. I set up my blog and began to write.... about cancer! Better topics to write about aren't going to come along too often. Cancer has everything: life, death, joy, sadness, fear, hope, drama, comedy, longing, regret and so much more.

Okay. Let the writing begin! Ooops. Within a week, the editorial page editor of the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel asked for permission to use the blog, say, once a month. Sure, said I. After all, one of my motivations was to reach people who might not be able to express themselves, so the more the merrier.

Involvement with the newspapers turned out to be a game changer though. Instead of just writing for me, and a handful of friends (maybe), what I wrote was now being read by thousands of people... and it was being run on the editorial page every Saturday, not just once a month.

As the weeks went by, I began to get emails, cards, letters, phone calls from readers, most of whom I did not know at the time. You began to approach me and Sheri at the grocery store, the cancer center, on the street, in elevators... to tell me how much you enjoyed my writing. How much it meant to you. How helpful it was. And how many other people you know looked forward to it every week.

At first, that was okay. My writing had generated interest before, mostly positive, and it was nice to know that people were enjoying what I was doing. And I knew the praise would stop. It always has. Well, guess what? It still happens. A lot. Not only do people continue to tell me how much they like it, they ask me “Please keep writing. You help so many people.”

How did this happen? Who's responsible? I'm not the “Please keep writing” kind of guy. I'm more the, “That was fun, but it's become too hard. I think I'll quit” sort of guy.

When I was little, my grandfather used to show me how to candle eggs. If one didn't look right when held up to the candle, we didn't keep it. That's what I feel like now: If you held me up to the light from a candle, I wouldn't look right and you'd put me aside.

And that's part of losing the path. I began writing about how I felt and I think I'm now trying to write how I think you want me to feel. On top of everything else, it all seems a bit egotistical. So, I stopped writing. So what?, I said. Get over yourself I counseled.

Hey... Wait a minute. This doesn't sound like a pathetic attempt to generate compliments for my writing does it? Does it? Noooooooooooooooooo. Don't fall for it.

Great. Now I seem to have gone off my new path. Still, if, despite all I've just written, you feel moved to offer positive comments, you can reach me... Wow. I'm going to stop now.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.”