Tuesday, August 9, 2011

One Day

A friend of mine died, I learned today.

She was not the first friend I’ve lost, but her death was made more meaningful by two facts: I had known her a long time and she was my age.

For 18 years, I saw her every day. We had moved into the same building a few doors from each other and although we became neighbors by chance, we soon became friends by choice. She was a single mother, raising a little boy. Occasionally, I would help him with his math homework, or keep him out of trouble. There was a day in particular, I recall, that earned me his ire. He was about 12 and I caught him playing with fireworks behind our building. I confiscated them and he was irate. How dare I take his firecrackers! He had paid for them with his own money! I had no right… I told him he had 10 toes, 10 fingers, and two eyes, and I was ensuring he would still have them at 6pm when he mother got home from work, at which time I would turn his stash of firecrackers over to her and she could give them back to him, if she wished. I did, and she didn’t.

By today’s standards, some parents would have berated me for interfering with their child, but she didn’t. She thanked me. They moved away a few years ago and I lost touch with them. Until today.

Living near someone for 18 years, you might think you’d know all about them, but you’d be wrong. People are multi-faceted and there are always sides you don’t see. One afternoon, shortly before she moved, I saw her holding a sketchbook. I never had an inkling she could draw. She showed me her sketches and they were good. No, they were outstanding. I told her she could have a second career as a children’s book illustrator. She replied she hoped to do it “one day.”

I knew what that meant. When I was a reporter, most of my colleagues were daytime journalists and nocturnal aspiring authors. They all had a novel in their desk drawer they were working on, and had been working on for years, or decades. They all planned to publish it… “one day”.

I’ve had this discussion with a writer-friend. He believes it’s best for writers to wait until they have matured as writers before becoming published authors. He thinks it’s best to keep those novels locked away for 10, 20, or 30 years because (hopefully) a writer’s skill will improve with time, so one should wait and only publish one’s best work.

After he said that, I read Harlan Ellison’s 50-year retrospective short stories collection and was amazed by Ellison’s growth as a writer over a half century. My friend was right: I would be viewed as a better writer if I wrote for the next 50 years and then published only the last 10 years of my oeuvre. The flaw, of course, being that I would be dead by then, long before my work was published. My writing would end up in a desk drawer, eventually discarded; or like my late friend’s wonderful drawings that the world will never see.

When I tell people I’m a writer, they often respond they’re writing a book, too. They plan to publish it, one day. For me, one day is always today. I may be destined to write the Great American Novel “one day”,  but in the meantime I’ll publish what I write, as I write it; for wouldn’t it be a shame if everything I wrote before then were never seen because I had waited, one day, too long?

Rest In Peace, my friend.
No man knows the hour of his death;
Too early or too late?
Premature publication, or might
Posthumous obscurity await?

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