I’ve been spending more time thinking about my own aging. In particular I have been reflecting on how time is remaking the burning ambition I have always had inside of me. My ambition is like an old and very dear friend.
My primary school and high school teachers might scoff at the idea that I was “driven” when I was young. I was a chronically failing student sand received a “social promotion” out of the sixth grade and into the seventh. In high school, I was both president of the student body and on the edge of academic ineligibility. Much to my teachers’ and parents’ dismay I was, in those years, dismissive of school, refused to do homework and unconcerned about the bad grades that were piling up on my “permanent record.”
What I did have was a voracious appetite for books and reading. I devoured stacks of “Readers Digest” and read piles of book about history, biography, science fiction and technology. I would pick a subject at random and plunge headlong into it. It wasn’t enough to learn about radios, I had to build them too. This “self teaching” became part of my personality and its virtues served me well in college and medical school.
But, as always, there is also a dark side. Being your own teacher allows one to cultivate the sense that every problem can be solved, that every mountain can be climbed, that every challenge can be overcome. This is true, of course when the challenges emerge from inside you and when the duty of meeting that challenge is yours alone.
Now that I am getting older it is increasingly clear to me that there are challenges and problems whose solutions lie outside of one’s control. I have been thinking about this in terms of my newly published novel “Tribes of Eden.”
I started to write the book because I had something to say.
I was able to finish the book because I am endowed with dogged determination.
I was able to publish the book with the help of an incredible team of professionals who, together, turned a manuscript into a book.
This is the point in the process where my drive and my ambition fail me. The book is no longer mine, it is no longer under my control. Although I will do my best to promote it, this book’s fate is now separate and distinct from my own.
Readers will love it and tell their friends about it, they will urge people they care about to read it…
Readers will like it, read it to the end and put it on top of a pile of now forgotten books that they also “liked.”
Readers will not like it, they won’t finish it, they will think it a waste of time and money and they will tell others not to read it.
None of this is really under my control and I find this a difficult truth to accept. I want to MAKE it successful— but that is not something I can do. “Tribes of Eden” is now impervious to my drive and my ambition. For years, the book answered to my every beck and call. It, and its plot and characters did whatever I asked of them. Now — they lay beyond my power.
This is an especially hard thing for me to accept because I grew up with a love of great writers and the great books they made. I dreamed of being “like them.” Now that I am their age, I am slowly beginning to realize that the only thing I will ever get to be —- is me.
Luckily, I like me. Luckily, I am looking forward to helping “Tribes of Eden” find its way in the world. It is your book now and I am, finally, OK with that.
During 2012 I will be writing and talking about the book (and writing my next book) and I will, I hope, be able to grow into the knowledge that “Tribes of Eden” has already given me more than I could have ever hoped for. From here on out I get to share the pleasure of its story with you. That is reward enough.