On the other side of that fallow period, having clarified my goal to use my own voice to write a memoir, something freed up in me. All the little yellow Volkswagens began to appear. I noticed that, over the decades, the publishing world had shifted and become flat. The Internet means that publishing is now similar to road races; not everyone can win, but everyone can participate.
I can write, publish, market, and distribute my own books on my computer connected to the Internet. Seeking permission from agents, editors, publishing houses, and bookstores is no longer necessary. The Internet has opened up publishing as profoundly as Gutenberg’s press did in 1440. The gatekeepers have been circumvented. I can get on the bus and sit on the seat backs, and nobody can say that I can’t. Yes, the hierarchy of elites has been overcome, and we now have a publishing democracy; the common people—the nobodies like me—have a voice. When I first started querying publishers in the 1980s, I hoped to reach millions of people via brick-and-mortar bookstores. By 2013, I could reach billions of people worldwide via the Internet. So, in the end, the only revolution I participated in was the communications revolution.
OK, so I’d use my authentic voice to write memoir in this new paradigm; but what did I need to say?
I liked to quip that I was at great disadvantage for having few disadvantages. That’s why I’d courted trouble, disrupted polite conversations, and sought adventure. Remember, I was a skinny male of the majority race, wracked with neurotic anxiety and existential angst, nearsighted with a large proboscis and an overbite, in an esoteric religion, plopped into a middle-class suburb in the American Southwest. The conservative thesis of the 1950s began my journey, giving way to the hippie antithesis of the 1960s when I experienced my vulnerable formative years, and then to the synthesis of the 1970s when I came of age with a gnawing yearning for significance. Did my innate circumstances, era of arrival, and nobody-ness mean that I had nothing to say? Then what was that inside of me that yearned to be known?
I couldn’t write convincingly about poverty, drugs, sex, or debilitating racism. I never ran away from home, had never been arrested or gone to war. The well I had to draw upon was a reasonable life with a reasonable beginning: I wasn’t raised like a reptile or pampered like a prince. I couldn’t shake up the establishment; times had changed: The beats and the hippies had grown old, and the Vietnam War, Watergate, and Nixon were long gone. Yet they all left an impression on me. I was given Reagan and Bush, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the invasion of Iraq. I joined the Establishment, bought a house in the center of Scottsdale, and twenty years of practicing psychotherapy flowed by. Had I become a flatliner, the most uninteresting of people? What suffering was I to mine, in light of the fact that “suffering” had never accurately described my life experience for long because I changed my life each time suffering became true? No, my life was better captured via a profound satisfaction with consciousness, punctuated with spikes of joy, dips of sorrow, persistent existential angst, and an unyielding yearning to self-actualize. Was there a story there?
I was chronically average, which caused some dissatisfaction, as I’d aspired to be exceptional. I just kept regressing to the mean. But I’d finally accepted that I didn’t need to be a great writer and I didn’t need a traditional publisher; my voice could be heard, but again, what did I have to say? It was then I realized that all I had to give was my truth. I was similar to my clients, who saw themselves as not normal, as nobodies, but who were in truth mostly normal, each being a unique individual with lovable things about him or her. Wasn’t that true of me as well? Shouldn’t I, too, bloom where I was planted, which was what I told my clients? It wasn’t in me to shift societal paradigms; I was far too average for that. No, I could only have my personal shifts and facilitate smaller shifts for others. Yes, I was a normal guy, but that was a good thing; it meant that telling my story would resonate with many others. And true, I wasn’t that special, but that was also universal. Besides, there was only one me, so a constellation of things that were true about me might be unique when combined.
So, there it was: I shed my last chameleon color, and I’d use my authentic voice to tell about my running experience. Wannabe Distance God was about those of us who never made a living at running but wanted to, the subelites, those of us who never went to the Olympics or broke American or world records but did everything we could to get there. What was it like to be committed to a quest, to get pretty far and still fall short, but to have tried, at least, despite the obstacles, despite the setbacks? Wasn’t my personal story unique but also loaded with universal themes that would resonate with humans in general as well as with runners?
I didn’t blame myself for not becoming a memoirist when I was younger. I couldn’t’ve been one; I needed more experience, seasoning, insight, and wisdom. I still don’t have as many of those characteristics as I’d like. I still want to shift paradigms. I still want to blow your mind, to remind you that you are alive, and that can be as wonderful as you make it. But I just don’t have it in me, I guess. I have observation and honesty, but I lack genius. This all seems commonsensical, like how I do psychotherapy, like stuff I should’ve known long ago, but somehow, I missed it. I hope that simple common sense will somehow be an “Ah-ha!” moment for others the way it often has been for me.
My first fifty years as a wannabe novelist prompted me to observe and enjoy life more, so for that, I’m grateful. I had to learn to speak up with intention instead of speaking up for attention. Today, I use words to heal rather than to hurt others. Then it is they who awaken.
After I published Wannabe Distance God, I tried not to worry about others’ negative judgment; it’s always a risk. At Amazon.com you’ll find that even One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Catcher in the Rye have received scathing one-star reviews. I’m totally serious. Humans will always criticize other humans; it’s both helpful and hurtful.
Don’t we overlap where we all recognize our imperfection, desires, and selfishness, as well as our pursuit of love, respect, and acceptance? Shouldn’t we stay on our own path anyway and bravely go down it alone if necessary, despite the critics? The critics are part of the challenge and thus are part of the growth. The challenge is not to be so self-critical. Trying to be the writer that I thought I should be only left me frustrated. I decided that I would simply be the writer I am; I would simply be me.
When I got over my fear of revealing my authentic self in print, I got to live the author’s life I’d always dreamed. Sometimes dreams really do come true, just not necessarily the way we’d planned. Sometimes the path is obvious, such as putting in the time and effort necessary to end up in a solo psychotherapy practice. Other times, the path isn’t as obvious, such as tearfully praying for perfect vision but only succeeding via technology and getting LASIK.
Olympic ten-thousand-meter gold medalist and Jayhawk Billy Mills wrote a thoughtful preface for Wannabe Distance God. Then I received endorsements from famous marathoner Bill Rodgers, track star Henry Rono, and many others. Soon, I was named “Blue Collar Runner of the Month #2” by Letsrun.com, and Amazon.com named my memoir a running “Cult Classic.” So, yeah, my dream had come true.