Since I can remember, even before I knew how to write, I wanted to be a writer. My crayon scribblings on the wall were a testament to my
fervent desire though they brought slapped hands and a kick in the ass. When I went to school I learned to read and write with pens and pencils... handwriting, a near art form,
swiftly fading away today. The shapes of the letters, the typography, mesmerized me. And later, etymology, the study and understanding of the history and derivations of words. I
was fascinated (still am).
I was raised in a European-American kitchen (the reading, talking and listening room) so I spoke and read a few languages. But... English was it!
The language of my landscape, a rich gatherer and thief of other languages... English was it! Later I discovered that if you wanted to think, to dream, to speak, to write in
English, to master English, you had to dig deep to its roots, to kiss its beginnings... not the Anglo-Saxon stew... you had to fall in love with Rome and Athens, Latin and Greek. I
did that, mesmerized and fascinated.
My first writing was a letter to my mad Aunt and a poem. Anyone and everyone can write a poem and draw a picture (don't those who twitter
and chit-chat know that so well). My first poem at eight years old in the third grade was a paen to "Judy" who passed me a drawing under the desk. It showed a girl and a
boy making a baby. It was all wrong, the anatomy was wrong and so was her depiction of the act. In gentle response, I wrote her a poem that graphically told her how it was done and
with what. She, my pornographic pal Judy, was stunned and upset. She promptly took my note to the teacher who promptly took me and my note to the Principal who promptly dismissed
me for the rest of the day. Those were the days! Nothing ever came of it except a revelation for me that the pen was mightier than what Judy's little mind thought sex was all
After that I wrote and wrote... poems, letters, stories, aphorisms, mishigas (a delightful Yiddish term for "mixed-up craziness"). And I read.
To write is to read, to read is to yearn to write.
I read philosophy and science, poetry and novels, newspapers and history, translations and transliterations, everything I encountered. How I
yearned, almost to the point of despair until I discovered, fell into the mind and voice of William Shakespeare. The translations into English of his writings were magnificent... a
richness of idiom, metaphor, descriptive verse, inexplicably innovative language, a richness unmatched before his time and since. He was, obviously, not from this planet, not from
his 16th/17th century time. He didn't exist and the man who represented him, who translated his work was a mystery in his life and still is today.
I had found a guide, a mentor, a new day of days in my life. Will Shakespeare spoke to me and I sang my refrain... I want to be a writer.
How to proceed? There is only one way to proceed... write. I wrote poems, letters, epigrams, more mishigas, and plays. Over the years, I
finished and then burned as many sheets of paper as I had inked and typed.
What else does it mean to be a writer?
I had a friend once, who made the best bouillabaisse I've ever had and whose mother was a successful writer. He wanted to be like her. He wrote one novel, then two, then three. After all those years of labor, a publisher took his last novel and gave him a substantial advance. He no longer had to live in a cold-water fourth-floor walkup on 16th Street and 8th Avenue in NYC. But he stayed there anyway with the leaks and the cockroaches and waited. One year, two years, three years. It was never published. When he accosted the Editorial Director of the publisher who optioned his book, he was told... "See those shelves up there? There are 112 books that we bought, yours included. If we ever publish two of them, it will be alot. Don't hold your breath!"
My friend went home, climbed the stairs, gathered his pet lemur in his arms, went to the roof and jumped. He didn't kill himself, no, just
the lemur. He broke his right leg and his left arm. It was a sign. His despair left him. He was not a writer. He went on to become a successful travel agent.
What does it mean to be a writer? Does it mean being published or produced or simply read? Or does it mean simply... to write?
I wanted to be a writer. The 'ghost' writer who wrote this column for me and has been doing so for years told me to keep wanting, keep
yearning. It's all in the yearning, he said. Besides, if I stop wanting, he'll lose a promising gig.