Every morning I tell myself, “Ken, you are not really a rat. You are not in a maze.” As a trained psychologist that is such an easy metaphor. I assure myself that I am not looking for a piece of cheese hidden down a series of paths by an omnipotent experimenter who wants to see if I can learn.
Considering how many questions there are and how little I have learned over the past seventy plus years, my mantra may be mistaken. Maybe I am a rat in the maze and a slow learner to boot. But I have learned some things. As a younger brother, I have, for example, learned to trust but not too much. After all, how many times does a kid have to be played before he learns that his big brother isn’t always his friend, doesn’t always want him around? As a result, I know that friends and family are important and that they usually care; but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to work at living and plan to take care of myself. Translation into my current career as a writer – market, market, market. If I don’t sell my books, nobody else will. I at least take comfort in the fact that most of my friends and family either buy copies or at least make believe that they will and don’t ask me for freebies.
For the record, my brother buys but does not read my books. Another moral? Be grateful for little things.
Another lesson from childhood: I loved dogs, at least the idea of dogs; we didn’t have one so what did I know? I also loved riding my bicycle. In case you don’t know it, some dogs don’t like bikes. In those days dogs ran free, and the ones that didn’t like bicycles would chase a kid riding down the street. Yes, we rode on the street and nobody knew what a helmet was.
The dog that bit me was a collie, which made the insult even worse because of all the dogs I didn’t know collies were my favorites. Lassie Come Home and A Dog Named Lad had already been read and reread. “Grrr.” “Ouch.” “Mommy, Mommy.” You can imagine the details. The lesson learned – what we most love can often be the source of greatest pain. In case you don’t get it, think of your first love – that first rebuff or breakup. Remember, too, the rejection note garnered by your first literary submission. Enough said?
The thing is that I didn’t stop loving dogs. As an adult, I owned a number of them. Most were great, but my wife and I had one Corgi who hid under the bed and made herself and us miserable. I have over the years written and tried to write a number of books. I have loved them all when I started. Some have given me great pleasure and I hope have done the same for readers, but some of the others just led to frustration. Their early pages were stored – at one time in closets now on computer drives – with the hope that someday I would go back to them, but I know that I won’t. I have learned that as attractive as a book idea may be, it may just end in disappointment or perhaps just hiding under the bed.
Still, I do not give up my writing just because one story or novel bites my creative hand nor because a work is rejected. I do not turn my back on my what I love because I might get hurt. No, I keep writing. Success or no, I cannot stop my fingers from their keyboard.
Which brings up one more lesson I have learned, perhaps the strangest of all life’s little truths. To explain it I must tell you why I learned to read. Quite young and naturally curious, I asked my father where babies came from. He informed me that he was too busy and that we would talk later. That wasn’t going to happen, but I knew the answer lay in books, specifically my uncle’s medical books, which were stored in our attic while he was in the Army. I set out to master the skill of reading.
Highly motivated, I learned quickly, but not from my uncle’s books; they were written in Latin. It didn’t matter: I had both the joy of reading and a great lesson: The goal I had originally sought was not reached, but the journey had become its own reward.
I am a writer; I love to write. Perhaps there is cheese at the end of the maze. Perhaps there is fame, fortune, a movie deal, a mention in The Times. Perhaps? But it doesn’t matter so much because I love to write. If I am in that maze, at least I’m a happy little rat scurrying about.