By Adam Gnade
I’ve been thinking a lot about where you go when you need to move beyond your heroes. At a certain point (whether you’re ready or not) you want to stand up and do something original but what does that mean, how do you start? I want to write something big, something that will “last” but I feel like I’m fifteen years old half the time, struggling to get a C-minus in Freshman English while losing my shit over all the great heat that came before.
I want to be Tolstoy and I want to be Garcia Marquez (and Faulkner, Willa Cather, Hemingway, Didion, John Dos Passos) but I’m nowhere near the doorstep; I can’t even see the HOUSE–as much as I see the light from it (and the light is what keeps us moving).
Without getting into particulars, my life is pretty hard and raw and rough right now but I’m writing a lot; more than I ever have. The manuscript for the new book is three inches thick. The last book, Caveworld, ended up at nearly 400 pages upon publication but this one will (at least) double it. Not sure how many pages three inches of hand-written paper is but it’s a lot, a brick, and at the end of the day I’m okay with that. Will the book be good? I don’t know. I feel like it will but for now I’m not too concerned with the outcome. At this point, struggling with it is good enough for me.
When I’m not working I feel like a magnet that can’t pull metal to itself. I listen to the same song over and over again (Galaxie 500 doing Joy Division’s “Ceremony” or “Summer of Hate” by Crocadiles) and I do a lot of busy work in the farmhouse and I wash dishes for hours and never make a dent in the pile. I’m a zombie when I’m not working but when I’m working all the bullshittyness of life goes away and I don’t think about predatory lawsuits and (lack of) money and time running out and big changes ahead. I’m in my place and I know I’m in my place and that’s a good thing to know.
Still, I feel lost out here. Life right now is fleeting, racing to its end. The weeks march past, spring becomes summer, farm chores in the morning, farm chores at dusk, the sun arcing across the sky sunrise to sunset, the moon just as fast, and the calendar pages tear away in the breeze and fly out the window like in a bad movie. I want guidance but I want to do my own thing and the combination of that is like moving away from home for the first time but not calling your parents for advice because you’re “a man now.” Your heart is in the right place but is it self-defeating? What’s the measure of someone without the guts to ask for help? I’d like to play it cool and be like, “No heroes for me. I don’t need ’em” but if I were to be perfectly honest I’m horribly naive and a romantic and a late-bloomer and people like me need heroes like we need light and air and water.
I’d like to play it cool and be like, “No heroes for me. I don’t need ’em” but if I were to be perfectly honest I’m horribly naive and a romantic and a late-bloomer and people like me need heroes like we need light and air and water.
Bart Schaneman wrote this thing about heroes a couple weeks ago and it made a lot of sense to me.
“The problem with abandoning your heroes is that you turn your back on what got you into this to begin with. The world doesn’t need one more imitation Raymond Carver or Denis Johnson. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from drawing inspiration from stories like ‘Work’ or ‘So Much Water So Close to Home.'”
And the heart of it … this is what really gets me:
“So I guess what I’m saying is: Don’t give up your heroes. Add to them. Move beyond them. But don’t forsake them. You might need to come back to them to remember who you were when you got started down this difficult path.”
Bart’s someone I trust and believe in and he’s right on the money here. Coming back to your heroes and checking in is important. You don’t have to rip them off and you don’t have to live in their shadow but it’s good to know that they’re there, to be reminded why you stuck with them in the first place. Because at some point in your distant (or not so) past, your heroes lit a fire in you and if that fire is still burning you owe them something. Whether your hero is Will Potter or Will Oldham or Will Shakespeare, you’ve been moved by them and because of that you owe them a debt of sorts.
Whether your hero is Will Potter or Will Oldham or Will Shakespeare, you’ve been moved by them and because of that you owe them a debt of sorts.
Beyond that, you work. You work until your eyes ache and until you want to quit and then you work harder. I’m still figuring this out for myself but here’s what I believe: You take what you’ve been given and the influences you were brought up with (and whatever inspiration comes from it) and you work. You work and you stay honest and you try your best to be your own person and if you do that you’ll get somewhere. It might not be where you imagined you’d be but it’ll be somewhere and that’s a triumph in itself.
When it comes down to it, we’ve got to define “success” outside of capitalism if we want to stay sane, and doing honest work and being okay with what you’ve done is a great place to start.