Writing is like a drug; it can be a cure or an addiction.
Younger men write to prove themselves, to make their marks on the world. Older men write to find themselves. They write to learn what mistakes they must undo to justify the time they have spent on this earth and to warrant the time they have left. I realize, of course, the danger in making broad inferences from specific circumstances, especially one’s own circumstances, but experience and observation tell me my perspective is more often true than not.
I have been writing, privately for the most part, almost my entire life. Early on, when I decided I wanted to write ‘seriously,’ I was not intent on writing for publication, but I wanted what I wrote to ultimately matter. I remember times as a young man, probably in my early twenties, fantasizing that after my death my writing would be ‘discovered’ and my mark on the world, therefore, would be made. I wanted what I had to say to be important, to matter.
Over time, my interest in making my mark diminished. My perspectives on a series of minor executive positions that I thought mattered, when I occupied them, changed. I began to see them for what they were: irrelevant positions that became temporarily and artificially important for me, the incumbent, and for the people whose own value was measured by their access to incumbent in those positions. I came to realize that the positions and the person who held them could suddenly disappear—vaporize in an instant—and the world would not change enough to cause a flea to catch a cold. So, I wondered, if these positions did not define my value, what did? How could I make my mark? More importantly, is making a mark a legitimate objective or desire? I concluded that, for some people, yes it is; people who possess skills and talents and intellects that could, through their application, genuinely change the world could and should make “changing the world” a priority. For the rest of us, our fundamental value rests somewhere else, somewhere not tethered to a position of employment or even related to work.
These changes in my perspectives on work mirrored a transformation in my perspectives on writing. As I grew older—starting in my early fifties, I think—I started to reflect on who I have been all my life. So much of my life involved work and the value I attached to it. So much of my life revolved around the value others attached to my work. And, frighteningly, so much of my life seemed to have been molded around thinking and acting and behaving as I thought others wanted me to think and act and behave. Questions arose in me: What am I like, really like? How can I find who I am under the veneer, absent the automatic behaviors intended to respond to and please people who, ultimately, are no more important to me than I am to them?
And so I began writing more earnestly, using words to explore ideas that might expose the man might I might be; the man beneath the thatch of a lifetime of work, the man hiding under the public persona. For years now, that endeavor claims my early mornings, my solitary time when I write earnestly, though often not seriously.
Some of the few men who belong to the writers’ club I joined shortly after moving to Hot Springs Village are doing the same thing, I think. None of them have expressed their thoughts on the matter to me, directly, and perhaps most of them do not even realize what they are doing with their writing. But I think I can see signs of their searches. They may not have to dig as deeply as I to find something that matters, but they, too, are digging.
This much, I think, is certain: old men who turn to writing want to find a part of themselves that’s buried under the mulch of a lifetime of experience. They spend time routing around those parts of their minds unexposed to the elements, looking for something worthy for the world to see. They are looking for ways to know who they are so others might understand that person when they read what they leave behind. And they are looking for ways to apologize for mistakes they’ve made, for the people they once were. One guy, in particular, comes to mind at this moment. His stories are short and self-deprecating and sometimes funny, exposing a fragility his public persona does not. He and I are like night and day, but my experience trying to understand myself are helping me get a glimpse at understanding him. His stories are evidence in support of my theories.