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Striving for Insanity

It's the only way to be

I once had an editor who looked me dead in the eye and told me I couldn't write. If I had any talent at all, he said, he'd be able to tell by now. And besides, no one really has anything worthwhile to say about the world until they are at least 35 and actually understand how it works, so people my age really shouldn't write columns, and I certainly was no exception to that rule. Women, he said, rarely make good columnists, anyway. All they want to write about is their romantic relationships. Could I honestly name even one really good female columnist? Could I?

When I tell this story to people, they laugh, and so do I. But what I don't tell them is that occasionally, when I'm sitting in front of a blank screen or have spent the last half-hour on a single paragraph, you really can't write escapes from the dungeon of inerasable junk stored in my brain and the scene from my former editor's office replays itself across my frontal lobe in high definition.

Even now, it still affects me the same way. For an instant I choke up. I feel like a complete fraud and even wonder how much longer I can go on fooling people. Then I remember that I don't believe any of the rubbish he told me and I marvel at how little control I have over my own mind before I smack that thought back down where it came from, vowing to myself that this really will be the last time. It's a promise I've made and broken for years.

There was a time when the tape replayed every time I tried to write. It didn't matter whether I wanted to view it or not. It was always there, playing on the wide screen TV in my head. Some-times it paralyzed me completely. It took me years to beat it back, to get it under control.

If you're still reading this and have no idea what I'm talking about, put the paper down and kindly step away from it. This column wasn't written for you. It was written for those who've secretly suspected that they might be really, really good at something, even if they were the only person who ever thought so. It was written for those who tried once but gave up and those who haven't yet dared to try because some idiot told them they couldn't make it, that it was a long shot, that it was too hard or too risky, that the entire industry was corrupt so why bother, or that no one succeeds at that anymore.

There's a reason that really successful people, the kind you read about in magazines, are usually at least a bit off kilter, if not completely off their gourd. You can't spend a lifetime ignoring this kind of input from well-meaning dunderheads without losing it in some manner, and only crazy people have the ability to believe absolutely in the theories, talents and schemes that take them to the top when most people along the way look at them cockeyed. Strive for insanity. If it doesn't come naturally to you, discipline yourself to believe the unbelievable about yourself.

If a person hasn't successfully gone where you want to go, their opinion on your ability to do so is worthless and should be discarded, by force if necessary, from your mental filing cabinet. By "successfully gone where you want to go," I'm not referring to those who've merely held a job, made some money or earned some acclaim in a particular area. And I'm not talking about those who've spent 15 years in a field or a discipline. I'm talking about those who have shot through the stratosphere, made an indelible mark or otherwise rank among the best. If someone does fit this description, take their opinion as one of many and seek others.

A second-rate fiddler can't recognize a first-rate fiddler and a first-rate fiddler becomes a second-rate fiddler when someone better comes along. When that happens, their natural instinct will be to crush them, and few members of this human race have the will to resist that urge.

Burn the above into your brain. Filter input from every aspect of your life through it. Fold this column and store it in your wallet or purse and read it when you need it.

I may not have 30 years under my belt, and I may still have a lot to learn, but I do know this for certain. People say a lot of things, and most of them have no idea what they're talking about.

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