Did you know Roxane Gay has an advice column as a part of her New York Times contribution? Apparently she does.
While I am only a vague Gay acolyte (Her criticism and commentary are her best works, in my little opinion.), I do occasionally check out her op-eds and a recent “Ask Roxane” entry felt very much like something we Millennial dreamers need to hear. Titled “Is It Too late To Follow My Dreams,” Gay answers related questions from readers and fans regarding the pursuit of writing: I am a writer at X age/in X situation and I have never achieved success – do I need to quit or keep going?
It’s a very relatable question. When should one “quit” the pursuit of a dream? Is there ever a time when it’s too late for you? Or are these all social constructions intended to hold us back?
Those are questions most of us creatives deal with as we somewhat vainly pursue our artistic aspirations in what mostly feels like a vacuum, removed from reality and removed from rewards. But, as I’ve learned and as Gay reiterates, you gotta redefine what success is – because another person’s success isn’t yours. (And, really, that person’s success might not even be “success” to them.)
Here’s what Gay has to say about all that. The underlining is my doing, for emphasis.
The older I get, the more I have to say and the better I am able to express myself. There is no age limit to finding artistic success. Sometimes it happens at 22 and sometimes it happens at 72 and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. No, you are not too old to have a writing career, no matter your age. Yes, it is perfectly reasonable to feel defeated when you’ve worked so hard at writing and have yet to make your mark so long as you don’t stay defeated. No, you are not promised artistic success simply because you want it.
What I wish I could have told myself when I was hopeless about my writing prospects is that I should have defined artistic success in ways that weren’t shaped by forces beyond my control. Sometimes, success is getting a handful of words you don’t totally hate on the page. Sometimes success is working a full-time job to support your family and raising your kids and finding a way, over several years, to write and finish a novel. Sometimes it’s selling a book to a small press for 25 copies of your book and a vague promise of royalties you may never see.
These things – back pats just for doing and defining success on personal terms – is invaluable information.
For those who cannot see themselves without the tint of others, throw those glasses away. I spent years and years and years in my twenties being so fucking pissed that others got opportunities that I didn’t. And? They made and they succeeded, in their own ways. Once I put aside the constant (American) need to compare, things got better. I actually started making – and making well. Success might or might not find you but what success really means is that you did something and you enjoyed it. You didn’t let someone else get in the way of your love of making.
It’s as simple (“simple”) as that. Do you – and do yourself well. It’s the Gay way, really.