A Letter to Everyone I Don’t Keep Up With

Hi. How are you? You’ll probably say “fine.” That’s what we all say, all the time, because it’s what we’re supposed to say. The basic response that shares absolutely nothing about how you are. If you ask me that question. I’ll say “Fine.” But that would miss all of the details, so let’s just skip the question.

Mostly, time passes, life plods along, and before I know it another month has gone by without note. Watching content has taken a huge chunk of my time. I’ve watched a lot of Netflix, lots of YouTube. I have some DVDs I’ve wanted to watch but no way to play them. I’m trying to read more books, but not really succeeding. I want to take in stories that will spark my creativity, and remember what it’s like to feel inspired. I’ve also taken about 2.5 million pictures of the dog. Most of them are very similar, but I can’t help taking more.

I wrote some song lyrics. I had the beginnings of a melody at the time, but I’ve forgotten the little snippet I had then. Pretty good structure though. I think the lyrics are basically done–I won’t even need to edit much. I still feel like I need to actually learn an instrument if I am ever going to be able to write songs. Do you know I used to want to be a singer, as a career? Then I kept hearing how impossible it was to make a living that way and I was already so tired from thinking about it…

Miscellaneous things: weight gain, need to get outside more, trying to start working out again, decluttering, realizing I am barely in touch with anyone and how many friends are you supposed to have in your 30s again? That you actually see and talk to, I mean? It’s definitely more than I have.

I’ve started unsubscribing from most brand emails and newsletters. I can’t keep up with my inbox anymore. There are still a few glimmers of enjoyment and value in there, so I’m weeding out all the noise right now. I always used to think, what if I miss something? But think about it… how often do you read an email (that isn’t actually from someone you know) and feel like you really got anything out of it? Am I really supposed to keep all these things coming into my inbox just in case they have a few useful tidbits, five minutes of real value in a month, a year, of email messages? No, no. I can’t keep wasting my time like that. I’m still getting way too many emails, but I’m working on it, and I highly recommend unsubscribing from as many things as possible.

I finally paid off my student loans, and it feels oddly anticlimactic.

I’m stuck in an unfortunate in-between place right now. Some things have started to get better, but they aren’t good yet. I don’t care if my life looks like what other people might expect, or even how I thought it would. I care about waking up and wanting to participate in the various parts of my life, and going to sleep with a sense of contentment. Maybe nothing we do really matters, in the grand scheme (is that phrase cliché yet?), so I want to do things that at least matter to me.

I wish I lived by the ocean. Any time I need to let out some feelings I could scream into the waves like seagulls do.

I wonder often what my life would be now if I had done a few things differently. I felt like I had to do certain things in certain ways because that’s what’s expected, and I didn’t think I could take the eternal struggle of scything my own path through the tangled woods of modern existence. Realizing how difficult everything has been anyway, doing more or less what people are supposed to do (a little less, but not in ways that did anything positive for me), I feel cheated by my younger self. Or by whatever it was that turned me into someone who couldn’t bear to take risks.

Now I feel different. Everything is a risk, and risk is necessary for growth. Doing what’s “safe” will not give me the life I want. Doing things that drive me and satisfy me can. But I’ve been naively trying to avoid risks for so long, I feel like I’m trying to break out of a solid shell that is peeling off bit by bit. I want this part to be like a movie montage–just enough screen time to show the studying and the building and the progress without having to sit through all of it, with fun outfit changes, random dancing, and an epic background song.

Now I’m sitting in bed, sipping my morning coffee. The dog is curled up near my feet. It’s colder out than it has been, and I really can’t believe it’s almost June. I can’t believe it’s 2021. I can’t believe I’ve let so much time pass without being fully myself. I’m getting too old for this.

A Response to Neil Gaiman’s Graduation Address

Dear Neil Gaiman,

I would like to start by thanking you for this speech, as I did find it inspiring and thought-provoking. I think you are extremely creative, with a very unique imagination, and I have enjoyed everything of yours I’ve ever read. I do not imagine that you’ll stop working during your lifetime, and I think the literary world would be worse off if you did. It needs people like you, not thinking about the “rules” or what you “should” write, but writing what you want to write.

I would love to just be inspired and motivated by your words and leave it at that. But, as it turns out, I can’t. I keep thinking about one thing you said, about having to balance pursuing writing as a path, doing what you want, with paying bills, eating, and other such “necessities” of life.

Your name is well-known, established in the literary world. As you’ve said, all your “bottles” are returning to you. I’m sure you have to sort through many requests to write stories or episodes of Dr. Who (!). Because you’re so well-known, with all the doors open to you, while I’ve just barely got a foot in, I find myself going to the “That’s easy for you to say…” place. It is so easy in situations like this to think that the successful person speaking doesn’t understand the whole starting out and getting work out struggle. It’s ridiculous–of COURSE you understand that. You were not born a famous writer. You had to work and revise and revise and revise, and I’m sure you got your fair share of rejections when you started out. But when I am watching this speech, I can’t see all of that. I can only see someone who because so successful that he has been asked to speak at a college graduation.

The trouble with admiring famous people, aspiring to be where they are, is that no one is well-known until they are. We never see the name until it starts to appear everywhere. There is, to some degree, an illusion that it simply happens all of a sudden. You can talk about your starting-out days all you want, and I believe they really happened, but the reality of it escapes my grasp. I am unable to connect your early days as a writer with mine. For every person whose story led to success, like yours, there are probably many more who never made it. I suppose the most common difference is that all of those people, at some point, gave up. But you have to admit, there is no guarantee that it will ever happen for any particular person.

I am not trying to imply that you don’t deserve your success, Neil. I’m a fan; it’s clear that your work is well-loved for a reason. It’s just that I have never been able to understand that bridge between writing and getting the writing recognized. Maybe that’s just me.



Deva Jasheway, long-time writer