Between The Covers

It’s good to get out.

Tonight was a fairly major aboration. I didn’t work late. I didn’t rehearse with any of my bands. I didn’t watch some art house film on DVD. I went out. To the New York Public Library. To see a bunch of writers perform.

Sounds anomalous, right? Writers? Performing?

The Moth is an organization that brings authors to the stage to perform their works. Tonight’s quintet was at once hilarious, moving, and irreverent. The setting — cultured, creative, substantive, and vaguely-academic — took me back to college.

I was a creative writing major at Syracuse University. That basically means I was an English major who took a bunch of creative writing classes. My favorite, and the most impactful, was a seminar with Tobias Wolff. You probably don’t know his work, unless you’re a huge Leonardo DiCaprio fan and saw his first film, “This Boy’s Life.” The film is based on Tobias’ memoir. I saw the premiere at the Syracuse Carousel Center, aka The Mall. Leo was there. So was Tobias.

The course called for a short story a week. I wrote most of them the night before they were due. Which is pretty idiotic for a class run by a National Book Award nominee. But heck, it was college. And stories were pouring out of my veins. I had nothing but time then. And naivete. And hope: boundless, unfounded, and unfettered hope.

I was desperate for a mentor then, and told Tobias bold-faced that I wanted him to be my mentor. I sent him letters after graduation seeking his sage advices on what to do with my aimless life. “The transition from college,” he wrote me in large cursive letters, “is the most diffuclt of all.”

In those days, I thought I wanted to be a professor. I wanted to move people to think. I wanted to inspire young minds. I wanted to read, write, and lecture for a living. I wanted to be all about words and thought and emotion.

Twelve years on now, I’ve had very little published. Still, I think Tobias would be pleased. I consider his advices every time I construct a sentence. He used to strike a red pen through my flowery verbage. He used to encourage me to be short. And to the point.

More importantly, though, he made me feel comfortable with my aimlessness at a time when I wanted desperately to know my aim.

Well, here I am, writing. Did it, did I, turn out as I expected? No, probably not: no Grammy, no Pulitzer. Did it, did I, turn out as I should? As only I could?

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