I remember when I was only three years younger than he was this morning, when my school brought in this real live writer to talk to my class. We all sat in the library and she sat behind this table and spoke to us about what it was that she did for a living - and she did not gloss over any aspect of it. There were no rose-tinted spectacles in that room that day. We got a very clear idea of the blood and sweat and tears, and the rejections, and the frustrations, and the waiting, and the eternal writer's dichotomous need to keep a sense of empathy for people's thoughts and feelings and the skin of a rhinoceros for when the 'thanks but no thanks" notes started rolling in. She spoke about the fears, and the disappointments, and the hard work, and the way you sometimes had to compromise on things deeply felt in order to get anything done at all. And yet... she spoke of all this with the light of angels in her eyes, and that was the night that the fifteen-year-old me knew that being a writer was something I wanted to spend my life being. Granted, I did a digression in my twenties and somehow managed to emerge from them with a postgraduate science degree - but in the end, that vision won through, and here I am, writing, living the dream that had been handed to me so long ago in that school library.
So now it was my turn to sit behind the table, and another generation's turn to sit in front, and ask questions, and dream dreams. I told my eighteen-year-old about talent, and persistence, and luck; about how a handful of writers go on to live this dream full-time and survive from its proceeds, and how others hold down extra day-jobs with regular pay checks and/or marry money and a supportive and understanding partner; about what publishers do, and agents do, and how a novel is born, and what happens to a writer's words in between their birth in mind and memory and their eventual resting place between the covers of a book. I told him that writing starts off as a vocation before it ever turns into a career. I told him of some of the pitfalls and potholes on the road ahead. And he still appeared to have decided that he would pick up his pack and continue along his chosen road. He has the persistence, one out of three, and he is starting to make his own luck, as writers must, by choosing to talk to me today about writing as his career, about presenting this choice in his class next week as a career path. "Thanks," he said to me as he was leaving, "You've really helped."
And all the while, as we spoke, that snow-like white stuff was blowing about outside on the streets - I could see it through the window, a blur against the cloudy sky and the bright green spring trees, and I could remember the way my own heart beat once, long ago, as I walked out of a school library, with the light of vision in my eyes. Today I paid back a debt more than twenty years old. I passed the flame, lit a brand new candle with the flame of my own, spread the light a little further into the future. Whether or not this acolyte ever does become a master is in other hands than mine, or even his own at this moment - but he made a certain choice today and I was there to witness. ANd the answers, my friend, were blowing in the wind, up and down the street below us where oblivious people hurried and scurried in pursuit of their own lives.