Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why I Write

At age seven, I began my first novel. I would like to say that I was a childhood prodigy, but that wasn’t the case. I sat at the typewriter (back then computers were only for video games), and composed one sentence. The desire was there, but the know-how needed work. I also needed some support, some acknowledgment of my burgeoning genius. But I was supposed to be respectable, to become a doctor, a lawyer, a business person.  I was the last of five children and sometimes hidden amidst the hustle and bustle in our crowded household. So I hunkered down and studied. It paid off. I was admitted to Harvard, where I studied anthropology, then Oxford, where I also studied anthropology.

That’s when I started my second novel. With the help of a computer, I managed to write 20 pages. Occasionally I wrote short stories. I started a journal, which I kept for years and which has morphed into this blog. Then I succumbed to whatever pressure you might want to call it and went to medical school. Amazingly, I graduated despite attempts by the faculty to throw me out. My attention, as it always had been, lay elsewhere. I was reading voraciously subjects not remotely related to medicine: history, memoir, and fiction. I wrapped my hands around Eggers and imagined him a kindred soul. I plowed through Dostoyevsky. I showed up to rounds with blood shot eyes from reading late into the night.

The faculty had suspicions about me. I didn’t fit in. I attended writing workshops at night when I should have been studying anatomy. I managed to convince the faculty to release me for one month so that I could attend the Prague Creative Writing Workshop. I got ambitious and entered a creative writing competition for medical students. I won. Finally some reassurance that I wasn’t alone. Then residency hit, a downward spiral. I managed to get through two years, but I still couldn’t change my nature. It was now or never. I quit. I am going to become a writer, I said. I can no longer deny my inner muse, was my explanation. I was on my own. My family didn’t understand, my friends from medical school withdrew in fear that my quitting might taint them. I found other friends, artsy fartsy ones. I started to feel more comfortable with myself. I got a few things published. It was on the internet, but I didn’t care. It felt like my name was up in lights. I worked a low paying job with no respect. I was putting in my time, paying my dues. But now I’m fed up. I can do better than this, I think.  It’s time to start another novel. It's time to get down to work.

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