The View From the Ivory Tower

Arthur Byron Cover and Lydia Morano used to run Dangerous Visions bookstore in North Hollywood on Ventura Boulevard, and among other things used to throw great parties. I was at one of them, about three years into my career, and moved from group to group listening to the conversations.


Out on the patio there were a couple of guys, unpublished writers, complaining about how impossible it was to break into the business, or get anywhere.   My heart immediately went out to them: I remembered very clearly what it was like to be on the outside, standing on the sidewalk watching through the window as the people inside have fun and progress their lives.


Having started in childhood listening to “PsychoCybernetics” and “Think and Grow Rich” and so on, my natural mode was to not merely go after the things I want, but to offer a helping hand to people who are trying to accomplish something I’ve done.  So…I was as encouraging and positive as I could be, opening my heart, telling them what I knew about how to organize your mind and heart and energy to maximize your chances of success.


I stopped, probably panting a bit, expecting them to be grateful and maybe even impressed.  Instead, I felt a kick in the guts:


“You have no idea what we’re going through,” they said.  “From up in your Ivory Tower you can’t even see the people on the ground.”


I sputtered, and tried to explain that yeah, I understood, I was there…but wandered off, defeated.




The sad thing is that before I ever published, nobody thought I could succeed.  I knew no writers.  There WERE no black SF writers I knew about, and when I spoke of my dreams and plans, I was told “you don’t know the business.   There’s no room for someone like you.  Your positive thinking will just get you hurt. The real world isn’t a dream.”


And one friend told me that I not only built dream castles…I tried to move in to them.




And now, from time to time someone will tell me that my thoughts on modeling behavior, making connections, managing your energy and shifting your emotions to optimize your odds only make sense to me because I’m a “giant” and can’t have any connection to the real world of the “ants” down below.


So…if I’m not in the game, my attitudes have no relevance.

If I’m beginning the game, I’m already divorced from reality.

If I’ve been in the game my whole life, I have no idea what it is to be a writer with hopes and dreams.


No matter where I was on the road, I could not know the truth.


There is no difference between this and what I’m told about fitness.   I haven’t suffered enough, or had their specific issue, or its been so long since I did I can’t know, or I’m in the middle of the process, get back to them when I’ve accomplished it.


How about relationships?   I can’t have an opinion because I don’t have one. Or…I’m in the first flush of love, so get back to them when I’ve raised a family. Or…I’m too old, and don’t understand how relationships are today.


Note the common thread: if someone wants/needs to reject your advice, if they want/need to feel that their dreams are out of their control, there is nothing you can say, at ANY point in your journey, that will penetrate.   They are good people, probably better than I am in many ways, but there is a mis-match. What I have to say about these processes is not for them, at this point in their lives.


Our stories don’t match.


My story is that once upon a time I was a young man with dreams of being a writer. Everyone told me I couldn’t do it, and my mother burned my stories for fear I would destroy my life with a dream of being an artist.   But I kept writing and studying, met every writer I could and asked them what they did and how they did it, and listened to what they said AND DID IT.  Got my guts kicked out with every rejection.  Cried myself to sleep when my favorite writer told me my first solo novel was garbage.  Lost writing gigs because I wasn’t good enough, saw writers with better connections leaping ahead of me…


And worked, and worked and worked.  And one day, sat up and realized that because I’d kept working, I’d published millions of words, won awards, and taught writing at the University level, even though I had dropped out of college.


And realized that that voice in my head, the one that told me I shouldn’t, or mustn’t, or that it wasn’t fair, or impossible, or that I was tired, and should quit…


That voice was just a voice.   That I had no obligation to obey it, and that it often didn’t know what it was talking about.


That when other writers, great writers, spoke of their desperation and insecurity, THIS was what they meant.


That I was a real writer.  That my life was not “easy” but it was authentic. I was what I’d always wanted to grow up to be…I just hadn’t understood how it would feel.


And that all was well.


In “Lifewriting” parlance, that was a version of  my “child’s story”, the story I tell myself about how I grew up to be the person I am.  It is one of  three major written statements I ask students to make about themselves, that helps contextualize your efforts, fears, failures, victories.  Helps the “child” within you understand the journey “ahead” of you.


The story you tell about your life, your struggles, your goals and dreams, makes all the difference. Our emotions are controlled by three things:


  1. The way we use our bodies (anxiety has a posture)
  2. What we focus on
  3. The way we use language. Our self-talk. The stories we tell about ourselves.


Control one of those, and you’ll make progress. Control all three and you can shift your emotions whenever you wish, to whatever you want.


Of course, you reading this will have a story about who you are, what the world is, how you became who you are and what the future holds.  That voice in your head might say you’ve been waiting all your life for someone who speaks of these things the way I do. Or it might say that I don’t know, because I haven’t lived your life, or are too old, or too young, or too X or Y or Z to know you and your trials.


And if that is true, I’m sorry, because it means I believe in you more than you believe in yourself.  And I pray that you’ll find the path you need, and the teacher who speaks to you.  I certainly did, but I had to try a forest full of false paths, and organize my resources to their max, and decide that I might fail, might die trying, but would not quit.


Whatever it takes to find love, or build your career, or gain the fitness and physical skills you desire…I hope you find it, and make of your life a beautiful thing.





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