Neil Gaiman is a writer I’ve always admired. For a long time, that admiration was based purely on the fact that his brain was responsible for The Sandman series, one of the most incredible pieces of storytelling EVER. The writing together with the fantastic artwork culminates in an eye-opening reading experience that never fails to explode my imagination and push the boundaries of my mind. The first time I read it, I was a freshman undergraduate whose resolve was starting to crumble after having my choice of major questioned one too many times. Are you planning to teach? Will you make any money? What can you actually DO with an English degree? I had spent all of high school letting the prospect of university — a place where everyone is excited about learning, and you can study whatever you want, and BE whoever you want, and it’ll be NOTHING like high school — keep me afloat. It was an enlightening experience being brought back down to Earth, realizing that all the people in college had in fact come from high school and carried the same high school attitudes, habits, and fears they’d spent years cultivating along with them.
It wasn’t OK quite yet to do what you really wanted; you had to be sensible. Getting a degree that guaranteed employment, becoming a responsible grown-up, doing something for a living that would lead to owning a beautiful home and being part of a happy, healthy family who take trips together and sincerely enjoy each others’ company — this is what was truly important, to many of us. Including me. As much as I wanted to be myself and follow my passion, I also wanted to live the life mentioned above. I’d always wanted that. Mostly because, with the dissolution of my family, it had been taken away from me and I wanted it back. So I was pulled in two directions, like a lot of young people are. It can be difficult to separate your wants from what the people you love have been known to value and have always wanted for you. But it can be done. It just takes time, wisdom, and the support of those who know you well and love you for who you actually are.
But a nudge in the right direction doesn’t hurt. 😉
My nudge came from Neil Gaiman at a time when I was questioning everything. Did it make sense to pursue fiction writing as a career? There’s no steady money involved unless you hit it big, and that can take a long time. People don’t respect artists; they just think you’re messing around, running from “real” responsibility. If I told someone I was a writer, they’d probably smirk and ask, “Yeah, but what do you do for a living?” That annoying, but important question — why do you want to tell stories? — persisted in the back of my mind… without a suitable answer. Until I read volume 1 of The Sandman.
One of the girls living on my hall had all 10 books. I liked to rummage through my friends’ books after we’d gotten to know each other better. I asked if I could take a look at book 1 of the series. I ended up staying in her room until I had read almost all of them. She said I could borrow the rest, so I did. With every page I turned, I remembered the stories I’d read over the years that had shown me there was so much more to everything than what I could immediately see. I finally figured out how to articulate why I wanted to write fiction: I wanted to make someone else feel the way reading The Sandman had made me feel — like anything is possible.
It’s important to remind yourself why you love what you love. And even though it can be hard (very hard), don’t let other people who don’t understand your motivations get you down. Let that passion of yours move you forward and help you to discover what’s genuinely important to you.
I started this post with the intent of reviewing The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which is wonderful with a lot of unexpected elements to it, but I like what this little ramble turned into (and the title of the post still feels appropriate 😀 ). A few words on TOATEOTL though: For some reason, when I first picked it up last year, I couldn’t get beyond chapter 2. I recently decided to give it another go. I read it in one sitting. Now it’s one of my favorite stories! It’s definitely worth a look if you happen to come across it. Funny how perceptions can change completely in such a short amount of time 🙂