Monday, July 20, 2015

How Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Ruined My Life

Back a few weeks ago, the husband and I took the kids to see the new movie Inside Out. If you haven’t seen it, and you should, one of the concepts in the movie is that inside our brains we have Islands of Personality that are formed and supported by core memories that make us who we are.
When my granddaughter asked me what my Islands of Personality are, I had a sudden flash of Gene Wilder in a crazy purple top hat telling me to come with him to a land of pure imagination. When I was a little girl, that concept of the boundless possibilities of Imagination stamped itself on my vulnerable infant psyche, and Imagination Island was born.

Before long, I discovered that for me the easiest way to turn Imagination into something concrete and sharable was to write.  So I became a writer in first grade, penning a one-woman show starring Snoopy---my first authorial role model. I performed the show before my classmates, and even though the show opened and closed the same day, I was bitten by the writing bug.

After many years of school, then teaching English, I finally started to submit short stories. After a few acceptances, I finally finished a novel, had it accepted, and became a published author.
“Hooray!” the villagers on Imagination Island rejoiced.

But the joy was short-lived. Becoming a published author changed everything. Hard on the heels of writing the book comes marketing the book. I purely hate marketing.

“Market yourself,” I kept hearing. "Get a platform. You need followers."
“Well, I am screwed,” I replied. After all, in my psyche right next to Imagination Island is a monstrosity of a place called Nobody Likes Me Island, an island formed at least in part by my classmates’ less than positive reception of my first one-woman show.

The pressure to succeed, to turn my first books into a viable career (or at least no longer a money-losing avocation), ground at me constantly. I couldn’t write any more. Nothing. After all, what was the good of writing if no one would ever read it because I was an awful marketer of a self that Nobody Likes.
Couple this with a day job that sucks the soul from me, and you have one seriously thwarted individual.

Damn you, Willie Wonka. Damn your lies about creating endless possibilities!
I wish I could sink Imagination Island to the bottom of my psychic abyss and replace it with Balancing Spreadsheets Island or Grading Math Tests Island. Then I could find satisfaction in my day to day life.

As it is, the lure of becoming a reasonably successful writer still calls to me. It shines on the horizon and its damned sirens call out, “Just keep trying! Success is just around the corner. Don’t quit!” Easy for them to say.
I can’t turn off the desire to imagine, but the business of authorship grinds me down to my component powders. Facing the marketing of another book means looking Nobody Likes Me Island right in the face.

I wish I could just find a heroin dealer. I could sink Imagination Island under a sea of feel-good opiates and not worry about fulfillment or success or happiness. I could work my day job (who needs a soul anyway?), go home, make dinner, pay bills, do laundry, and be reasonably content.
If I could lobotomize this troublesome part of my brain so that I never had to see endless possibilities again, I would do it in a heartbeat, even knowing that doing so would fundamentally change my personality forever.

Screw optimism. Screw dreams. Screw imagination.
And screw you, Willie Wonka. You ruined my life.

If you thought this post would have a funny, happy ending, I apologize. It doesn’t get a happy ending until I do.