Fitzgerald—God love him, am I right?—said (and I paraphrase), “Write because you have something to say, not because you want to say something.” Gosh, I love that man too, or at least I really like to think I would. I think he’d be a great chap with whom to stand in a hazy room and listen to people play music on a stage, the kind that’s so loud you have to agree to stop trying to talk and just let the stuff shake your bones around. Sometimes, when work is slow, I read one of his short stories online, and every time, I think, “Gosh, I love this man.” Sometimes, when work is slow, I open a blank document to play around with, and I hear his words reverberating as if I’d actually heard him say that: “Write because you have something to say, not because you want to say something.”
And so I stare at the screen, and I wait for the thing I need to say to creep up into my arms and hug me. I stare at the keyboard and I put both headphones in instead of just one, because music almost always makes my soul do flips until it shakes out something I need to say. And I worry when nothing comes, when the things I’m finding are the things I’ve already spoken of, how my days are still about falling in love with my new life. Fitzgerald doesn’t have an answer for this problem, because he’s dead and we don’t actually talk. I close out my document.
I worry, you know, that maybe I’ve lost my edge. “What’s there to say that hasn’t been said?” The Starbucks barista raises his eyebrow at me, and I realize I’m asking the wrong person. I try the old look-in-the-mirror-and-see-into-my-own-soul trick, too, but all I find there is that I have a new pimple that wasn’t there yesterday, which causes me to hum some Britney Spears lyrics that I’ve never been saving for such a time as this: “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.“ Things have suddenly taken a turn for the worse.
Most days, I take a walk down to the coffee shop two blocks away, in the most eclectic part of town. I pass all kinds of people, and after four years of existing within a bubble of higher-education seekers and higher-education givers, different as we were, it’s rejuvenating to watch people live these lives worlds away from the squeaky, fresh college graduate. A man eating cold soup straight from a can asks me for a dollar, but his eyes look so content that I don’t have an ounce of pity when I give him one. Another guy, who’s a little bit disfigured and limping, smiles at me in such a way that it’s as if he’s reminding me we all deserve to walk down the street, something I fiercely believe and yet probably don’t portray in the way I sometimes avert my eyes. I watch a woman buy her toddler chocolate milk, and I see that for that moment, she understands the feeling of being a hero. These people, so different than me, make me uncomfortable sometimes, but they also make me want to say something. I want to say something that makes people think, the way the soup-eating man’s eyes make me think. I want to say something like that.
I want to say I think it’s enough to want to say something, Fitzgerald. I want to say something that changes the world, maybe just a small, tiny part of the world. I want to say something, Scott, that, for just a second, makes me somebody’s hero, lets me come to somebody’s rescue, gives somebody the chocolate milk he or she really wanted. I’m not going to lie, part of it is that being a hero sounds nice, but mostly I don’t want to leave the world without having said something. So, I want to be the soup man’s advocate, not because he needs me to give him money or a box full of pity, but because he needs me to tell everyone he’s content. I want to say something that makes someone else say, “Me too!” and right now, the people who are probably going to shout that are the other 22-year-olds who really like to read about how there is no 22-year-old on the planet who has it figured out, those who are also working on falling in love with their lives, day by day, remarkable thing by remarkable thing. So I’ll keep saying what I know: Life is weird, life is hard, and there are remarkable things all the time.
I love Fitzgerald’s words; in fact, I’ve never met a something he’s said and not appreciated it. But if we went out together, maybe to hear a cool band, I would tell him that I’m still finding my somethings to say. I’d say, “Fitz, you know, I’m still learning, and I know I want to say something, but I’m not sure what.” I can’t help but think he’d admit that he understood.
When work is slow, when I’m back from my walk to Starbucks, I open up a blank word document, and I let my fingers play. They ask me what I want to say, and I remember the way that toddler looked up at her mama, and I want the world to know about that woman. “Tell the world,” I dictate, “that it doesn’t take much to be a hero. Tell the world that it just takes a little courage and some chocolate milk. Tell the world that it’s just learning how to say something.”
I’ll tell Fitzgerald that, too.