When I was a senior in high school, I told my English teacher, Ms. Wallin, I would write a novel some day. She smiled and replied “I know.” She later wrote this in my yearbook:
I’ve really enjoyed watching you discover yourself this year. It seems to me that you have been clarifying your values, and also undergoing some sometimes painful transitions. Your sarcastic sense of humor reveals not only your sharp mind, but the sensitivity you wish to hide. Both (your mind and sensitivity) are great assets, especially if you keep them in balance. You’ve kept me on my toes this year, for which I’m glad. I know you’ll do well.
I remember reading that and thinking “wow, the best teacher I ever had believes in me. I’m definitely going to write a novel.” That was June, 1989. Later that fall, I’d start college, entering freshman year as an Economics major at UCLA (Both my parents were accountants, so something quantitative made a ton of sense). I received a C- on my first microeconomics midterm, however. Playing poker and drinking Boone’s Strawberry Hill until 4 a.m. may or may not have had an adverse effect on the test. The following quarter, I switched my major to Political Science. It required a ton of reading and studying, leaving me no time to write. Oh well, once I got through sophomore year, things would calm down, I thought. That’s when I’ll start the novel, I rationalized. But then came junior year, followed by senior year. And yet, still no novel.
It wasn’t really a big deal though, as I committed myself to becoming a lawyer. Three years of law school = plenty of time to start the book. Keep in mind this was during the heyday of L.A. Law. I was going to be the Asian Harry Hamlin, and I would change the world (It’s okay, you can laugh. I do now). I don’t think I ever got over my Susan Dey crush, but I digress. Where was I? Oh yeah, law school. Wait, what? There’s even more reading and studying in law school? Maybe I should explore some other potential career paths.
The summer after my junior year, I had done a three month marketing internship at Columbia Pictures. I liked it. So forget that lawyer crap, I’m going to be a marketer, a brand manager or a Chief Marketing Officer, something along those lines. Plus there’s writing in marketing, so at least it’s sort of in the same ball park. I can work for a couple of years, do the whole corporate, suit and tie thing and then writing the Great American Novel. But a year turned into two turned into five. Then came business school and more work again, followed by marriage, after which a kid arrived. No novel.
Jump ahead to 2011, and I’m in between jobs, but fired up about a new employment opportunity. “This Walgreens thing could be phenomenal. They’re just launching a loyalty program now. I can totally make my mark there, be one of the leaders that helps shape customer loyalty for a multi-billion dollar company. I should be able to pack in four or five years before I either get canned or quit out of boredom. And that’s when I’ll write the book.”
So my wife, who happens to be the most bad-ass, tolerant and supportive woman on the planet said “You have your exit strategy already planned? Don’t be an idiot. Write your book now.” Yes, I do know I married up. Every day I wake up, I look in the mirror and realize “You lucky son of a bitch. Thank goodness she said yes when you asked her out. And stuck around, even after you took her to see Face/Off on your second date.”
When I reread the note from Ms. Wallin, the first time in close to twenty years, I cried. A blended mixture of sadness, frustration and anger. How the heck did I wake up, 40 years old, with exactly zero novels under my belt. Why didn’t I write it in my twenties? I should have at least drafted a manuscript in my thirties. But what’s done is done. Should have. Could have. No point looking back. You can’t change the past. And so as I wrap up the final revisions of my first novel, “Abridged,” and can see the finish line a mere month or two away, I can only think of one thing — better late than never.