All buildings give their owners opportunities to recondition visitors’ expectations and to lay down rules of conduct specific to them. The art gallery legitimates the practice of peering silently at a canvas, the nightclub of swaying one’s hands to a musical score. And a church, with its massive timber doors and 300 stone angels carved around its porch, gives us rare permission to lean over and say hello to a stranger without any danger of being thought predatory or insane.
– Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists
Since I was very young I have had a deep love of books, and when other children wanted to be president or doctors, I wanted to be an author. There was a brief phase where I wanted to be a lawyer (when I believed law and logic were related), and a longer phase where I wanted to be a CEO (still a possibility), but for the past 25 years I have always known I would write a book during my lifetime.
I will be the next Michael Lewis/Malcolm Gladwell/Dan and Chip Heath/Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt/Adam Grant. My book will be a non-fiction, sociology, social psychology, or general business book. It will shoot to the top of the charts and I will travel the country on a book tour, being interviewed for popular podcasts, then being paid large sums of money to speak a company retreats and other events. It’ll be a good life.
The quote above from Alain de Botton speaks of legitimacy and permission. In an art gallery we know we can stare at a painted canvas for minutes or hours. The art gallery gives us permission. The inverse of that statement is that we do not naturally feel that permission elsewhere – we have to take it or create it ourselves.
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon I visited the Cambridge Innovation Center, a co-working space located in the heart of Kendall Square in Cambridge, MA. Their claim to fame is that they have “more startups than anywhere else on the planet” – over 650 companies. The offerings range from a transient desk to an office for 40, but what people actually pay for is community and permission. Want to start a company? Do it from your garage or spare bedroom. Yet hundreds of people pay high prices for a stocked kitchen and a place to sit at One Broadway, Cambridge, MA. There is something about renting office space that grants permission to be a legitimate company.
I have been writing quite a bit over my sabbatical. Many things have been posted here on my blog, other posts sit in draft form, and one piece of writing – a fantasy novel – will not see the light of day any time soon.
I’m still seeking permission to be an author. I’ve felt permission to blog for years and years, but feel out of sorts when contemplating a book. Perhaps it’s a mindset change. Perhaps I need to find a book writing space – Starbucks, the local library, the office turned toy room. I don’t know. Thank you for reading, though, and I appreciate your comments.
Woody Allen’s advice to young artists is:
My observation was that once a person actually completed a play or a novel he was well on his way to getting it produced or published, as opposed to a vast majority of people who tell me their ambition is to write, but who strike out on the very first level and indeed never write the play or book.
I read that quote in Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, and have not gotten past that page because I put the book down every time to write.