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For the past twelve months, the author of this column attempted to write from the perspective of the inner mind of a writer as they consider the vagaries and sundries of their craft and career. If one reads each and every one of the last eleven entries, an unintended pattern emerged. The recurring note was singular, sometimes loud, sometimes subtle, but ever-present. Here, we pull back the curtain to understand why. 

Death stalked all eleven months of this column, culminating in a dire requiem for the author, who worked an obscene but necessary number of hours to support his family this year, including a very long and somewhat dangerous commute. Days began at 5 beat the worst of the traffic. Cold instant coffee, the barest of hygiene, and a Gordon Gecko hair slick bought time before getting behind the wheel. Burger King was his copilot. The day would end at 10 p.m.—he was exhausted and barely able to do much more than watch wrestling, shower, repeat.

Some results were predictable. Fatigue. Weight gain. Loss of patience  Others, less so. The enamel on two teeth were worn to the bone from stress-clenching. Emotions became hard to regulate. Darker thoughts cracked into his waking life. 

Art was the go-to for years against such darkness, but there was so much to do and so much to finish in life that art was done in the barest of scraps. And the author berated himself for being weak. Of needing art, of needing rest, of needing anything. 

So why not end it?

When a loved one saw this struggle, they did the math.  The day job was no longer needed. They would not end up homeless, the author’s greatest fear, and in fact they would be just fine. The job and commute ended, leading to the joke that the author was unemployed now that “he now only has three jobs.” He had done what needed to be done for his family. Now he could rest and recover. 

But the dark thoughts still crackled. When he spoke to professionals, they said the commute was long enough to be called “voluntary solitary confinement.” He needed far more help than he had in the past. It was hard to ask for it. But the alternative was final. 

And a funny thing happened—in that recovery, art leaked out of his strained mind. Not a torrent. Not a monsoon or a gush. Just in dribs and drabs, fits and starts. And it helped.

If you read Cautionary Tale now, you see career analysis become a cry for help, and now, it’s been answered and is over. But all endings are beginnings in disguise. 

September 2019 is the 20th anniversary of the author’s decision to become a writer. Twenty years of learning, failing, giving up, depression, success, fuck-ups, more failure, some nice paydays, horrific, life-changing shit, and idealism burned to death by realism only to emerge from the ashes as a kind of self-flagellating hope.

Next month, Cautionary Tale becomes lessons from a lifetime of limited success. Next month, we begin DO IT—TWELVE LESSONS FROM TWENTY YEARS IN THE ARTS.

Here’s to twenty more.

© Jason S. Ridler

Meet the Author

Jason S. Ridler

Jason S. Ridler

Jason S. Ridler is a writer, historian, and actor. He is the author of The Brimstone Files, and his latest historical work Mavericks of War was called a “visceral read that is also an important piece of scholarship” by Pulitzer-Prize winner Richard Rhodes. He is a Teaching Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and teaches creative writing at Google, Youtube, and for private clients.

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