On Writing, Fish and Destiny

I wrote my first short story when I was in third grade.

That winter morning, I woke up with a stuffy nose and a mild fever. Outside, the temperature was around the low 50s. Cold. Mexico City-cold. So I got to stay home, even though I was not too sick. I immediately got down to business.

A bunch of G.I. Joe operatives put He-Man in a prison. He escaped and smashed their heads. A giant James Bond missing his legs put He-Man and his henchmen out of commission with a flame thrower. Then they all played with a football made out of play dough.

Many spectacular plays into the game, I got bored out of my brain. I dragged my slippers the whole twenty-five feet to the living room and checked the clock on the wall. It was barely past nine. We didn’t have cable — that was for rich people — and there were no cartoons on broadcast TV that early. Channel 5 would not even start transmitting until noon. In complete denial I channel-surfed, hoping for a miracle. The closest to a cartoon I watched that morning was static and color bars.

In defeat, I turned to my parent’s typewriter. Would I still be here, telling you any stories at all, if I had I chosen to play with the vacuum cleaner instead? All we know is that that morning I wrote a story about a group of orphaned siblings who lived in a farm and took care of each other. My first short story.

. . . 

When I was a freshman in college, a professor asked us why we wanted to be engineers. “I’ve been taking electronic devices apart since I was a kid.” That was the most common answer. I thought that was dumb. I did so many things when I was a kid, and yet, there I was, on my way to becoming an engineer and not a professional baseball player, an entomologist, or a singer. Or a writer.

I wrote more fiction and poetry in middle- and high-school. In college, I joined a creative writing club and took a class to learn how to write a script. I was telling these things to my friend. He has a long career as a writer and I wanted some advice. “It’s OK, you don’t have to convince me you want to be a writer,” he said. It wasn’t him I was trying to convince.

I want to write. I want to write with my guts. I want to bring the shadow out and express the things I haven’t said and say them with courage. I want to master the art. I want to be one of the voices my people have, to share laughter and love, to denounce disenfranchisement and discrimination. I want to counter underrepresentation by showing brown people as the owners of their own stories; and not just dancing on the beach honoring the gods, but also creating the future; a future shared by everyone. I want my writing intersect with service. I want to serve by writing.

But.

There’s a part in me — the fish from The Cat in the Hat — who thinks this is a bad, bad idea. “This crazy ‘writing’ thing is just going to mess up your home, there’s no call from the Universe, listen… Nothing!” the fish says. “Well, it’s not just the Universe calling, I also feel an itch inside me,” I say, mumbling the words, not so sure about all this at this point. “Think about it, is this really your destiny?” the fish says. He makes me think and in thinking I get lost.

When I’m in front of my computer, the cursor blinking, the fish makes me think. “I’m new at this, not very skilled. I’m forty-one.” When I get stuck, and I get stuck a lot, “I’m exposing myself, people will realize I am a fraud. How about we get coffee and a muffin instead?”

The fish is creative. “I don’t have important things to say. My perspective doesn’t matter. I’ll run out of ideas. Nobody will read me. Or many people will read me and then I’ll have to own what I said. I won’t ‘make it’ and that will make me a loser. I’m dreaming. Who do I think I am? This is just for the chosen ones.” The fish adds, “You’re not one of them.”

All this sound and fury and yet, the fish is just a fish. I don’t think he even cares. He’s just a fish; for Christ’s sake, he doesn’t even know what he’s doing. I don’t think the fish will go away, though. Do you remember how at the end of A Beautiful Mind, John Nash still sees Charles, Marcee and Parcher at the Noble Prize ceremony? The merit is in not engaging with the Furies. Don’t converse with the fish.

Writing […] might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. 

— Neil Gaiman


My task is to keep at it, with discipline and courage. Leave the big questions about calling and destiny to someone else, I’m building something here, brick by brick. I’m a construction worker, a carpenter. I work because the work makes me whistle and I whistle to get me through the rough patches of my work.

Public domain image via the Wellcome Collection

I have the discipline and I know I could go on with discipline alone, but the road will lead to nowhere without courage. The courage I’ll find as I traverse the road in search for courage. The courage to say what I have to say — what I need to say. The courage to counter the fish, to swim upstream. To know when to follow the rules and when not to follow the rules.

There is no destiny. There is only the space between the word we just wrote and the one we’re looking for. There is only the present moment and the next word, no answers from above.

This post was previously published in Medium.

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