Writing is something everyone has to do. Anyone who has ever been through high school has had to write a paper. The act of putting words on paper is not something new or unique. It is, however, if you’re a Capital-W-Writer. But what makes someone a Capital-W-Writer? Is it in the blood? The genes? The air? What makes someone an artist or a scientific genius? Personally, I think if you’re going to be a Capital anything it’s got to be in your soul. But how do you know when you’re a Capital?
For me the moment came with sudden, brilliant clarity on a brisk October afternoon in my early twenties right after one of my incredibly successful cousins had given a speech at Homecoming in the small town I grew up in.
But first you have to understand something about my family. My mother’s maiden name is Gyllenhaal. There is only one Gyllenhaal family in the entire world. One. We’re all related. Now think about a few people you might have heard of with the last name Gyllenhaal. … Yep, they’re my cousins. The ones you’re thinking of are my second cousins, to be precise. I’ve met Jake once and I’ve never met Maggie, in case you were wondering. But I try to hang out with their dad Stephen, a Hollywood director, every time he comes to town. He is super cool.
The thing is, all of my Gyllenhaal cousins are super cool. In my Gyllenhaal family we’ve got two A-list movie stars and their director father, an aspiring actress, a published author, the former editor of the Miami Herald who has not only won two Pulitzer Prizes but was the chairman of the Pulitzer committee, a professional dancer, a rockin’ musician, a ton of artists, several filmmakers, an even larger ton of teachers, at least a dozen successful businessmen, and an archeologist who has gone exploring in the Pyramids of Egypt like a real-life Indiana Jones. Our family is relatively small, by the way, and there are only about 50 cousins in my generation, only half or less of which still have the last name Gyllenhaal, so I can tell you who all the myriad fake Gyllenhaals are on Facebook and who the real ones are. A clue, the Asian one IS a real Gyllenhaal.
But I digress. Why do I digress? Because I felt the need to make the point that in my family success is not something people sigh about as totally out of reach, it’s a fact. I want to be a successful Writer, but how can I compete for significance in a family that has Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, Pulitzer prizes, and the treasures of the Pharaoh to their names? How can I make my mark as a Caiptal-W-Writer when we already have some, plus Capital-A-Actors and Capital-I-Indiana Joneses? How do I even know that I am a Writer?
Back to that windy October day in the 90s. My cousin Stephen had just finished giving a speech about the importance of a good education in reaching for your dreams. A group of us were standing outside the building housing the auditorium. A field hockey game was going on to one side and the whistle of the referee mingled with the cheers of the crowd. It was chilly and I was hugging my coat around me. I remember that odd detail. Or maybe I was just nervous because I was talking to Stephen’s then wife, Naomi. Naomi was and is a BIG Capital-W-Writer. She has been nominated for an Oscar for a screenplay and won the Golden Globe for it. She knows her stuff. I was in awe.
I looked up at her with round, nervous eyes and said, “I want to be a writer someday too.”
She looked back at me, somewhat aloof, back straight, chin high, and said the words that would forever change my life:
“You either are a Writer or you’re not. If you are then call yourself a Writer and write.”
That was it. That was the moment I knew. I felt a thrill, like a bristling electric current, run through me. I was a Writer. I needed to WRITE.
It didn’t matter that I was surrounded by successful cousins. It didn’t matter that I may never reach the heights of power and recognition, or just plain awesomeness, that they had risen to. What mattered, what matters, is that with those few words, loftily given, I suddenly knew my place in the world. The bright red pin had been stuck on the map and it was me! I am a Writer!
However, it took many more years and much sorting of baggage to fully recognize the potential of the last part of The Profound Statement. I knew I was a Writer, but it would take a profound period of sorrow and a stunning, literal moment of transcendence while sitting in a church to bring that promise to fruition ….