Dear Sappho,

In your last letter to me, you asked me about my writing background. That’s a harder question to answer than it should be. The first obstacle is some scruples about vanity. The second obstacle is brevity. Where does such a journey begin? Maybe in the womb, when nature knits us together.

Nevertheless, I must admit that I asked you the same question. It would be impolite to not answer it in turn. I will try, even though I think the task impossible.

My Credo

Rightly or wrongly, I came to the conclusion that I should never make self-evaluations. One may feel clever about this turn of phrase or that, and they will inevitably harbor the conviction that their point of view is special. Those are impulses which convince someone that something is worth writing down in the first place. But those impulses, if indulged, lead to dishonesty. I indulge them long enough to write, keep my own counsel (if my primary subject is myself), and leave judgments to posterity.

Also, that taboo may have been influenced by a bland observation: The least amusing people in my life have often said, “I’m hilarious” or, when it was in fashion, “Trust me, I’m hilarious.” It’s better to be thought (or be) ordinary than to be exposed as ordinary and conceited.

The Latin motto of my personal website is “Ars Ipsa Loquitur,” which translates to “Art Speaks for Itself.”

The word “ars” does some extra work for me on this front – Romans never made the modern-day distinction between “high art” and “low art,” as we do now. There were arts considered unfit for distinguished members of society. For example, Nero practiced music and composition rather than oratory after he took on the purple, and this was considered unbecoming. But everything that requires study or skill is an ars.

That extends to medicine, music, trivia, or even the “art of pay” (as Plato calls it). I find this liberating, democratic, and inclusive, so it’s a definition I’ve assumed.

Whatever my ars is, I want it to be an extension of my animus, my spirit. Whatever it achieves should be sincere. However people wish to receive it, that reception should be sincere. I confess to my ambitions and vanity (even the best of us have them), but they’re the enemy of truth.

This is a sacred rule for a secular fellow.

Trying to Avoid It

Writing has been my greatest passion since I learned how to read, but I always felt ashamed of it. My father is a lawyer, my mother is doctor, and my brother is civil engineer.  As a group, we read every type of genre voraciously. The idea of making a living from it, however, was not encouraged. It was too unstable. The Weeks household never gambles on anything, the future included.

Still, I never felt slighted. In fact, they indulged me. I had community college writing courses in the summer and spent long hours workshopping stories with my English teacher. My uncle, a still photographer working for Warner Brothers, sent me screenplays to study.

Eventually, I studied creative writing at the University of Victoria, far away from home. I took as many workshops as I could stand. They went poorly, though that isn’t reflected in my grades. Neither wise nor thick-skinned, I was introduced to professors and highly competitive peers. I left those workshops feeling less and less sure of my seat at their table.

Ancient Rome and Greece consoled me. I was drawn in first by the music of their languages, by the word games of Latin and Attic Greek, and then by their strangeness. But I have written too much on those matters, Sappho, to bore you here.

I graduated in 2018 and, respecting my family’s wishes, I slipped through many “real” jobs:

  • Plumbing and lighting sales associate at Canadian Tire
  • Medical receptionist
  • Medical scribe
  • IDD agent (translation: wiping the asses of persons with disabilities)
  • ABA behavioral therapist (I’m quite ashamed of this one)
  • Door-to-door solicitor for a nonprofit
  • Phone-to-phone solicitor for a nonprofit
  • Sales associate for a wargaming store
  • Commissioned painter of wargaming miniatures (when the store went under, this was my main source of income)
  • Assistant funeral director

Why I Accepted It

The last one broke me, and I’m still trying to process it.

Technically, I was a glorified clerk intended to fill out files and answer phones. But the funeral home was short-staffed and in the midst of a corporate merger. The COVID-19 pandemic was at its height. Nothing in my job description mattered anymore.

Four weeks of training turned into four days. I packed urns and logged possessions. I took fresh dispatches from hospices. I called the freshly bereaved to set up appointments. Around twice a week, I handled the bodies themselves if there was a service or the company needed a halfway home.

I saw the victim of a murder once. I counted each bloodstained dollar in his soggy wallet, since any missing items could be grounds for a lawsuit. One of the deceased looked eerily like my mother. That robbed me of a good night’s sleep. Yet it was the death certificates which stuck with me the most. They are the ledger of our lives – a tally of professions, educations, and nationalities expressing the sum of ambition.

I was awed by those who took flight and wandered far from home, from England or Japan to the Pacific Northwest. I was saddened by those who stayed within a few square miles of where they were born. Interviewing the next of kin, I measured the impact of their deaths. The unhappiest stories, I found, shared a common element: denial.

I’m a writer because I can’t be anything else.