This week I was reading through a book of stories with a group of young people.  They wanted to discuss a story about a musician whose older brother calls him ‘Idiot’, a name which the musician then uses as his stage name and persona.

One of the girls said, “I want to look up Idiot and listen to his music.”

Another girl said, “You can’t.  He’s made up.”

“No, he’s real.  He’s here in this book, there’s a picture and everything.”

“You don’t get it.”  The girl pointed at me.  “He’s ‘Idiot’.  Him.  He made this story up, his name is right here on the cover.”

“Oh, really?  That’s too bad, it sounded so real.  Almost like a real writer wrote it.”

Yesterday when I got home, I found an envelope in the mailbox.  I took a bread knife and slit it open: a royalty statement from my publisher, a month’s salary for a group of stories published for young people.  In all honesty, I’ve been so busy writing new ones, I’d forgotten all about them.

I started earning money for my writing when I was seventeen, selling work to Ohio newspapers.  I’ve been lucky.  On the other hand I’ve also been hard-working, sleep-deprived, chronically rejected, and in doubt about what I was doing with my life.

There are two ways to get paid as a writer: informal recognition, which leads to pride in knowing you’re doing important work; and formal recognition, such as numbers in an envelope you slit open with a bread knife –– numbers that pay the rent, put food on your table, and help you to justify the time you spend alone with your words.

There’ve been many times when I felt like an idiot.  This week I felt like a writer.