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The hard truth is that everything is fleeting and control is often an illusion and we tend to make art to obliterate our own sense of mortality so that perhaps we will in some fashion endure beyond our bones.

Some built pyramids on the graves of their workers.

Some wrote poetry locked in an asylum.

Others scratched in the margins of their term papers.

So why do you do it?

And not the usual platitudes, please. Something with a deeper reality. This is, after all, for posterity.

You do it because it’s the worst game of chance in town, yet the stakes are so low nobody really cares until your scratchers say, “Short story sale!” or “Minor advance for novel!” or “You now have an agent!” And what brings you back to scratching is the same itch that gamblers have chased forever, but in a different kind of transaction since we don’t pay hard currency to be a writer (most of the time): instead of, “I’ll be rich,” it will be, “I will nudge the world a little.”

And you have. You’ve peopled the minds of strangers with your creations. You made imaginary weapons for RPGs and got paid real money. Your tales of fisticuffs, fun, and hardship have offered escape for those who needed.

And that is good.

But there’s another reason.

And it’s less noble and more pure ego:

You want a contradiction: you want to succeed in the cultural marketplace without compromising anything.

Thus, like all gamblers, you’re doomed.

Unless, perhaps, the next time will be the big time.

So you keep scratching.

Scratching to be the best you can and accept the glory or gutter as fate may chose.

Keep scratching. Until the coffin lid shuts tight.

Jason S. Ridler

Jason RidlerJason 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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