Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Portrait of the Adam Levin as a Young Man

In the 30th in a series of posts on 2012 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Adam Levin, author of Hot Pink (McSweeney's Books), discusses how his teenage desire to have a girlfriend fostered a career.

What made you want to become a writer?
In fourth grade, I wanted to become a guy with a girlfriend, which I thought you became by getting in fistfights, having long hair in back with short hair on top, making lewd gestures at teachers whose backs were turned, talking non-stop about video games, and drinking beer from the fridges in the garages of the fathers of like-minded friends while those fathers were at work. With the exception of having become a guy with a girlfriend, I had accomplished all of the above by seventh grade, during which I noticed that the girls in whom I found myself most interested liked musicians, and I determined that I wanted to become a guitarist.

For three years thereafter, I was a terrible guitarist—a power-chordist, really—who told himself he’d eventually get better, but I never got better and, upon realizing that I would continue to never get better, I discovered that, all along, the thing I’d really wanted to become was a bassist.

Almost overnight, I became a passable bassist, and by my junior year of high school, I was practicing for at least a couple hours every day, by myself or with bands. Playing in these bands impressed some of the girls in whom I found myself most interested—one girl in particular—and at last I became a guy with a girlfriend. When college started, though, the bands fell apart, my girlfriend tired of me, and though I started new bands and dated other girls, the other girls tired of me as had that first one, and the people with whom I’d started the new bands repeatedly failed to show up to practice.

By that point I’d spent a few years thinking of myself as an artist, which, to me at least, meant something along the lines of “a person whose worth as a human being is measured by what he makes,” and because bassists (let alone merely passable bassists) can’t do a whole lot on their own in terms of making songs, and because songs were the kind of art by which whose making my worth as a human being was measured (by me), and because it appeared that I couldn’t rely on others to help me make songs, I determined that I either had to learn another instrument, settle on being worthless for the rest of my life, or become a different kind of artist. I was too full of myself to settle on being worthless, too impatient to learn another instrument, too dull-eyed and lazy to learn to paint or sculpt, and was possessed of an inexplicable and completely ignorant contempt for photography and acting the both. I’d been writing fiction since I was five years old, though. I had read a lot of it, too, been moved by it, and knew you didn’t need anyone else to help you make it. Furthermore, it occurred to me that many of the girls I’d spent so much time trying to impress were also great readers, and I saw that, all along, what I’d really wanted to become was a writer.