What Happens When a Man Questions His Path?

“Why don’t you go to law school?” my girlfriend’s mom asked.

“My parents would like that,” I said. “I want to write movies.”

“Why don’t you go to law school and write on the side?”

“Mom,” Sam said.

“It was a suggestion.”

“Mom, how’s your gnocchi?”

Sam thought she did me a favor by changing the subject that day. I wouldn’t apologize for my dreams. So what if I wasn’t going to law school? A future, creating fiction made my chest swell with secret swagger.

While my peers pedaled through pre-professional career tracks, I focused on a saga so epic it would blow the hinges off Hollywood. Based on a college friend, “Mystery Boy” told the story of an Ethiopian Jew who poses as a clueless foreigner on an American campus, only to elegantly con his classmates and change their lives forever.

The premonition of success intoxicated me. I would be a professional screenwriter living in the Hollywood Hills with Mila Kunis. Sorry, Sam.

A year later, Sam and I broke up. She eventually became a lawyer and married one. While “Mystery Boy” scored high honors as a senior thesis, the credential didn’t blow off any hinges. WRITTEN BY ALEX POLLACK didn’t show up on a movie screen. No house in the Hollywood Hills. No Mila Kunis.

Eleven years after lunch with Sam’s mom there was me, on the balcony of a studio apartment in Nashville. From here I reflect on how I grew from the boy who dreamed of becoming a successful artist into a man who became a lawyer.


I worked in a used bookstore after graduating from college. At the time, I didn’t feel like I needed to become a writer. I was already a writer; I just wasn’t getting paid for it yet. On my blog “Writing the Ship,” I recounted wearing a Ben Folds concert t-shirt to attract comely Ben Folds fans and how that strategy did not succeed. I published a short story about a goofball who picked up women at a bar by doing impressions of Jerry Seinfeld.

I wrote self-aware poetry as if self-awareness itself was enough to make a poem work.

When I moved to South Korea for a year to teach English, my blog became a travelogue. I received comments from readers in Australia, South Africa to Argentina. Maybe there wouldn’t be movies, but could there be a memoir? A novel inspired by my deep thoughts?

When “Writing the Ship” won second place in a blog contest based out of San Antonio, I finally started to make money from writing. For the hundreds of hours I’d invested, the thousands of words shared, and the thousands of readers reached, I earned a check for $150.

It’s all about the Benjamins, baby?

Back in the United States, I was accepted to an MFA creative writing program at the University of Central Florida. It offered a $4,000 stipend each semester. During the program, I helped edit the in-house literary journal Florida Review. The journal was flooded with hundreds of submissions and published only a handful of stories, poems, and book reviews in each biannual issue.

As a reader, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of writers trying to be heard. Some had PhDs; most had MFAs. Writers fortunate enough to land a piece in Florida Review were compensated with copies of the issue containing their work. The message was clear: write, publish, and don’t get paid.

While I got published in several online literary journals, I felt like I had too much time to write and not enough life to write about. What made me stand out? Why would my stuff merit a second look when surrounded by so much other…stuff?

Enough with the mental gymnastics of wordplay and world creation. I was twenty-six years old. The house in the Hollywood Hills began to look like a mirage. I wanted to be financially solvent, with healthcare, structure, and stability, maybe even a nine-to-five schedule. I wanted to exploit my skills in reading and writing for an actual career.


I went to law school. While classmates were stressed over an exam, I wrote a poem and shared it on Facebook. Was I letting off steam, or was the poem my way of saying, “Goddammit, I don’t want to let go!”

After passing the bar, I was a half-lawyer, half-struggling artist. First, I worked for a judge. Now I work for a state senator. I’ve completed two unpublished novels and notched $75 for an article I wrote in National Jurist. When I don’t write, I forgive myself for not writing. Or else, I tell myself there’s no practical reason to write at all.

You’re a lawyer, Alex! Write for your job, not for your dreams!

Look at all, the content out there. There’s enough brilliance to consume for a lifetime. Is the world really crying out for your jag about Ben Folds t-shirts?

Still, no matter what the world wants, hunger fuels us writers–lawyers or accountants or stay-at-home parents or whatever and ever, amen. We have stories to tell. We have riches to find.

We won’t let go.