There’s an expression among young Caribbean baseball players that goes, ‘You can’t walk off the island.’ What that means is that in order to make it in America, and by making it I mean providing the $ necessary for your family to live like kings on whichever island you call home, you have to be able to hit. You might play great defense, and you might can steal bases at will once you reach base, but no one pays contracts to players who can’t hit.

I’m 49. Sadly, I reached my prime as a ball player at 15, and so there would be no pro sports contract for me. As a result, and like with everyone else who doesn’t become professional athletes in America, I eventually slipped into a life of waking up five days a week and selling my time to the idea of making a company money, for what is agreed to as fair wages. I married someone who does the same thing. Together we make a life together. We’re not poor, but because we don’t come from money, we’re always a breath away from the idea of destitution. And so this idea helps us walk a straight line every day. It’s our motivation to wake up in darkness and put paint on our faces. It’s why we kiss our children goodbye to sit in cubicles on sunny days staring into computer screens pretending that we love it. It’s why – everything. And we’re grateful for the opportunity. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. Sure, some day we’ll stop doing our part to help the wheels of commerce turn in this country, but at that point we’ll be too old to do much more than sit around and watch The Price is Right and play bridge with other survivors in a gated community in Florida where the breeze blows through our white hair as we drive to dinner in our golf carts at 4 pm.

You can’t walk off the island.

Sometime in my teens, as my friends were focused on which college would help them start a career where they could make as much money as possible so as to have the kind of life they sell you in ads on television, I discovered that I loved writing. Of course I also discovered that I had a skill for drinking and doing drugs, and so I didn’t go to college after (barely) graduating  High School, but rather joined the US military. After that I wandered around aimlessly until finally coming to at age 27. At that point it was a long climb back up from the gutter, but I’ve been on a steady ascent ever since. In fact, I now have everything I’ve ever wanted or asked for in life. I even wrote my first novel this Spring.

So now what? I go to work every day sitting in a cube staring into a computer screen. That’s the prize. No, it’s not backbreaking work so I should be grateful. And believe me, I have plenty of reference to backbreaking work. Literally backbreaking. When you’re a young, able-bodied man with no college education and no direction in life you take whatever work you can get to keep food in your stomach. Staring into a computer screen is cake compared to some jobs I’ve had. And yes, over the past four years I’ve helped take a company from a raw concept to a flourishing business – so there has been some excitement along the way. But lately it feels as though there’s something else I’m supposed to be paying attention to and focusing on. And as far as I can tell, I think it’s writing.

I’m hopeful within the next year I’ll have published my novel, Minor King. I’m not running the publishing house gauntlet however, and so I’ll only be publishing it via electronic means. I figure that if it’s a good story, that will be enough for it to do whatever it’s supposed to do. And yet as I continue to refine and edit the work, I have a strong desire to continue writing. Only, because of the life I’ve created, finding the time to write the kind of stories that require long, contiguous thought continues to be a chore. It’s terribly ironic. That’s why I had to get away to the mountains to be alone to finish my first book earlier this year.

But I have to write. It’s the only possible way off of this island. I no longer have gap power, or the speed to drop down drag bunts and steal my way around the bases. I have nothing else to rely on in life except for my prowess as a person who manipulates the masses with words, pictures, and concepts via advertising and marketing. The great unknown, of course, is whether I’m even capable of keeping food in my family’s stomach by doing anything else. And yet, in the end, that path only leads to the early dinners in Florida. It’s a strange phenomenon, really – I’ve received everything I’ve ever dreamed of in life. I should just be happy for the opportunity to sit under fluorescent lights staring into a computer screen figuring out ways to get people to see things from a certain perspective in order to advance commercialism. But I can’t. There’s still a fire inside. And from everything that I feel, it is telling me to continue writing. Even though my first book hasn’t even made its way into the world where it will be judged by the masses. And maybe that’s it – maybe I don’t want to wait for it to be judged. Maybe when it is, and if it’s not a favorable judgement, that I’ll possibly shut down the idea factory. That I’ll stop swinging the bat. That idea scares me more than anything.

You can’t walk off the island.



Jim Mitchem


An American Dream

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.

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