Two Cans Of Sardines And Eighteen Cents

When I was much younger I believed that everything in this life was possible, and that nothing was impossible if you worked hard. All you had to do was believe in yourself and fight against all obstacles. To quote Charles Todd:

“My dear, when one is young, one sees dragons everywhere, and one is prepared to fight them. That’s an admirable trait. But as one ages, one often sees that injustice is rare, and that what had happened to be dragons are merely the shadows the mind creates when it wishes to avoid a bitter truth.”

But the sad truth is you keep working day and night and nothing much changes in your life. Nothing seems to work for you. On the contrary, everything fails. Yet you still continue. Rejections, disappointments, worries of all sorts, like health or financial worries, never seem to cease. But there comes a time when you ask what next? Do you still keep on doing the same thing in much the same way? Or do you stop, turn the corner and decide to change your path. But how many times does one have to change paths in a lifetime? What if you believe deep in your heart that there’s no other path for you other than the one you’ve already taken? Do you still go on?

I have come at crossroads more than once in my life. And every time that I have chosen a path it has turned out to be even more difficult to cross. Usually I am okay with whatever life throws at me. But on rare occasions these difficulties and worries get the better of me. I am sad at first and angry. Angry at myself for choosing this life. Then I am mad at everything and at the world. What’s worse is that on days like this I can’t even be creative. I sit at my desk to write and even though I have so much to say I still can’t produce a single paragraph. I can’t produce even a single word. But being a positive person by nature, I can’t allow myself to be depressed for long. Hence I open my notebook which I keep for occasions like these and where I’ve jotted down stories of other writers and start reading. Eventually the craze starts to subside and a numbness takes over and slowly but gradually everything goes back to its normal.

One such story which I am sure most of you are familiar with is Alex Hailey’s who told an interviewer in August 1980:

“Ornately framed on my wall are two cans of sardines and eighteen cents. In 1960, I was living in a one-room apartment in Greenwich village, New York. I was literally hanging on by my fingernails, trying to make it as a magazine writer. I was selling just enough to keep going from week to week, sometimes from day to day. In my little cupboard, I had those two cans of sardines that were all I had to eat in the world. And I had eighteen cents in my pocket. That’s not the same eighteen cents by the way. I spent the original eighteen cents on a cabbage for dinner that night. I remember thinking at the time, there’s nowhere to go but up. And I put the two cans of sardines in a sack and put it away. Whenever I would move because I didn’t have the rent money, I would always take the sack with me. Six or seven years later I sold my first motion picture rights. That’s when I had those two cans of sardines and that eighteen cents framed.”


“No matter where I go, it will always be displayed as a reminder of the most significant lesson in the world- that when you’re pursuing a creative goal, you must hang in there. You must have faith. You must believe.”


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