13 August 2011

Keeping the Day Job, or: Why I Write

Journal entry, 6-29-11

I am at the beach. It is my twentieth anniversary and I am watching my husband try to boogie board in the Atlantic with a board almost as old as our union. I am recovering from a year of working seven days a week. Feeling slightly shameful- know there are people everywhere who work harder than I have. But people offer me sympathy, and I take it. The waves are big today, but there is little breeze.It's been years since I've been to the ocean.The tides and waves are a mystery to me. I know I could study them and gain scientific understanding but I enjoy the mesmerizing mystery of them. Sand like brown sugar spills over and between my toes, making them look brown and healthy. Freer than they have been in a long time.

A cat came onto the beach last night. Black, with white beard and paws. He was chasing crabs in the dusk. I'd never seen a beach cat. Joe, letting his diamond-shaped kite up and up, grinning like a young boy. Other people on the beach had fancier kites, but his simple one seemed to soar the highest. It's windy and cool- how the temperature can change here in just a few hours' time.

I sat in my beach chair and read some issues of Poets and Writers magazine. Most of what I saw was disappointing. At least half the issue is ads for MFA programs or other training courses. Or, Get your book published today!!! One column caught my eye: Why We Write. A woman was telling a story about her grandmother dying. It was a good story, though I did not feel it addressed the topic very clearly. Why does she write? Why do I write?

I wouldn't mind becoming known as a writer, but I have not the resources- mental, physical, or any other- to put myself out there they way you have to these days. We are all drowning in sheer volume of people who want to be writers or who have written books. Even going to Barnes and Noble is almost more than I can handle anymore. I did enter a chapbook contest this past year. It was one chosen carefully based on what I thought might be a good fit with my work. They haven't announced the winners yet, but hundreds have entered it. I'm not lying awake at night wondering if I will get chosen. If I do, that's great. But if I don't, it doesn't mean I'm a bad writer. It just means that hundreds of people were competing. Its crazy to think of the time and money some people must put into systematically entering every contest that comes by, lured into visions of Stephen King-esque fame by said writers magazines.

Why do I write? Because I always have, as far back as my memory goes. It's how I process my world and the outer world around me. If it turns out that I am just mediocre at it- not trained enough in the craft- that's okay. I know I will still keep doing it because it is a part of me. The older I get, the more fatalistic I become. The world teeming with MFA-waving graduates shoving to get discovered. What are my chances, really? I'm a mom, I'm a nurse. I have laundry to do. Sure, I got a poem published on Anderbo. On Connotation Press. 15 seconds of fame, just long enough to repost the link on my Facebook wall and watch it dribble down my newsfeed and into oblivion.

No- this isn't why I write. My ego does hope that what I write will have meaning for someone out there. Otherwise, why publish any of this stuff? Could I actually touch someone the way Jane Smiley and Sharon Olds have touched me? I write to process the things in my life- family, love, death, old age, work. I never want to be "just" a writer. I want to be a woman who works with the public and who has children and who writes about these things. I am not capable of ordering the poems in my manuscript in some mythical, symbolic order as the magazine advised me to do to increase my chances of getting it published. I know which one I want to be first, and I know which one I want to be last. The rest is fate.

Which makes me some sort of literary hippie-rebel-castout. I have no degrees. I have a nursing diploma and a tickle in my heart and hand to put words to paper. I don't condemn those who are doing it another way. I just can't navigate it all. There's always someone with more time to write, money for a week-long writers' retreat, or better performance skills to steal the show at the local open mike.

I am not a writer. I am a woman who writes. The distinction feels important to me, somehow.

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