I’ve been thinking about giving all of this up–not writing, exactly, but the dedication and fervor with which I pursue it, or did, before writer’s block put me in a stranglehold. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about giving up on the idea that I will ever be able to support myself as a writer, that I will ever be published in more than literary journals that no one has heard of, and mostly (and most difficultly) that any story or novel I write has the power to change anything or anyone or have any kind of impact whatsoever.
If you know me and are not a writer, this statement will probably be met with a general outcry, if not because you know and love my writing, then because you know and love me, and that statement coming out of my mouth (or out of my typing fingers, as it were) sounds like the utmost self-treason. To you, I would say, “You can’t tell me not to give up. You have no idea how hard it is to love something that simply refuses to love you back. You also have no idea what it’s like to spend years pulling your heart out of your chest and offering it to the world again and again, only to have it thrown back in your face every time.” Yesterday, I read in Reader’s Digest that, “According to Columbia University scientists, the same areas of the brain associated with physical pain…are active when someone experiences rejection.” Think about that for a minute, then tell me again why I should keep going.
If you know me and are a writer, or even if you don’t know me and are a writer, my statement will probably be met with less general outcry and more nod of sympathy. But following that nod will be words of encouragement telling me not to throw in the towel, we’ve all been there, you have to keep trying, and so on. And to you, I would say, “Let’s level with each other for a minute. We both know that if I step off the Path to Publication train, there are hundreds of writers willing to take my place. Plus, all we ever hear from other published writers is how hollow it is, how the editors warp and distort your book until it’s beyond recognition, give it a horrible cover, and then force you to schlep around the country promoting some tweezed and powdered version of your baby.” Why, exactly, are we participating in the literary “Toddlers and Tiaras”?
These are the arguments I’ve been using on myself. This is how I’ve been trying to convince myself that I can just write for the sake of writing and not chase the publication dream, that I can live a “normal” life, work a “normal” job, write a little on the nights and weekends, and be content if that’s all I ever do, la te da. Because at a certain point, yearning so deeply for something that seems beyond your reach just starts to hurt too badly. And if this past and most difficult year of my life has taught me one thing, it’s that I can’t place my happiness in some as-yet-to-happen future basket. Because I’ve achieved goals before, and you know what happens after that? I’m still here, I’m still not okay, and so every time, the goal just gets changed to something else. And I’m still not happy. I don’t want to live like that.
But the problem with the “la te da” thing is that I am and have always been a goal-oriented individual. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t have a dream I was chasing, when I wasn’t staunchly telling anyone who would listen what I was going to do and how and–here’s the kicker–when. It’s the “when” that’s getting to me. Because I thought I’d be further along in, well, everything by now. I’ve put in the time, and no one can tell me I have so much still left because of my age. Only I have been in this body and brain and heart for the past twenty-five years. Only I know what I’ve put myself through, and let me tell you, I don’t believe I’ve ever been so drained, so devoid of enthusiasm, or so disillusioned. I have never in all of my measly years considered the “la te da” life as a viable option.
So now, in order to do just that, I’ve been trying to change my focus. Changing one’s focus requires a complete rewiring of the brain, and in case you couldn’t guess, that’s hard. And the thing I’m having the most trouble with is the thing I’ve always had the most trouble with: finding that fine line between hope and contentment. Because when I live only in hope, I do put all my happiness in some future basket that may never come around, and if and when it does, it will prove not to satisfy time and again. But if I live only in contentment, I’m telling myself that this is it, this is my life, deal with it, and in my brain, that translates to murdering all of my hopes and dreams. I look in the mirror at the worn and jaded face staring back at me, and all I keep saying is, “I can’t believe this is my life.”
This is not okay.
I don’t want “it could be worse” to be the mantra that gets me through every day. That is incredibly depressing, and it’s certainly not the abundant living that Jesus talks about. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” This is not full life. I do not feel like the light of the world. My friends come to me with their problems, and I, who despite my grumbling and discouragements have always been able to give them some amount of hope, now have nothing to say. They get the same hollow-eyed look I give myself in the mirror. Do they feel my love for them? No. Do they feel God’s love for them through me? No. But do I really have the right to point my finger at the Lord and say, “Unless you give me all of this, I’m not going to be happy”? No. So what, exactly, am I supposed to do?
I went to bed last night with all of these thoughts punching around in my head. Before going to sleep, I got on the computer to check my email and tell Kandy I didn’t have the strength to reply to her message, when lo and behold, what was waiting in my inbox? Another full manuscript rejection to the tune of, “wonderful writer, but the stories didn’t come together well enough for me,” and I looked at that, and I swear to you, I didn’t feel a thing. I forwarded the rejection to Kandy, told her I was going to bed, and then I turned off the lights and prayed, God, if You want me to give all of this up, I will. Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it. But if You want me to let this go, You have to change my heart. You have to help me not want it because I cannot keep living like this.
No angel came to my bedside nor visited me in a dream, and I woke up tired but pissed–and even though it was a negative emotion, that anger felt like a spark of life, which is more than I’ve had in a while. Rejections typically make me sad and discouraged, sometimes miffed, but very rarely do they inspire me to try harder. This one did. Because as I sat here this morning, the only thing I could think was, “I do not want to live in a world where I am not a part of this conversation.” And by “conversation,” I mean the writer/reader dialogue. It means so much to me to have friends and loved ones read my stories and tell me how much they loved them, what they got out of them. But it means something different–not better, not worse, but different–to have a stranger tell me that a story I’ve written is beautiful, that he connected with it, that she enjoyed it, and I am simply, flat-out, tough noogies, not-on-your-life unwilling to give that up.
So the world doesn’t want to let me do what I want to do. Well, when has it ever? So I may have to work a less than ideal job to pay the bills while I write one book and try to find representation for another, and all of that may take a lot longer than I’d like it to. Well, I’m no different than thousands of writers who have gone before me. So the agents aren’t in love with my book, don’t like the way the stories are arranged, or don’t believe in it enough to try to get out in the world. Well, that’s fine. Because I do believe in it. I know publishing isn’t going to change my life and make everything suddenly glorious and wonderful, a panacea that’ll wipe away all of my problems, both emotional and financial. I still believe I have to find a way to be happy with where I am and what I have, but I also believe that part of that is continuing to write and trying to get that writing out where others can read it. Because there seems to be a part of me that violently abhors the idea of giving up in that arena.
Publishing has never been about making money for me, though I have long hoped that one day, I can support myself with writing. But that can’t be the sole goal, at least not anymore, and at least not for me. I can’t try just for me. Money is not a motivator for me. Money doesn’t make me want to get out of bed and sit down at the desk and fling my heart out to strangers, and it certainly doesn’t want to make me pick that battered and bloodied heart back up and keep trying to pass it around. But conversation does. Participating in some divine stranger-to-stranger communication does. Believing that someday, someone could come up to me at a reading, clutching my book to her chest (edited and primped and plucked though that book may be) and tell me that she loved it, that it helped her somehow, or that it just let her forget the world for a while and slip into a place of respite–that can keep me going.
That, I hope, can make me research more agents, find my way back into the stalled-out novel, go to the day job and remember that this isn’t all that I am. It can make me remember that I am connected to this fragile earth and its beautiful, bruised inhabitants, and it can call to mind the verses of Isaiah that I have considered my writer’s mandate ever since I first read them: “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.” I can’t mend anyone with my words if I don’t get my words out where people can see them. I can’t speak of hope unless I truly know Who is worth hoping in. If I give up, I am throwing away the gift I have been given to give. In Galatians 6:2, we are commanded, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Writing, for better or worse, is how I communicate. It’s how I carry others, even and perhaps especially those I haven’t met. It’s how I carry you. It’s how I carry myself.
I don’t know what’s going to happen or when, with my writing or my life, let alone anyone else’s. I don’t have the hard answers to the even harder questions. I can’t tell you that it’s all going to be okay. I’m not even sure what okay is, nor am I sure that my writing or publishing is going to fix anything. But maybe it’s not about fixing. Maybe it’s not about answers and questions, truth and lies, hope and despair. Maybe it’s about sitting down and saying to whoever or whatever may be listening, “Talk to me. Tell me a story,” and then writing those stories to the best of your ability and passing them along. Maybe that’s the dream–the conversation, how we carry each other and bind up the brokenhearted. Maybe this is all, at its core, simply about giving, and publishing is just the label we have to put on the gift.