Writing Therapy

They didn’t “fall in love” with it. That’s what the editors at the famous journal told me in an email about my essay “The Fall.

So I right away started making plans for submitting it to the next tier of journals. Simultaneous submission it’s called, meaning I could send it to a dozen places at the same time and wait to see which, if any, said yes.

I’ve been trying to ramp up my writing life, get out of the minor leagues, no, out of little league, and submitting is a big part of that. You know, the 100 rejections challenge – if you don’t get 100 rejections a year, you’re not trying hard enough.

It was on my way to the bathroom, though, that it hit me. “Fuck it,” I thought, I don’t have time to wait for somebody to fall in love with my essay. It’s like sitting in a metal rowboat in the hot sun watching a single bobber sitting perfectly still atop the water. If there were fish down there, the bobber would be moving. You know that and I know that but yet we sit and watch the red and white bobber just existing as if it wasn’t complete and utter folly to think a giant pike is circling below. There is no pike. That is the truth.

So, no, I’m not going to let my weird little essay with its aging angst get the side eye for months while I sit here in my metal rowboat and wait like the world’s dumbest fisherman. I’m 70. I could be dead and buried before somebody falls in love with a piece so odd, so reeking of melancholy and envy, and agedness, especially that. Or not, I don’t know. I could be completely wrong. It sometimes happens.

I decided to give “The Fall” a home right here, share it with people who would understand the point, appreciate this peculiar and rich time of life, and I wasn’t disappointed in the response. It was lovely.

My ambivalence about ‘being published’ remains. Minutes after I swore off the hunt, someone sent me a notice about an upcoming anthology. What is it, I wonder, that is so alluring about being published. I had a piece, a beloved piece that took a dozen revisions to get right, that was published last year in a book that sits on my coffee table and I haven’t opened it since the day it came in the mail. Six people have probably read it.

Writing this I realize that the same comeuppance I gave myself about another topic fits here. I need to stop being such a little flower. They didn’t fall in love with it, can you believe that? Incredible.

Thank you for hearing me out. You all are such great therapists.





Blank Space

I’m shedding things. Stepping out of my shoes, leaving my pants on the floor in a heap, letting my shirt fall like a suddenly untied silk cape. A while ago I shed money. I picked apart the tight knot that connected money to my ego and just let money go. Today, it was meetings.

The vast expanse of this fine Monday was blank – no obligations, no meetings, no opportunities to dress up, be a presence. The rigor and posture of the past, so much of it comprised of meetings and presentations, showings if you will, have abated. I realized this weeding my side garden. I am present in this time and place, I thought, pulling a three foot tall thorny weed. I am present thinking about filling this tall bag with these evil weeds. I am free to think about these weeds as if they are the only thing on earth. And I relaxed into that, the weed pulling, as if it was a hammock stretched out in a shady backyard.

I stopped equating a full calendar with my value on the planet.

This leaves room in my life and my head for what matters most: writing, advocacy, physical service, exercise, reading, and thinking. I don’t have to go somewhere to be a presence. I am a presence.

I think about the new book of essays – 15 of them, only one or two already written but even those needing reworking and plenty of careful stitching and then there are the rest and those haven’t even formed in my head although if I keep pulling the three foot tall thorny weeks I know they will come to me.

It is a luxury – blank space. It feels like the purple velvet of my mother’s handmade wedding dress, gentle and caressing, hanging in dark folds in the back of my closet. I never took time to hold her dress, let the velvet drape on my lap. I was always too busy. I kept the dress hanging in the closet protected by a plastic bag because, somehow, it wasn’t the right time. I was always rushing, life’s urgency worn like war medals, my ego living too far out of my body to take the dress off the hanger and hold it in my hands.

But that isn’t true anymore and I am glad. I’m 70. I earned this blank space. I claim it as my own and hold it in my hands.

10 Butterflies

I am changing my writing life. First of all, I am having an actual writing life rather than a writing pastime which is what I had before. I still look at sundown as the cue to start writing and start drinking, those two activities having gotten linked years ago. I’m disentangling the two, though it could take time. I am learning to write with coffee.

The biggest change, by far, is that I have stopped rushing valuable pieces to publication and started realizing that what I love in a first draft could end up being too much in the light of day like a black leather jacket with fringe on the sleeves that is badass in the dark and desperate at dawn. Patience is a new, kind of unexplored virtue for me so to have an essay laying around with different dates noted on each copy seems weird like I long ago should have sent it somewhere. Anywhere. Or published it here which, if I do, means I generally can’t have it published elsewhere. Not having that immediate – push that button! – experience after finishing a piece can be murder. No cigarette for you, Jan.

I’ve also stopped being my only critic. Today, I sat in bed and read a new essay to my husband. I asked him to look out the window and not look at me which he did and when I was done, he said, well, I’m not a writer, but I think the second half is stronger and sounds more like you, that’s where a reader would really get engaged. And, of course, this was contrary to what I thought but looking at the words on the page I saw that he was right. The first part of the story made me uncomfortable and self-conscious and it was the ending where I felt sure of myself.

So I will take the same essay to my writing group on Thursday and sit still while each person tells me what they think and they’re writers so they think a lot. The piece will be stronger for their insights and I’m now smart enough to know that. Whatever is written can be made better until it’s finished, until, as my Dad used to say, one more brush stroke would be too much.

It’s a time of change, seriousness, learning, growing up. These are ten things I am doing.

  1. Letting things sit.
  2. Reading pieces out loud.
  3. Joining a writing group.
  4. Critiquing other people’s work.
  5. Reading more.
  6. Digging deeper.
  7. Listening without discussing.
  8. Working during the day.
  9. Protecting other people less but enough.
  10. Polishing the silver.

I’m not sure where I’m going. I don’t know what the goal is. I just know I have this time and I want this life.

__________________

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Chop

I’ve fallen out of love with my work.

You know the de-cluttering mantra that says to rid yourself of anything that doesn’t give you joy? Well, my work, my paid work, might be on its way to Goodwill.

I never saw it coming.

Older friends tipped me off. We’d be hard charging arm in arm and, all of a sudden, they’d wander off and come back wearing forest ranger hats. What the heck? I’d think. What’s with the forest ranger hats? My friends would look at me, smile, and shrug. Oh, it was time for a new challenge, they’d say.

But don’t you care about all our hard-charging? There are so many problems to solve, a hundred studies to do, needs to assess, workshops to run, invoices to send, and checks to come in the mail. No, they’d answer. We don’t care about that anymore. It’s somebody else’s turn.

A few weeks ago, in a meeting with a client, the question came up about the future. Like when the doctor hits me on the ankle with the little rubber hammer, my answer was a reflex. What about next year, he asked, are you interested?

No! I want to be a writer. It surprised me how the answer just exploded out of my mouth.

I see that there is still plenty of wood left to chop but I don’t want to be the one to chop it. It’s somebody else’s turn for that.

It’s my turn for this.

______________

Photo: Clem Onojeghuo