Originally for Author Magazine
Fitzgerald. Hemingway. Steinbeck. Faulkner. O’Neil. Poe. Kerouac. Bukowski. Capote. Dorothy Parker. Katherine Anne Porter. And so many many others. Why is the muse so thirsty? I want to know the answer. Allow me then, to muse upon the muse.
For the sake of this pursuit, I’m going to make some assumptions/projections about writers, as a woman who’s been writing for half her life.
Writers think we have something to say. And not just that. We’re not sure we’ll be okay if we don’t say it. It’s that tree-falls-in-the-woods thing. What if no one’s there to hear it? Do our words matter? Does all that widening of the third eye count? Does all that standing in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing, risking the soul’s “life” and “limb,” matter if it’s just a confluence of country road? Crows and scarecrows and maybe a few crickets? Most of us would say an emphatic “no.” We want the trajectory met. We want our readers. And still…we write.
And here’s the thing: we’re not supposed to complain about it. Because…it’s not like anyone asked us to write. It’s not like we’ve gotten sword taps on the shoulders by the royal Queen of Literacy. We’re just poor slobs who get off on sitting in dark rooms staring at computer screens making shit up. And without those computers and dark rooms, we’d be poor slobs walking around asking someone if we can borrow a pen to write on walls, and if someone objects, we’ll write on our hands. But we’d still want someone to read our hands. And not for fortune. We don’t expect fortune. Just a little daily bread and a few people who say, “I read what you wrote. And it helped me.”
Some writers write to understand. Others for the greater good. It doesn’t really matter. It’s just that we have to. We can’t not. Sounds dramatic, I know. But it’s true. And here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be our undoing—not being read, not being published. Unless we truly consider it bloodsport, and for some, maybe that’s just the way it needs to be. But not for me.
Have you ever seen that painting in the Met in New York—of Joan of Arc being called to war from her country life in the garden? Have you ever seen her face? Have you noticed the ghost-like spirits over her shoulder? Looked at her outstretched hand? She wants it. She can’t help but listen. The voices are too loud. That’s my girl. That’s me. I martyred myself for a long time with my writing. You wouldn’t know it from the outside. But inside I felt so called to do what I did/do every day, that there was a level of entitlement. And then the inner turmoil and pain of meeting with rejection. A LOT of rejection. How could the publishing world have a grid boasting cracks through which I would fall over and over and over again? Especially with an agent. Especially with such positive rejection letters. I knew I could write. I knew that I had something to share. I just couldn’t make being published happen. And I was miserable.
So I gave up. Not on the writing. On the publishing. The alternative was to self destruct. And I didn’t want to do that. I have a great life. Who cares if I’m a writer. I have a husband and kids and horses and land in Montana and a house and a garden and friends and…life is good, just like the t-shirts say. So after a huge publishing deal fell apart, my father died, and I found myself in a red wine daze crying on my office floor, I decided that it was total insanity, basing my personal happiness on things outside my control. What I could control was: writing. Creating. Submitting when what I wrote was good. And then letting go.
Our writing is of us.
We need to create a new paradigm for writers. Writers may walk around with empathy as their middle name, channeling the human experience, but the beauty and heart break of that can be filtered through the fine mesh of an inner agreement that we do not have to suffer because of it. We can go with the pain. We can use the pain. Just like we can use the joy. And to feel the pain does not mean that it then has us wanting to numb it away. It does not control us. We control us. And I’ll say it again because it took me a long time to understand this: we can control what we create. And then, I believe, it’s best to let go of the rest. The real freedom lies therein.