Tag Archives: the writing life

Pilgrimage

Song of the Lark160018_4152498

In the season and spirit of pilgrims…let’s look at how change is essential, and perspective is everything.


When I was twenty, I had a summer internship at the Art Institute of Chicago in their Prints and Drawings department. In the afternoons, we’d assist visitors who wanted to view certain works of art in the by-appointment public gallery, and in the morning…we had the place all to ourselves. There were five of us, all wanna-be one day art historians, and about as many PhD curators who were happy to stop what they were doing and answer questions. So our days began in a vault full of stacks and stacks of boxes in alphabetical order. You name it—if there was a famous artist who put writing implement to paper, they very probably had a piece in this collection. Rembrandt. Rothko. Mary Cassatt. Matisse. Michelangelo. DaVinci. It was absolute manna, so typical of Chicago’s long line of artistic patronage. They had Cezanne’s sketchbook, for Lord’s sake. With his grocery list and his son’s drawings in the margins. I loved those mornings.

I’d spent the last school year in Florence, Italy after all, feasting on the Renaissance. I was in a place of artistic glut. Dizzied by an embarrassment of riches in the way of visual art and inspiration. So it was no small mistake that in that year, I decided to write a novel. Just as an experiment. I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t consider myself a writer. I considered myself an artistic person who wasn’t good enough to be an actual artist, so I’d be a champion of artists. It seemed more practical. More the sort of thing my North Shore parents and friends could relate to an support. More the sort of thing I’d been raised for. Maybe I’d work at Sotheby’s. Maybe I’d own an art gallery. Maybe I’d go back to school and get my Phd and become a museum curator. The only thing was…none of those prospects really appealed to me. Not when I was sitting in that vault deciding between Mary Cassatt’s aquatints and Matisse’s Jazz book.

Sometimes, I’d bring my journal in there and just write, feeling the hearts and passion play of those artists throbbing in my body. I was writing more and more, all about this girl who was a painter, living on an island in Greece, who had fled her life of higher education and societal expectation. The first line of that first book was “Claire sat on her patio wondering what to paint.” I was sitting in that vault, twenty, wondering who I really wanted to be. Who I really was. I felt misunderstood.  I felt trapped by my future. I was angry. And scared. And lucky for me, I was restless.

Each day at lunch, I would shove down a sandwich and head up to the main galleries of the museum, and I would wander them, memorizing their placement so that my emotions would surge in anticipation around each corner. I knew those galleries. I loved those galleries. But there was one painting that took my breath away, quite literally, every time. The Song of the Lark by Jules Breton. 

The image is of a peasant girl, barefoot on a dirt road, holding a sickle in her hand, looking skyward as a bird flies by, the sun low in the sky. I was that girl. My true self was stuck in the wheel society had carved for me. Only mine was in no way the life of the peasant. Quite the opposite. Somehow though, I related with this girl. I was made of dreams that quite possibly would never come true too. And, like the girl, I was going to do something about it. There was no way that girl would be on that road in that peasant’s skirt and bare feet much longer, holding that sickle in that fist. She was going places. Probably that very night she was going to run away from home and hop on a horse going west. I’d follow her. What kind of lie was I telling myself? I wasn’t the person behind the art. I was the artist. I had things I wanted to put down on paper. Only they were words. So I spent that summer writing that novel in every free speck of time I had. And I haven’t stopped since.  I’m hoping to produce a novel that will find its readers in the next little while.  Hard at work and in love with it.  As it should be.

Whenever I return to Chicago, I make a point, like a pilgrimage, of going to the Art Institute and standing before The Song of the Lark. It still takes my breath away; it still gives me chills. But the way I have come to look at it surprises me. Now I see something different in the girl. She did not leave. She’s still there. Another day in the field. She is not free. But the bird…the bird is free. And she’s raising that sickle, not against her lot in life, but against that bird. Against that freedom she will not know. Her fingers are drawn up like a fighter in both hands. Her mouth is slack like she’s been sucker punched. She is bound by that painting to which Jules Breton committed her. Where she once was my heroine, she now smacks as a willful slave. I am sorry for her, and I am sort of ashamed of her. 

That’s what art does when it’s true. It’s alive in the heart. And we make it our own. At least I do, with this painting of this girl. I have needed to. I have needed to see that I have grown out of rebellion and into freedom. She is my reminder. The last time I went, in fact, I could barely look her in the eye, for all her victimhood. She couldn’t leave. You can always leave, I wanted to shout. No matter what your lot is in life. You can. And coming from privilege doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. So much to lose… But in the end, I learned that I am not bound by the painting that was painted for me. I am only bound by myself. I left that bondage, and I wrote and I am not that girl in the painting. I am, dare I say, the lark.

The beauty of it is that I’m sure there is a twenty year old girl somewhere, probably in Chicago, who comes to this painting and sees her fight and sees her flight and realizes it, in part, because of this girl’s raised fist and sickle. And maybe she will get on the horse and get out of town. Or maybe she will stay and paint her own painting of herself right where she lives, because that is possible too. That is perhaps more than I had the guts for.

And yes, maybe she will return one day, the fight out of her, and relate more to the bird in the sky. I hope that for her. I hope that we grow in the seasons of our life and that in the deliberate act of moving through them, we find ourselves with new pilgrimages to take and new ways to see. Now back to the novel…

Go on your own Pilgrimage to Montana…  Find your voice…set it free! 

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#TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter

ED46FE53-9630-4CDB-B72983E21C67D306If you are looking for your voice, your stories, Haven Retreats is calling you.  We still have room in our fall retreats in Montana!  You do not have to be a writer to come…just a seeker.

September 9-13 (FILLING FAST)
September 23-27 (FILLING FAST)
October 7-11
October 21-25

#TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter is a trending hashtag on the internet and one which Jodi Picoult, Amy Tan and others are having fun with…so I thought I’d chime in.  After three decades of living the writer’s life, I have many more than ten juicy possibilities for this list.  But here is my all-time personal favorite:  

“I found your book at a garage sale!  In the Free Box!”

When these words were offered to me, it brought me back to my newly college-fledged comment to the CEO of a major freight car company, delivered with stars in my eyes at a cocktail party in the late ‘80s:  “Guess what, Mr. _______, I just sold my stock in your company to make the deposit on my first apartment!”  I was ecstatic about my first writing space, my first foray into the writing life I so craved, my first twirl with stocking my own refrigerator, having Breakfast at Tiffany’s-esque parties, possibly even getting a cat and naming it after my favorite Salinger character, Franny.

The CEO looked at me like I’d just kicked him in the shins.  “Thank you?” he said, playfully.

I was clueless.  I knew nothing about how the world of investments worked.  All I knew was that this little bit of stock, given to me by a god-parent at birth, was just enough to cover a month of rent in a crap apartment in Allston, MA—where you lived if you couldn’t afford Boston or Cambridge.  To me it was Mecca and that stock sale was my meal ticket to the rest of my life as a real live writer.  So when at one of my Haven Writing Retreats in Montana, where I’ve continued my writing life for two decades, (thankfully not in a cockroach-infested apartment), one of my attendees came up to me on the first night with those same stars in her eyes and uttered the following words, I promptly forgave her and saw them for what they were:  her own meal ticket to her own magical writing life:  “Thank you so much for your book!  It helped me to know that I’m a real writer! Something told me I had to stop at that garage sale, and I’m glad I listened because that’s where I found your book!  In a Free Box!”  Not even a fifty cent steal…but Free!  Bonus!

I learned a long time ago, likely in that cock-roach infested Allston apartment of my writerly dreams, that the writer’s ego never gets to explode.  Being the leader of retreats that people come to from all over the world, sometimes, if for only a nano-second, can be grounds for possible ego-explosion.  But thankfully, something always makes certain that it will never happen.  No, we writers get to have that usually well-intentioned kick in the shins over and over again.  It makes us write better, I guess.

So I took the baton from the CEO, smiled and said “Thank you?”  Because the truth is, however people get our writing in their hands, even if it keeps us poor and ego-deflated, it’s a joyful moment.  The trajectory from our small dark offices to their hearts is what matters.  At least to this writer.  Yes, we should be paid for what we do.  And ‘tis true that only a small percentage of writers, even best-selling ones, make any money from their book sales (that’s another story)…  At the end of the day, every committed writer knows that it’s ultimately about doing the work, no matter where it lands.  And that’s good news because we can control only that piece of the trajectory.  If we truly love doing the work, then we will always be rich in the way that counts.  And if someone actually reads it, well then…gravy.

But please…if you’re going to throw a garage sale and toss our books into the equation, could you at least humor us by putting a price tag on it?  Oh, say, something similar to the $2.50 chipped ash tray or the $1.25 rusty oil can?  Just for dignity’s sake, never mind the ego?  The ego took her ball (and books) and went home a long…time…ago.smile

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Blog Hop– Writers Writing

Over and over, I say that writing is my practice, my prayer, my meditation, my way of life, and sometimes my way to life. I’ve always written. For the most part it’s because it helps me to process this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. I also write for a lot less elegant of a reason: I’m obsessed. I can’t not do it. I like to play around with words and push them to their limit of meaning, mix them up with words they don’t “go” with and feel their energy and flicker. I like to step directly into uncomfortable places on the page and make stuff up, climb into shoes I couldn’t in my “real life” and experience the empathic journey through an old woman with dementia, or a homeless teenager, or a man who lives in a small village in Africa. So in short, I’m an obsessed empathy junkie, with an addiction to words.

It’s always been this way. I’ve written all my life, and in my adult life I’ve completed fourteen novels—not all good, but a few of them publishable. I wrote when I had three jobs, when I had small children, when I finally had a book published and was in the thick of promotion, reeling with sudden fantasy accolades like the New York Times best-seller list and long-dreamed experiences like going on Good Morning America, NPR, and much much more. (This Is Not The Story You Think It Is– Amy Einhorn/Putnam 2010) But what I’ve learned in the trenches of “failure” and the altitude of “success” is that what really matters is doing the work. The writing. Writing is just what I do—it’s how I’m wired. I’m no good at getting to the gym or balancing my checkbook, but I know what it is to sit at the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is the writing life, and I’ve done it with all my might for a long time.

Turns out…this is an uncommon way to live. Not a lot of people know how to climb into that uncomfortable but enchanted playground and play, skin their knee, fall off the merry-go-round, pump so hard on the swing they swear their sneakers touch the sky. That’s why I started my Haven Writing Retreats a few years ago. I want to help people play the way I know how to play, for their own creative process, but also to help them process life. I’ve worked with hundreds of people, mostly in Montana where I live, but also across the US, and abroad. It is such an honor to help facilitate creative self-expression and to help people develop their unique writing voice, whether or not my attendees are “writers.” Everyone who comes to Haven shares one thing in common: they are seekers. I love being in the midst of ten minds and seeing where they go. It’s the best wine I have ever tasted. (And it’s absolutely ruined my ability to make small-talk in the grocery store, so if you see me in the green grocer section, I apologize in advance!)

I’m telling you all this because in the crazy world of curiosity and sharing that hatched and feeds the internet, there is something called a Blog Hop. It is a wonderful way for writers to support one another, share their own musings on writing, and shine a light on other writers. I have found writers to be incredibly generous and that’s a good thing, because the writing life can feel very very lonely.  To that end, one of my very first Haven attendees, Mary Novaria, asked me to participate, and I was thrilled to come along for the ride, as well as pass the torch to other Haven alums. (I’m fiercely devoted to anyone who comes to Haven to take a powerful stand for their creative self-expression and very honored that the Haven Retreat was just named (on April 22nd, only two years since its inception) one of the top five retreats in the US by Open Road Media!) These Haven writers are listed below, along with their photos, bios, and links and you can look forward to their answers to the following questions next Monday on their blogs. Please tune in and enjoy!

With my trusty pen!

With my trusty pen!

pens

Blog Hop Questions:
1) What am I working on/writing?
I am writing three books: a novel, of which I have a very solid first draft. A memoir about the mythic trenches of “failure” and the mythic altitude of “success.” Or, in plainer terms, about the oddities and hopeful grace found in kissing youth good-bye and (for the most part) embracing the new chapters of middle-age. And a book about the writing life which is full of stories of my personal journey, and practical information that I have gleaned from both living it, and teaching it at Haven Retreats.

2) How does my work/writing differ from others in its genre?
People tell me all the time that they don’t have a unique writing Voice. That they’re searching for it. But what I get to see at Haven, is that we already have our “voice.” It’s about tuning in to where it flows most naturally, rather than grabbing it by the horns and wrestling it to the ground. It’s about getting in touch with your inner critic and telling her/him that it’s just a scared child and it’s time to go back to sleep. Mama’s in charge. It’s about trusting that it is actually impossible to experience a single moment with a group of people and all write about it the same way. Even if we tried. So the answer to this question is that no two writing “voices” are the same. It’s impossible. My voice is my voice. Yours is yours. And that is a beautiful thing.  I write novels, memoir, personal essay, short stories, sometimes a rare poem, articles, screenplay…so I’m not in one particular genre. (Think Sybil.)  But you can bet that every single thing I write comes from two things:  years and years of hard work and this central author’s statement of mine:  I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner, to provide relief for myself and others.  I’m not sure if that shows up in my work and thereby makes it “different” than other work in my genres, but I would like to think so.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I think I covered that in my intro. My Author’s Statement nails it.  When I’m wondering why I spend so much time doing this crazy, financially unreliable, socially embarrassing, and sometimes gut-wrenching thing called writing, dealing with so much rejection and an industry in transition…I refer to my Author’s Statement, and it helps set me back on course.  I wrote it one day when I felt pure despair.  Taped it to my computer.  And refer to it every day while I’m sitting here navel-gazing.

4) How does my writing process work?
First of all, I don’t believe in writer’s block. As a parent, it has been a core value to raise flexible people. I would say the same for the writer I’ve “raised” in myself. I do not need a certain kind of environment, device, screen, paper, pen (although I do covet the navy blue Pentel uniball, and everyone on my retreats gets one for free!  Bonus prize!!!).  I can write wherever, whenever. Hemingway said he couldn’t write in the cabin of an airplane. I do a lot of writing when I’m on airplanes and most of it is in my journal and reads like this: “Please don’t let us crash, please don’t let us crash, please don’t let us crash” so if my journals are ever published posthumously, everybody will think I am a total nut case, but writers are used to that public opinion of them, or should be if they’re not already. Because no one asked us to do this work. It’s considered masturbatory at best, and narcissistic drivel at the least, and for the most part, your family and friends are embarrassed that you do it in the first place, especially if you write a memoir. You do it for yourself, and maybe you do it for other people. And you get rejected. A lot. Mostly, you get rejected. So you better know WHY you are doing it. At Haven, we write an Author’s Statement which we share the last night. It’s a one liner about why we write, that I encourage people to bring home and put someplace very safe for them—their nightstand, their kitchen sink, their computer (if it is in fact safe and not a fire-breathing dragon). In other words, the writing life ain’t for sissies, so you better be able to open that vein and bleed no matter where you are. Everyone’s different. I usually write daily in the mid-morning to early afternoon and for a large part of the weekend. I average about five double-spaced pages a day.  (I’m not a word count person– I go by pages.)  On a really great day when I’m really cranking, I can get around eight double-spaced pages but that’s a lot.  I once wrote twenty-four double-spaced pages in one day and that was just way too many pages to be any good.  Always Times New Roman. 12 pt. Regular margins. Some of it’s compost. Some of it: keepers.

MEET NEXT WEEKS’ HAVEN BLOG HOPPERS:

Sukey Forbes: 1395938_10152011952349540_130556359_n
At the age of 12 a family friend gave me a black leather-bound artists sketchbook to use as a journal that I have to this day. It was the first of many that I have kept and in those books I explored the world of emotion and the landscape of my world through writing. Although inefficient in this day and age, there is a palpable connection for me between the formation of words with my own pen on the page and the ability to access the full spectrum of emotion. The pen and paper remain my best tool. When I need clarity I have found time and again that the best way for me to understand is to write.
My way of coming to terms with the vicissitudes of life has always been through writing.

In July my memoir of loss, “The Angel in My Pocket” will be released by Viking. It is a story of grief and resilience woven through a backdrop of 
family history. I have chosen to let the light back into life and learn from all that is placed in my path. My blogs for sukeyforbes.com and Huffington Post are filled with more than a dash of gallows humor in addition to reflections on grief and observation about life after loss.

I have found that on the blank page, with pen in hand, I can rage and rail, write circles around myself and yet one thing has always been true for me: If I keep writing, eventually the truth of the matter for me will emerge. The surprise I received through writing has been peace. With each small gain of insight and release of sorrow it travelled back up my pen, spiraled around my fingers, hands and arms and settled deep into my core.  I hope some of my writing resonates with you.

Lauren Lizardo: lauren
Lauren Lizardo doles out real talk about money + technology + heart + everything-in-between. She loves the practicalities as they relate to executing a dream. She’s also on a mission to divert the world’s obsession with efficiency and productivity to – in her opinion – sweeter, heart-centered things like simplicity and balance. A few years ago, she abandoned a promising career as something fancy and corporate to start her own consulting practice. She hasn’t looked back. She is especially grateful to say she is inspired by and in awe of all her clients. A lovely byproduct of her transition was the renewed excitement for and space to write and to create.

As such, Lauren recently attended Laura Munson’s Haven Writing Retreats in Whitefish, Montana. (Read her recent blog post about that awesome retreat here.) While there, new perspective and creativity were unleashed for not only her own writing practice but her other endeavors as well. She is now experimenting with new dimensions of her work and taking bigger risks. In short, she is becoming very good friends with her fear. Her story is unfolding over at laurenlizardo.com where she wrote a powerful piece about Haven.

Kim Jorgensen Gane:KimPortraitCrop8 (2)

Kim Jorgensen Gane is an author and award-winning essayist. She works as a freelance writer in communications and media near Michigan’s sunset coast where she lives with her husband, youngest son, a standard poodle and a gecko. She’s been every-mom, raising two generations of kids over twenty-seven years.

Kim’s website is GANEPossible.com, where she covers a variety of topics including parenting, infertility, wellness, empowerment, politics, and anything else that interests her. She is a Northwest Indiana cast member of Listen to Your Mother 2014. Her projects include an essay in the upcoming book, 51%: Women and the Future of Politics, and she is co-editor with Dana Talusani (fellow cast-member in LTYM Boulder, CO) for the #JudyBlumeProject, which is currently seeking submissions. By 2015 she expects to have a publisher and to release her memoir, My Grandfather’s Table, for her 50th birthday. Her novel in progress is, Bluebirds. Her first GANE Possible Publication will be released late spring of 2014. It is, Beating the Statistics: A Mother’s Quest to Heal Infertility and Halt AutismShe wrote a lovely piece about Haven here.

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Consider the Reader

I’ve always felt that in order for writing to be pure, the writer must not consider the reader. It’s like high school. Be yourself no matter what the mean girls or the cute boys are going to say about it. Full self-expression is the key to the authentic life, especially the writing life, regardless of your critics. In other words, don’t make nice nice for nobody. Write what you have to write. With abandon. Full frontal. Even if it means your mother will blush.

I don’t altogether believe that any more. After many years of working at this craft and not having books published, I finally have had the trajectory met and that means I get to hear a lot about how my work has landed in laps and hearts. So from fan mail, I have learned a critical component of this thing called the writing life: people read because they want to know that they’re not alone. It’s the writer’s job to be just a bit braver than the reader. To face the dark tunnel and take the torch and say, “Hold my hand. I’m not sure where we’re going, but I’m willing to try to get us there.” If the reader says, “no,” the trajectory will not be met. So you’ve got to show them that they can trust you from the very first sentence. There is a silent pact that the reader and writer make. We’re in this together. I will tell you a story. Come with me. We’ll get somewhere, I promise. And in return, the pages get dog-eared and marked up with pens and coffee and fall into bathtubs and get thrown across the room and hopefully read to the end. And the highest compliment of all: “Thank you. I needed that.” In all my years of writing books, I’ve never really thought of why a person might need something I’ve written. I’ve never really thought of the writing life as a form of community service. Now I do. It’s not just about me. It’s about You and me.

So I’m back at the place of torch and tunnel, working on another book. Sure, there’s the possibility that no one will publish this book, but what if they do? What if lots of people read it in lots of countries? What if lots of people make that pact with me? Don’t I owe them at least the outstretched hand? Just that extra dose of bravery to look into the darkness and believe we’ll find our way? Maybe I know something the reader needs to learn. Maybe I don’t. But the writer’s job is in many ways simply willingness. Which takes guts. Or maybe just a fool’s faith. Or a little of both.

Which is to say that a writer must grant herself an initial authority. And that ain’t easy when you hear the odds around getting published. Or when you let in the mean girl voices: Who do you think you are, anyway? Who do you think you are mining your life for money, or making up whole towns and families and houses and expecting them to matter to anyone but you? Who do you think you are, Indiana Jones?

And still you take that torch. Because you have to. Not just that you think you have something to say, but you actually can’t not. So…you might as well do it with your head held high. Fake it ‘til you make it. And we’ll follow.

I think that’s what makes a good book: authority. People want to be led. I know I do, especially in a book. I can feel it the moment my eyes scroll the first sentence. I’m in good hands. They may be very different hands than my own, but they are agile and adept and they seem to say, hold on tight. I’ve got something to show you.

So to the writers out there, breathe deep, grab that torch, take us somewhere we need to go, or that you at least need to go, and do it like only you can do it. Your readers want you to.

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The Agony of Submissions– One Writer's Rant

I write regularly for Author Magazine, which you should DEFINITELY check out if you’re a writer or if you love reading or if you love to listen/watch writers being interviewed. Here is my most recent piece. It’s about my relationship with submitting my work. Enjoy. Or feel my pain. Either one. I’d love to hear your own angle on the business side of the writing life. yrs. Laura

PIE by Laura Munson

Mostly, I’ve been a back door sort of submitter. I didn’t used to be. I used to march straight through the front door and send my stuff out shotgun. In fact, the very first story I wrote, I sent, wait for it…to the New Yorker. And when I got that first form rejection, I was stunned. I was twenty. I was a dreamer, not really a writer. And dreamers are a bit delusional. So I kept sending out that short story—Harpers, Esquire, every magazine I could think of, every literary review I found in the Harvard Square kiosk (we didn’t have the internet yet). Still rejection after rejection. After rejection. I had a bulletin board over my desk with a chart full of all my submissions written on butcher block paper. In the section which I’d entitled Y/N, there were so many N’s that I did that N some courtesy and elongated it to Nope. To this day it’s still Nope, only now I know how to make a spreadsheet on my computer. I sort of miss that bulletin board. It was so visceral, writing Nope in Sharpie on butcher’s block paper pinned up with thumb tacks.

Then I read somewhere—Hemingway On Writing or something like that, that you just had to write and write and write and stop trying to get published, and so I spent the next half of my life writing. I recoiled from submitting. I wrote some essays and stories, cast them off into the wind from time to time, and got down to work, ignoring the rejections as they came in—well, KIND of ignoring them. I stopped talking about being a writer. And I began living the writing life. I wrote so much that I used to imagine myself putting on a seatbelt at the beginning of my writing day. I’d feel that ghost seatbelt like amputees claim they feel their lost limb. I was obsessed. Novel after novel. Every so often I’d get my nerve up and query an agent but not really give it the old college try. Not if you want a letterman’s sweater and I did. Not if you’re playing to win. If you’re any good. And I even doubted that.

Then a successful published writer friend told me to look at it like a pie chart. Writing was the dream slice. But the rest was necessary if I ever wanted anybody to read what I spent all that time alone in a dark room tapping away about on my keyboard. And especially, if I ever wanted to get paid for it. “You’re getting a flat ass for nothing,” he said. And he was right. My ass was flattening and no one was reading my stuff and I wasn’t getting paid a dime. (And they wonder why writers drink.)

I didn’t think of the writing life as a pie chart. I wanted to write like I wanted to canter on a horse. In other words, I didn’t want to deal with the saddle soap and the de-wormer. Or the training. Or the walking and stopping and doing circles if things got hairy. And then I was in a hot tub in LA one day and it’s a long story but it lead to an agent who signed me on as a client but with one question: Why aren’t you published? I gave her the writer’s answer: I used to write out of anger, but now I write out of gratitude. But that wasn’t the whole story.

It had more to do with pride. Shame. Guilt, even. How could I have worked so hard and not gotten published to wide acclaim? That was my prayer, after all. Please let me be published to wide acclaim. Spoken to so many horizons on so many beaches. I wish a pelican had flown by or a humpback whale would have flapped a fin in my face and said, “You ain’t gonna git published if you don’t send your work out, sister.” And maybe they did. I was too busy begging and crying and kicking sand around to notice.

Oh how we get in our own way. Oh the fences we build. So here I am, with that flotsam-flung prayer answered, trying to imagine my writing life as the pie chart I guess it’s been after all, trying not just to think of the pie. It would be blackberry, by the way. Or maybe strawberry rhubarb. If you asked me what I’m supposed to be doing right now, I’d tell you about the three files that are open in the tool bar below this sentence: Submissions winter 2010, submissions letters, magazines. And what am I doing? Writing about it. I have a huge body of work after all these years and I’m overwhelmed by it. I feel like Old Mother Hubbard with a copy of the Fiske Guide to Colleges in her already full lap. I’ve made six cups of tea this morning. I’ve checked my email approximately—well, a LOT, that’s how much. I’ve researched Italian Rosetta Stone language dvds. I’ve bought a pair of boots.

Jonathan Franzen said at the recent Miami Book Fair where I had the honor of reading, that no good novel comes out of a computer attached to the internet. People smugly laughed, outing themselves. I smugly crossed my legs and arms: I don’t have this problem. I have trained myself in discipline. I can write under any conditions. I have never made excuses. I’ve completed 14 frigging novels, two memoirs, and I don’t know how many essays and short stories. Too many to count, though I’m considering giving it a whirl right now just to put off having to submit my work. I ABHOR submitting my work.

Even now, why? It’s not the probable rejection. It’s not the actual writing of the query letters—it’s writing after all and we all know how I feel about writing by now. It has something to do with why I never got above a B+ in math. I don’t like numbers. I don’t like pie charts. I don’t like doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t want to BE a business person. In other words, I’m completely immature. And I still believe that the rebel is free. I’m here to tell you, it’s not.

The artist can be and even must be, a business-person too. And that doesn’t mean you’re selling out. You’re creating the possibility of having your work be received by people. And that’s part of it. Still…it’s a pill I haven’t quite swallowed. I don’t have any problem submitting my books to my agent. But my little babies to glossy magazine editors and terrifying places like Granta or the Paris Review or…uck. I’d rather get a cavity filled. I’m not kidding. I want to get on my cow pony and canter. No, gallop. Instead, Dear editor. I have a few essays which I feel to be a match for your zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

And those old questions clamor in my mind: why would they want to publish MY work in the first place? Haven’t I had enough therapy to know that I have self-worth issues? Doesn’t a New York Times bestselling book make me immune to these inner saboteur-esque questions? Apparently not.

Two cups of tea later: an epiphany occurs:

I find myself chortling. Fully entranced in my essay file on my computer, playing a game of cat and mouse. Or curser and mouse, if you will. (Aren’t I hysterical?) Asking a different kind of question– as if to a palm reader: where should this one go, oh wise curser? And then I start talking to my actual Word document files. Tell me where you want to go. Tell me where home is, little girl. I’ll give you a ride and a sandwich. Fly. Be free.

And shit starts happening. I start making a list. A fast one. The one about dog-sledding—Outside magazine of course. And…the one about the funeral in the forest, how ‘bout Tin House. And the one about the firefighter and the grizzly bear, what about Orion? And the one about my first child and the day she wanted to move her dollhouse out of her room…why not Parenting magazine? Or Ladies Home Journal. Or Woman’s Day? Or Redbook? Suddenly, no glossy mag seems too grandiose. What’s a magazine without its writers? As my literary hero once told me, “Someone has to get published and why can’t it be you?” Yeah. Like Harrison said. Why not me?

So after seven hours of diddling around like a child doing chores, in a half an hour, I’d submitted eleven pieces. All by listening to my work and its voice—picturing the blow of its cannon and watching its trajectory in the sky, falling as it might.

And truth told, I want more. I think I’ll dedicate the whole week to this game, in fact. To this slice of pie. And when I’m through, I’ll have irons in the fire, while I tuck into the winter of 2010, and get back to work on the reason for the slices in the first place: the writing.

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