The Dumbest Grief In The Room

I was away for summer. Left one home to visit another. We enjoy our time in Wisconsin and are always glad to return to Kuwait. (Once here I am not always glad to be here, but that’s anywhere in the whole wide world, except maybe Sweden or Finland, one of those countries who’ve got it all figured out thanks to small populations and broad social welfare. Which I’m not knocking). Anyway, we are back in our home, mostly sorted and ready for another school year.

Every time I go home, stuff comes up.  This summer I managed not to leak all over the place, confining most of my overthinking to long runs and a notebook. One thing that comes up when I visit my college town is What Am I Doing With My Life because there is the house where I wrote late into the night, chancing on one or two good lines. And there is classroom building I tracked snow into. And there is the reserve I ran and biked through. So this summer, the thing that came up about What I Am Doing With My Life skipped past marriage and parenting (thank God) and got stuck on a/vocation.

I poke at a/vocation at least twenty times a year. I teach and mostly like the job. In one of my education methods classes, focused on teaching creative writing, our discussion turned to how we’d keep writing while teaching. Most of us in the small class knew each other from previous workshops and a few of us were good writers who wanted an eventual MFA and publication. I didn’t imagine I’d be teaching more than a couple of years. But one woman in the class likened teaching to a religious calling. As such, teaching would come before writing. As such, the majority of her essays  composed on long runs would likely never make it to the page. In that same conversation, our professor talked about whether it’s wiser to take a job that requires little creativity and keep our mind for our writing. I think of him on my cubicle days, when I’d take a job in a cube under fluorescent lights rather than be in my classroom.

My vocation exacts a lot of creativity. I’m lucky enough to teach creative writing and that keeps me writing perhaps more than I might otherwise, but between the school day, afternoons with my kids and (let me not lead you to think I’m too wholesome) nights of tv, my avocation is more minor than I thought it’d be when I was biking to class mocking up a book jacket. I write because I do. But I haven’t seriously pursued publication, even as I want it. And sometimes I talk with my students and think I’ve got to get on that, get something published so that it makes sense I’m the one teaching this class – because publication would somehow validate my ability to write or work with students as they write?

Sometimes my stray thoughts bump against one another, glob together and stretch the length of an essay. Sometimes I get a revelatory conclusion. Then I feel good for a day or week because I’ve said what I need to say just right. I might make my husband read it or post an excerpt here and shortly after, I’ll be useless again.

I was at my parents’ church this summer and the speaker closed his message about grieving before God by asking us to imagine a hurt or disappointment and hold it in a closed fist. I closed my fist around Writing. What hasn’t happened in the years since university grieves me. Writing As Means To Gain An Appreciative Audience Who Also Read Other Better Writers. Writing For Acceptance. Writing For Unbelievable Windfall And Requisite Book Signing Tour. What I really meant was Writing For Publication. I’m unpublished. I stood there holding maybe the dumbest grief in the room and said to God, Please just take this.

And I’ve since thought I can’t begrudge my vocation on behalf of an avocation.

Except (and this is important), writing is not really my avocation. Publishing may be, the laziest of my avocations. But I can’t reduce writing to a minor hobby. I’ve been writing for decades and for all sorts of reasons and I need to (once again) divorce myself from the idea that writing is most worthwhile if I also manage to publish. Maybe my writing goes no further than notebooks, saved files and what’s posted here. I doubt that though. Someday, probably, a piece of mine will land in an inbox and find its way to print. That will be exciting. Until then, and after, I write through, because.

Why The Freakout?

Every few months I reexamine my entire life and crawl into bed midday. Okay, every few weeks. And if not a midday nap, then an afternoon picking scabs in my notebook. I wait for the day introspection offers immediate pleasure rather than paralyzing regret. I get to the pleasure eventually, humbly, in the truth of the Gospel and my identity in Christ. And then I’m chastened to realize that

once again

I freaked out about stuff that isn’t worth worrying.

I’ve been thinking a lot about publishing. This is because I’m submitting a trickle of work to online magazines. I’m reading these magazines and thinking if my pieces would fit, what would my fiction look like in that font, how I’d word my brief bio. This is more modest daydreaming than years past when I pretended I was running the Olympic marathon on a ten-mile route through rural Wisconsin and, on that same run, designed the book cover for my first collection of fiction. The title was a toss-up: either Call It Fiction or Broken Plate Mosaic. I don’t think either are taken yet. Mine.

When I reread my last post: thank you for putting up with me. This blog is a place to chronicle process. So. Even when it gets whiny or a little too pep talky. I think about publication. I fantasize validation. When most of what I do every day is so incremental, I crave a giant whoop.

That whoop a ways off. I need to be okay small. I need to be okay with mundane practice. And in this moment, my words are not for an imagined bestseller, but for my drafts, notes, revisions, composts, weeps, whispers, arguments, prayers.

Lit Mag Crush

A writing friend introduced me to Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction. The other night I clicked through back issues, choosing pieces at random. I also read a couple of the craft essays. The promise of short pieces means we can read a few different voices at one sitting.

If I want to publish, I need to know what’s being published and where. I am sorely under-informed about literary magazines I might submit to; online publication is a wide world. I remember standing in a Barnes & Noble one Saturday. I was in my early twenties and often drove to Madison on the weekends, to buy books, get a coffee and write. I remember standing in the middle of the store and looking at all the shelves packed with books I would never read. I started to cry. I was so sad at all the reading I’d miss, all the ideas and voices I wouldn’t hear.

I know. Really. I used to weep on solo nature walks too. I got caught once, startled by an environmental ed major on his own nature walk. “Are you okay?” he asked. I sniffed and pointed at a shrub. I said, “It’s just – it’s just so beautiful.”

Publication looks overwhelming right now, and just so beautiful. I have talent enough to land in a few lit mags and I should go for it. But I can be smart about the process. I need to read more online lit mags. Brevity is a great start. But only a start. I can also look for sites or blogs that take guest writers and see if any of my finished work might fit.

But I can’t just stand in the middle and cry.