On Writing and the Silent Treatment
Fast-forward a bit to my college years. While I was a fierce and loyal correspondent (the kind who writes letters, not the kind who reports from the Middle East), I didn't consider myself a Writer. But I wrote, mostly in a daily journal. And then somehow, (I can't remember how now brown cow), I joined the staff of the campus newspaper.
I was supposed to write a column about the music department, but I never actually did. Instead, I wrote essays about whatever happened to flutter through my brain. And the newspaper published them.
I wasn't very impressed with myself, though, because the newspaper was a rinky-dink operation at a rinky-dink school and big-whoop-de-doo. Then someone from the publishing department of the Assemblies of God (my denomination at the time) contacted me and asked permission to reprint one of my articles, a piece called, "Life Without Elbows." And they paid me.
I was a published writer, much to my shock.
Fast-forward a few more years. Having viewed my byline and tasted the satisfaction of publication, I longed to Be A Writer. I bought a Writer's Market. While we waited for a birth-mother to choose us, to make us parents, I puttered around at the computer and sent off queries. I went to a writer's conference in Oregon. I submitted stuff. I received rejections. I sent out more queries. And got more rejections.
Birth-mothers? Rejecting me.
Publishers? Rejecting me.
I took it personally.
I chronicled all of this in my journals, painstakingly recording in ballpoint ink my anguish and the failures and angst, the wholehearted brand of angst requiring extra time and devotion. I picked up a couple of assignments for very small publications, received checks for minuscule amounts, accumulated more rejections, both professionally and personally, kicked myself for being a failure, sobbed on the bathroom floor, and then became a mother to twin baby boys.
I still wrote, but only in letters and journals. It turned out that as a mother, I had no time to nourish my angst about writing, no idle moments to worry about whether I'd ever Be A Writer. Once or twice a year, I'd receive an assignment, send back my work and get a check for $90. Sometimes, I'd read a terrible novel and think, I could do better than that. And then I'd read something fantastic and I'd think, I could never write like that. I was equal parts optimism and despair.
Eventually, I gave away my Writer's Market. I stopped querying magazines. I set aside the whole writing thing. I had no time, no clear thoughts beyond, "Will they ever stop waking up at 5:45 a.m.?"
The years rushed by in fits and starts and then, lo and behold, my last baby stopped being a baby. I began to ask myself, Self, what should I be when I grow up? I settled on earning money, imagined having a Real Career, an identity beyond being someone's wife and someone's mother. And I hatched a plan to become a nurse.
I made my list and checked it twice. I realized it would be wise to wait another year before beginning this venture. And as weeks slipped by, I realized I didn't really want to go to school. I didn't really want to go to work. I didn't really want a boss, a schedule . . . but I wanted a handy answer to the question, "So, what do you do?" I wanted health benefits and dental insurance and a decent paycheck with my name on it.
But at what price? What would I have to give up to become Nurse Mel? Time with my young daughter and growing sons? Schooling my kids at home? Being available to help my husband during times when his schedule is erratic and demanding? The flexibility to play on sunny afternoons and to spend weekends with my family?
Just as my youngest child grows more independent, would I close the door on those long-coveted hours of solitude and blocks of time in which to write? Would I exchange my chance to write (with no guaranteed of success) for employment as a nurse with its steady paycheck?
I'm pragmatic and the silly idea of turning away from a sure thing to pursue what will most likely turn out to be an unsure thing pinches at my brain. I am sensible, low-maintenance, with an abundance of common sense. And it doesn't make any sense to pursue a far-fetched dream.
(Especially when you are me and you respond to arguments and adversity with the silent treatment. Try it. Make me mad and I'll stop speaking to you. Maybe forever. I know! It's a terrible character flaw and, being aware, I fight against it. But now I realize that when the universe argued with me through all those rejection slips, I decided to give it--the universe, writing, dreaming,the whole kit and caboodle--the silent treatment. Fine! Reject me? I'll reject you!)
I should become a nurse. Clearly. But when would I write? And could I abandon the idea of focusing on writing entirely? Should I cut loose the dream of writing like child releases a party balloon into the far blue sky?
One night, my husband and I chatted. I told him I worried about schooling and scheduling and working. He listened to me fret. And then he said, "You know, I'm a pastor. Sometimes, I think about going to school and becoming something else, but the truth is, I'm a pastor. You are a writer. You could go to school and become a nurse--and I would support you in that--but you are a writer. Even if it means we never have a new car, you should not make a decision based on the money."
He gave me permission to be what I am. And then I gave myself permission, too. I set aside the thought of going to nursing school and let myself think of pursuing writing professionally. I never mentioned it here because, really, how embarrassing is it to say, "I changed my mind. I'm abandoning my plans. I'm insane," when you were all so nice and encouraging and supportive?
And what if I fail? I suffer periods of self-doubt and eye-rolling. I comfort myself in those moments of massive anxiety with the assurance that I could still go to school--the door is ajar--starting next year, and work out the details and weave together a life that wouldn't leave too many strings dangling. Maybe. I could.
Meanwhile, I write here. Blogging has been a directional sign for me, a way to keep on the road towards writing professionally. The daily discipline of writing, the practice of choosing words, the craft of stringing them together brings me great satisfaction. I've been surprised by the joy of this medium.
Not long ago, I had a tiff with a good friend. I responded with my typical, "Fine! You are dead to me!" maturity, which was working for me, sort of. Then she emailed me and said, "Hey, what's up?" and I said nothing. The words were too big to fit into my mouth and I couldn't speak them.
She asked again. I spit out a tiny word. I might have never responded and missed out on the pleasure of a repaired friendship. The silent treatment could have been the demise of that pocket of my heart. (I am indebted to her.)
Meanwhile, an opportunity arose to blog for money. Knowing that twenty-eight million blogs exist, I snorted into my Diet Coke with Lime and closed that email. As if! Me! I've been stamped "REJECT," remember? I gave it the old silent treatment. But the suggestion spoke again. And a snippet of a voice inside my head said, "Why not you? Remember, you are a writer. You admitted it."
So I gathered my wits, wrote some samples, sent my application and waited for a response with the expectation one has playing the Lotto. One week passed. Another week. An email arrived: "We received a particularly strong batch of applications for this position and our choice was a difficult one . . . " That's right. It was not me.
(Boo, hiss, climb under the desk and weep.)
But it went on, "Your application stood out as one of the very best and we think your voice would be a great addition . . ."
SAY WHAT? From a Snoopy Certification of Achievement to this . . . and maybe more. I'm stunned. I am now a professional blogger. (The universe and I are on speaking terms again.)
Details to follow.
(This blog will remain the same. Have no fear. I'm guessing it'll be a few more weeks before I have more information.)