isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or
making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will
read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”
I knew what I would name my rat
terrier before I got her—Toni Soprano.My neighbor Steve guffawed when I told him. “I want a tough little dog
and I’m gonna teach her ‘siccum,’” I said.In fact, she’s a sweet little dog who doesn’t know ‘”siccum”
and, to my knowledge, has never killed a rat.
However, I love brainstorming about names.Whenever a friend is trying to think of
a good name, I am compelled to mull over the possibilities.Mostly recently, the name search has
been for an opinion column in the Progressive
Rancher (“Irons in the Fire” with a picture of branding irons over a
campfire) and the mysterious, androgynous character in a friend’s short story
(Merle, masculine like Merle Haggard but could be a woman’s name).I don’t care if my choice is
selected.I just like thinking of
This morning I read a blog that
recommends you secure the domain names for your unwritten novels.Yes, that does sound like naming unborn
children.Or, in my case, thinking
up names for the unborn children of my unmarried adult children.
I have mixed feelings about doing
this, although the blogger gives sound reasons.On one hand, I believe in the power of naming.After all, God named the world into
existence and if you don’t believe me, re-read Genesis:“In the beginning was the Word.”
Then there’s the fact that I am
always thinking of names of the books I have yet to write, especially slim
volumes of poetry.Two recent
favorites are Time Change and Proud Flesh.The latter refers to scars.When I was in graduate school, I named my selection of poems
submitted for a portfolio project, Rough
Side Out.I think I’m pretty
good at naming a book.Not so good
at sitting down and writing it.Maybe God created a world by naming it, but it doesn’t work that way
with us mortals, does it?
The bedroom door is closed. People are asleep in other rooms. I reach for the light and open the drawer of the nightstand, fumble for a pen and my journal, a spiral-bound sketchpad. I accomplish this without exposing much of myself to a cold November morning. Now I can lie on my left side, making room for the notebook and pulling the down comforter around my shoulders.
It is the writing pose of a teenager hiding the feelings she needs to express. "I hate them. They don't understand me. Guess what they did yesterday. I am so sad and lonely. When I'm dead and they find my writing, then they will know and it will serve them right."
It is the writing pose of a fugitive hiding behind the closed door, beneath the covers, writing in the quiet night. "I am in enemy territory, but there's news from the front. I have integrated into their world, watched closely, acted like I belonged. I don't know how long I will be here. Maybe forever. I need to keep a record, let someone know I was always a spy. I couldn't help it."
It is my writing stance when that's all I can do; when I want to capture the thoughts and images that float between my unconscious and conscious mind; when I don't have the discipline or the courage to sit at my desk, door open and during the best part of the day, and say to myself and those around me, "Don't bother me. I'm writing."
The best part of the story is this sentence: I remember doing lines of coke with a hooker in the smoking section of an airplane flying from Elko, Nevada to Salt Lake City, Utah to go to a Readers' Digest workshop put on by my Uncle Dick. The point of this sorry little tale is that, once again, I made an attempt to enter a world of writing and publishing, but didn't come close.
I vaguely remember the woman. She looked more like a card dealer than a hooker. Having grown up in Elko, I thought I knew how to distinguish the two. On the flight, she named the cathouse where she worked. I knew exactly where it was.
As an adult, living on the California North Coast in the 1980's, I knew something about the recreational use of cocaine. I wasn't a pot smoker, but I liked the energizing rush of coke, and the fad among my husband's carpenter friends lasted a couple of years. However, I was in my late thirties. We had two young children who needed me to pack nutritious lunches and pick them up after school. I had a part time job teaching remedial English at a small branch campus of a community college. I couldn't be too wild and crazy.
The kids were staying with their grandparents in Elko while I went to the weekend workshop. To celebrate this freedom from parenting responsibilities, I chose the smoking section of the plane because I thought it would be more interesting to sit in the back with the smokers than up front with the Mormons.
For two days I listened to writers and editors talk about writing for trade publications, travel writing, writing query letters, the art of interviewing, pitching stories. It was a tremendous opportunity to launch a freelance career. I went home enthusiastic about the articles I could write and my bright future as a freelancer. I said, "sorry little tale," didn't I? Of course, nothing came of it.
Three decades later, I am at a time in my life and in a place as conducive to writing as I could imagine. My drive to write is as strong as ever, but I'm having to face the fact that I'm weak when it comes to the desire to be published and a sense of a readership. My publishing consists of three blogs. I like the way they look in print and that it is a public space.
I wish I could remember more about that woman, about her story. I do know that the brazen me who sat in the back of the plane--she's still here.
I recently finished an essay and posted it on WritingFromSpace. I was relieved to have finished something. I understand that a blog post is about as likely to be read as a crumpled hard copy tossed in my driveway. I’m working on that—how to develop followers. At present, I’m concentrating on completion, which means I’m paying attention to my writing process.
After posting the piece, “Bambi, Anna Karenina, and Dramatic Irony,” I threw away all the drafts: hand-written pages on lined yellow tablets; typed drafts going back at least three months; notes on an e-mail from my neighbor, a Russian scholar, who parsed a Russian word for me; some freewriitng that led away from the task at hand to concerns for my adult kids and drifted to the memory of an unpleasant incident in my past, which may lead to the start of another piece.
At an earlier time in my writing life, I would have set my standards way too high, wanting my essay to be a brilliant meditation on dramatic irony, Greek tragedy, and why re-reading a great novel is gratifying, but watching a re-run of the Super Bowl isn’t.
It was a paralyzing stance. How did I get past it? I’m not sure, but I did.