I’ll be honest. I don’t really consider myself a writer. John Steinbeck is a writer. Cannery Row is so effortless and quiet that you can hardly feel yourself reading it. It’s as if you are sitting in a comfy chair with someone telling you about a set of lives been and gone. By comparison I am simply an individual who possesses the ability to hold a pen. The hope is that one day the light of the Almighty, if she’s out there, will shine down upon me and I will be blessed with the gift of story.
But as I plod though my wee writing exercises it sometimes feels like I must be kidding myself. People like me don’t become writers. So to save myself any embarrassing conversations, I don’t say a word of my creative pursuits to anyone except my nearest. If I do happen to get a small twenty word article published one day, then I can jump out of the cupboard and yell, “Surprise!” to the rest of the world. Until then, this is my guise as the writer in the closet.
I have been jotting down ramblings of a nondescript nature for years. But my writing journey only properly began when I came crashing down to earth with an ungraceful bump. My partner is a fancy editor at a major newspaper and I gave him something that I had been working on for ages to read. Because of my sweaty toil, I was as anxious as I was shy to show someone. I had emailed him a copy of the thing and waited patiently for him to make a time to sit down and go over it.
It was a usual Sunday morning with the chaos of sticky children climbing the walls making me wonder if nature really is all that wonderful, when he announced that he would have a quick look at my story. I plonked the toddler in front of The Evil Television to keep him from setting the house on fire and plugged the baby with a pacifier. Partner sat at our dining room table reading while I perched in my hokey rocking chair watching his every move.
Pursed lips, intent look. He seems interested. That’s good.
No. It can’t be!
Yes, yes he is actually licking his finger and rubbing a mark on his shirt. How is this possible?
Don’t say anything. Just keep quiet. People do all sorts of things when they are absorbed in things. He probably has no idea he is doing it.
Now he has put his head in his left hand. Oh. My. God. He actually looks…bored. Hold on, I am sure I did that when I was reading that Swedish spy novel and that was a gripping read. Doesn’t mean a thing.
“So how is it going love?”
Foraging in beard, turning bottom set of teeth over top lip in a sort of mock English bulldog way.
“Fine, still not finished.”
What was the dog look about? Should I be concerned?
“Ok. Can I get you anything?”
“Um, maybe some tea. While I read.”
You get the idea. They say that you can tell a lot of what people feel by their body language. And it turns out that is pretty accurate. At one point I thought he had fleas because he was scratching so much. Things were not looking good.
The first thing he asked me was what my “target audience” was. Naturally this sent me straight into a blind rage. As you do.
“What do you mean my target audience?” I barged. “People who can read perhaps?”
“I just mean it looks like you are pitching this at a certain audience and I am wondering who you think they are.”
“You hate it. You think I am useless and I should give it up.”
“No. I didn’t say that,” he moaned. “You should never have given this to me for an opinion.”
“Well, I didn’t expect you to be talking about audiences!” I shrieked sending the baby into a tonsil-vibrating yell. “I wanted to know what you thought of the story!”
“Well.” The pause was longer than two heartbeats. Maybe three. “I think it has potential. But it needs…work. ”
That thud of hitting the earth was painful. I don’t know what I thought. That I would be brilliant with my first stab? Pathetic really, because I knew that it was not that good, that I was not that good. So after feeling precious that whole Sunday and seriously having thrown in the towel; I woke up the next day, gave myself a useful smack around the cheeks, apologized to Partner and began the real process of committing to writing. I promised it loyalty, practice and a coach whom I would pay to be honest with me so that I didn’t have to move out of home. I bullied myself into the relationship by imagining my eighty year old self on my deathbed surrounded by loving children (no estranged and feuding family members in this scene thanks very much), stating with shaking finger and papery voice, “You must follow your dreams my loves. Don’t get to the end of your lives with regrets as I did.”
Sometimes writing feels as necessary as breathing. Other times the journey feels like a trek into the Himalayas without a Sherpa. I am still not Steinbeck. And I am not sure if I will ever be able to consider myself a writer. But the good and the bad of it fill in the gaps. There isn’t much space in the closet and I have to move a lot of stuff out of the way so I can squeeze in, but it’s fun. And who knows? One day I might even have to lose the element of surprise.
Photo credit: flickr.com_lemuelinchrist