For Writers

This is my 365th post.  If you’ll remember, a few years ago I made a pact to post on this blog every day for a year.  If I had kept that pact, I would have reached my 365th post long before now.  But I’m still here, and I’m proud as anything of that.  In honor of this special occasion, I thought I’d let someone else talk about writing and its strife.  Although I admit I haven’t experienced a number of the extremes he mentions, I’m glad to think that if I work harder–if I truly work to hone my craft–I can join the ranks of him, and of all the other talented names on my bookshelf.  If not their ranks, then hopefully I can at least share in some of their noble sufferings.

“Damn the Writers”

By Owen Egerton

Dear God,

Spare a blessing for the writers.

We have traded in the bars and bullfights for university jobs and Netflix. We sink into credit card debt awaiting publication, then find the advance won’t cover the monthly interest. Oh Lord, the books that took us years and blood have the shelf life of warm goat milk. In desperation, we write zombie erotica ebooks under false names, outselling our life’s work 10 to 1. Our friends and family flip through our drafts, shake their heads, and return to their game of Candy Crush Saga.

In the midst of all this, may we be writers.

May we grieve and sin and celebrate all in the same swallow.

May we seize morning light and squeeze it into ink and toner.

Grant us coffee and honesty and laptops that do not connect to the internet.

Teach us to be chefs, plucking herbs from sidewalk cracks and mushrooms from basement floors. And if we fail to provide nourishment for the hungry, may we at least offer the aroma of cooking.

We are starving, God. Every last one of us.

May we persevere remembering Emily Dickinson, John Kennedy Toole, and Henry David Thoreau. That said, God, we’d like the timing to be a little kinder in our case.

Deliver us, oh Lord, from the temptation to once again check our Amazon ranking or Google our own name.

May we write books worthy of being banned, outrageous enough to be burned.

May we offend.

May we be open to the wisdom of our colleagues and not a give a fuck if the workshop likes it.

May we visit the hearts of pedophiles and tour bus conductors and volunteers working suicide hotlines.

May we sneak into the funerals of strangers.

May we run mad so we may write for the mad. May we face brokenness so we can give voice to the broken.

A little happiness would be nice as well.

May we remember that how we live is essential to how we write. And refuse to live small.

Stoned or sober, may we piss in the pools of wealthy neighbors, eat in bars with health code violations, and steal bibles from homeless shelters.

May we make love loudly, even when alone.

May we embarrass, embarrass, embarrass ourselves.

May we be lost. May we pen maps so others might become lost as well.

May our greatest risk not be our words but our lives. And may our lives spill words like molten rock.

Damn the writers, God. Then bless us with the words to describe it.

If I sound ridiculous it is because I am ridiculous. This is my religion. This is my faith.

God, cast your gaze upon us. See us in the kitchens, closets, coffee houses. Sitting and scribbling, typing, staring off between words. We raise our souls like a sloshing glass of grain alcohol. We toast one another. We smash the glass and light a match.

Forgive our clichés. Heal our poor grammar. And thank you, dear God, for Spell Check.

Oh Lord, hear our prayer.

Amen.

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Anathema

I had to give a few speeches last spring, for my Trial of Galileo class.  In the class, we were all given historical roles to play: Conservatives, Linceans, Bishops, etc.  I was initially a Conservative, but was killed off in the midterm lottery and assigned a new role; I then played a Spaniard trying to rally Vatican support for the Holy War Against Protestants.  In my packet, it said that should support be refused, I was free to attempt a Pope deposition.  Needless to say, kicking a Pope out of office was difficult business, and I ended up messing it up horribly by putting too much faith in the Linceans (who played the game well, bless their hearts).

Anyway, those speeches I delivered, in pursuit of war, and eventually, deposition, were wonderful to write.  Mainly, I admit, because they required little research; I made them as style-laden as I wanted, spending hours creating elaborate metaphors about gold-encrusted ceilings and small Catholic boys being tossed from their homes by Protestant heretics.

I learned what anathema meant, and I used the word often, and with obvious relish.

But whenever I stood up in front of the class to perform, flooded with the confidence of four years of high school speech, the most horrible thing would happen; my voice would shake.

At first, I was able to convince myself that no one noticed.  Fingers clutching at the sticky edges of the podium, I would look up often, which was important.  I read the words I had so much faith in, words I had convinced myself of, because that’s what you do when you spend your weekends in secret meetings with bishops of the Vatican.  I read the words with the exhilaration that comes from speaking into a silence that is meant only for you, and I tremored all the while.

“Were you nervous, Holly?”  Someone asked me after class.

“No, I really wasn’t.  I don’t know what happened.  I’m not afraid of public speaking.”

I’m not afraid of public speaking.

It made me wonder what had gotten me through all those years of speech without so much as a quake.  Everything else had happened; croaking through Harold Ickes with a Cold That Wouldn’t Go Away Before Saturday, having to walk of shame back to my desk mid-speech because let’sbehonest I wasn’t quite memorized yet, gesturing so woodenly and repetitively that by the end of my eight minutes I felt like a puppet on instant replay.  But I don’t remember my voice ever shaking.

And yet, I’ve changed so much since speech days.  I’m more confident, possibly more poised (if not less graceful).  I have a greater sense of self.  If anything, I’ve become steadier.  How curious, then, to stand up, with all the pomp of a twenty-year-old, only to find that new fears have apparently arisen.