I Am, Therefore I Write
August 14, 2017 § 70 Comments
by Jan Priddy
Rejection came this morning, a personal note after being short-listed, and it’s the usual thing. Most writing is rejected. I thought about why—not why the story was rejected, because that’s fair. Editors don’t owe me an explanation. It’s the other whys:
Why write? Why submit?
Perhaps thirty years ago, my children were both in school and I was sweating my way through the new outdoor exercise park in Seaside. Neat wooden signs directed me to complete jumping jacks and then move to the next station and follow instructions to do sit-ups or chin-ups.
I do not recall all the activities I was asked to do, only that I did each one until I came to a wooden vault near the end of the circuit. On every side of me, greenery and expectation. I was just about to take a run at the apparatus, familiar from my school days, when I thought: I will hurt myself doing this, and it will take days or weeks before I am mended. I chose not to jump and deliberately turned aside to the next station.
It was about that time I understood I was never going to be wealthy and that I had become invisible because I was no longer young and pretty. (I had not noticed I was young and pretty when I was those things, so the realization that my time had past struck me as funny. I give myself credit for amusement.)
About that time, I also began writing seriously every day, and I can tell you I fell again for the delusion that one day I would be famous and maybe wealthy?—this time as a writer. I had always written, of course, but regarded my art as visual, composed of metal and fiber, the weaving and repoussé I studied as an undergrad. Nevertheless, in mid-life I found I must write, and that has commanded my attention for a long time. I cannot set it aside. I can leave Facebook and shutter my blog, but I still write in order to remain healthy. Like my daily walk keeps my heart healthy, I cannot stop writing without losing my soul.
Maybe everyone does not imagine fame, the book published to acclaim, the interviews and literary prizes and readings before an admiring public. Maybe most people are more realistic about their prospects. I was not. Even now, with novels, a memoir and a series of essays, creative nonfiction, poetry, and stories only a few want to read, I sometimes indulge the fantasy of a major publication. I waste hours sending work out. I check Submittable and Duotrope online before dawn. I check again. And again before shutting my computer for the night. I visit websites and I toy with querying agents, something I have done before with little success. All of this a bother and distraction from actually writing.
It would be easy to think I have wasted my time with words. I have written so much that I threw away, so much I have forgotten. I scroll through my computer files and wonder about the subject of a short story begun in 2005 called “Without, Still Night” that my computer assures me cannot be opened. There are twenty-three drafts of this piece in a folder labeled “New Stories” that can no longer be opened. No one will ever again read it or the others saved here, not even me. Instead, there is this.
No writing retreat waits in my immediate future, no workshop, no writing vacation free of responsibilities, but I am writing anyway. I have applied for several residencies recently and failed to win one, but I am writing. Bad luck or other, better writers? Forgive me for not caring. In truth I do care, I care very much, but I write regardless. Waiting for a journal’s response to my work is painful and I require time to recover from letters containing curt rejection, but still. I write most days and sometimes for entire days without ceasing and without expectation of reward, simply for the glory of putting words on the page.
I am, therefore I write.
Any experienced writer will warn that if that is not enough, if the goal is merely to seek fame or to become a “writer” rather than to write, it would be wise to seek fame elsewhere and to become something else.
That truth is hard to accept and easy as leaping into darkness. There is no set of instructions about how to do this or when or even if I should. Only I can choose for myself. I write. Sometimes I might submit. Do I risk the jump?
The alternative is to live mute in the universe.
Jan Priddy’s work is found in journals such as the Brevity blog, The MacGuffin, CALYX, Work Magazine, Raven Chronicles, The Humanist, North American Review, and anthologies about running and race. An MFA graduate from Pacific University, she is lately writing nonfiction and fiction about pink, grief, and children who turn into owls. She lives in her great grand aunts’ home on the Oregon coast.