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Archive for January, 2009

The all-purpose shoe

All my life I’ve been searching for the all-purpose shoe.  I have hard to fit feet, and I’ve been quite impoverished at times, and the result is that I have wanted a pair of shoes I could wear to a formal dance AND to a picnic.  (This explains why I got married in a pair of brown lace-up oxfords.)

This year I wrote my third unpublished novel, using NaNoWriMo as the kick in the pants to do it.  I really didn’t want to write a girl book, but it appears that I did.  But what did I want to write?  The all-purpose novel! A brilliantly written oeuvre that would appeal to all readers.

Similarly, I’ve been casting about this year for a slightly different work life from the instructional development/technical writing/web development work I’ve been doing for the last twelve years.  Recently it came to me that I do NOT want to find the all-purpose work.  It’s fine if I do a variety of different things, write in all sorts of ways, and possibly buy a pair of shoes for one single event.

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pubphoto11About a year ago, I had a writer’s version of the dark night of the soul, which, in my case, manifested in a Fedex truck spining its wheels in the mud of my yard. That truck was delivering back to me the manuscript of a novel I’ve been trying to publish since my teenager was in preschool, and it was being returned to me by yet another agent who, at first, loved it, and then, after a year of me doing all she asked in terms of revisions, found it boring.

When I saw the truck in the mud, driver ignoring my pleas to stop hitting the gas, I thought, “There I am!”  I also realized I needed a tractor to pull me out.

The tractor came in the form of a simply sentence my therapist said. I was lamenting to her about how my childhood dream wasn’t going true. I had thought, since I first started writing at age 14, that one day, a great publishing house would point its god-like finger at me, and say, “I choose you!” From then on, I would get published easily, my books would be read by millions, and my biggest problem would be deciding what to wear on Oprah. After years, decades actually, of paying my dues — helping and mentoring other writers, publishing newsletters and journals, organizing reading series and writing groups, and tossing out piles of rejection slips with an “Oh, well!” — no one was choosing me.

“What if the most powerful way of being chosen is choosing yourself?” my wise therapist asked.

Since that time, I’ve let that question work its way into how I see myself as a writer. After scouring off some of the superficial reasons for wanting to get published (fame! money! cocktail parties in penthouses!), I realized I wanted to truly share my gifts as a writer with people who would benefit from what I wrote. So I started sending my work out to smaller publishers, looking for ways to get poetry and fiction out locally, and tossing myself out there more as a writer instead of a person who does five million things, and oh, yes, also writes.

It’s amazing what a year, a lot of therapy sessions, several months of low-grade depression, two journals full of questioning, lots of talks with friends over hazelnut coffee, and some research on the internet and through other writers can do. In the past few months, my memoir on cancer, community and the earth was accepted by a small Midwestern publisher; my next poetry collection is coming out from a small, hometown press; I placed a few articles and poems; an anthology of writing about living with serious illness — that I’m editing — is being published by a not-for-profit organization, and I was recently named the next Poet Laureate of Kansas. Really! Okay, maybe this was a very good year, yet everything that’s happening feels clean and good.

The old dream dissolved into a new one: simply believing in my work enough to choose myself. And I find that whenever I share this story with others — writers, artists, academics, mothers, office workers or students — they tend to pause and stare hard at me. “Choose myself?” Then, just like I did, they smile and let that essential notion land in their lives.

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