This has been a peculiar week for Obscure CanLit Mama. I refer to myself in the third person because the literary facet of my life usually feels exactly that compartmentalized, like it belongs to another person. I wonder whether this is healthy; perhaps it is even self-defeating. Would I pursue my chosen career more aggressively if “writer” were more integrated into my identity? As I type that previous sentence, a broad smile breaks across my face; the words chosen and career look affected, and pursue and aggressively are downright fraudulent, not within my character, not in that way. If a writer is someone who writes, then I am she. It’s the extra elements, the bruising elements of being a working writer that I cannot seem to cope with, that I’m downright allergic to. (Sentences ending with prepositions, gah; there’s subtext in that there grammar, ladies and gents.)
Here’s what I like about writing and publishing: the relationships that are formed, the shelter of finding mentors who appreciate and care deeply about the words set on the page, who shine a light between the cracks. Here’s what I dislike about writing and publishing: seeking out those relationships. The fear of rejection is ever-present. There is such sadness when a relationship fails or is lost. I wish my carapace were tougher or my confidence overwhelming; or, perhaps, I don’t wish that at all, because how could I write with passion and vulnerability if either of those things were true?
I’ve been thinking about the word “gift.” It seems true that we are born with–are given–unique gifts; what we do with these is our choice. Translating experience into words on the page comes naturally to me; I’m introspective, and an observer; I love language and a story well-told. But there’s another element to the gift: it’s given to us, not chosen by us. Ever received a gift that you didn’t quite know how to appreciate? Ever received a gift, smiled with strain, and wondered, now what the heck am I supposed to do with this? At the end of all my days–and at the end of every day–I want to know that I’ve done all that I could possibly do, that I’ve acted in this world for good, that my life has intersected with the lives of others in positive ways. And I remain unconvinced that writing is the way to do this. (She says, while writing). Because writing requires solititude and interior concentration, because it takes one out of the world rather than into it, and because the end-point of creativity is an artistic product that has no absolute value, and that may indeed remain largely unappreciated, it can seem, as a way to live a life, well, self-indulgent.
Not unlike this post.
Which is, promise, coming around to that window into an Obscure CanLit life.
This week, I had the lovely and surreal experience of having my photograph taken by an artist who will be painting my portrait. He was commissioned for the project by The New Quarterly, which will publish the portrait, along with a reflection on what it means to be a subject, as part of a series that includes other Canadian writers like Russell Smith, Diane Schoemperlen, and Sharon English. I dressed up in a swingy summery dress and posed in our backyard, feeling possessed of an unexpected confidence, and not-unexpected humour; if you can believe it, several large trees were being chopped down on our property and thrown into a viciously loud chipper while this was going on. What a funny life. Children racing about, Kevin home to help, men with spiked boots wielding chainsaws, the aroma of freshly baked banana bread, a shouted conversation in our living-room … and myself, posing for a portrait as a writer. Come to think of it, it didn’t feel that far-fetched, as if I were dressing up in someone else’s identity, it felt just exactly like my life.
So perhaps all of this anxiety and doubt is emerging from the other, and disappointing, literary occurrence of the week: a rejection letter on a manuscript of poetry. How heartbreaking to discover the fat package in the mailbox, and to read the kind and thoughtful letter from the editor, saying that this might have been an acceptance letter in a different year, that she believed several of the poems were “truly brilliant,” and that the collection was strong. But.
It’s such a familiar heartbreak: the hope for a new relationship, not to be. And the hope for those words, too, to find a home.
I stuck the manuscript into the kids’ scrap paper pile. It made me feel somewhat better this morning when they noticed the new paper, and wondered if it came from one of my books (yes, I frequently recycle drafts in this way; sorry, imaginary future archivists). The kids didn’t see it as failure. They read some of the words with interest, then turned the pages over to colour on the blank backs. I look forward to coming across these scraps in the weeks to come–the transformation of what might have been into something that no longer belongs to me, the odd word or phrase jumping out and grabbing me, a sweet reminder.
Finally, I should add that I still believe in this manuscript of poems, and still have hope of finding it an Obscure CanLit home. Someday. (Maybe writer is more integrated into my identity than I recognize. This post is making me think so–see, I had to write it out in order to discover it.)