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The calliope sounds. Rise and run. At least that's what Ray Bradbury says. Run! This, I promise myself, I will do every morning. Not along the paved roads of this tidy suburban town, not along the park's grasses, but along the dark and dulled keys of my laptop. Along the crevices and couloirs of my cranium.
With champion intent—after first getting beyond the email flurry, the deletions, additions and responses, and any other immediate business, like say, Facebook, blog hopping, reading the papers—trusting I can do this, I open a word doc and stare at the empty white space between the margins. For a long time. And proceed to get angry with myself. Inevitably, broken, frustrated, I find something else to do.
Why? Because I doubt myself. I doubt I'll ever polish a story lustrous enough to shine upon the surface of print. I read other writers and think, Christ, I'll never be that good. What I think, is that I showed up at the feast much too late. So I come to the table expecting not to be fed. I find only morsels of grain which I casually swipe off the table top! What kind of behavior is that? With that sort of attitude, I should be grounded for the weekend. No phone. No friends. No television (which might help).
And then I lift my hand to find stale food particles clinging to the sweaty creases of my palm, teasing my hunger.
So what I've got is a whole bunch of short stories that I've yet to seriously edit. And even more to begin. Begin. This is work, dammit. And instead I blog and find other diversions. I'm guilty. I'm mad at me. And I ought to apologize.
I have a manila folder labeled "The Sorry File" in which letters of apology are stored. My kids are good at apologizing. So good that their handwritten apology letters warrant a special file. Like this one (with my son's permission):
Some day, when they're grown and have children of their own, I'll mail their apology letters to them—just as my mother returns all my little handmade letters, coupons, notes and articles to me. They are also tucked in a folder, a reminder of a time, in my very innocent Catholic school girl days, when all I wanted was to be a writer.
Back then I was crafting things like Smokey Bear posters with crayon on a piece of five foot wide white industrial paper from a roll on a dowel fastened to our garage wall. And McGovern for President propaganda (McGovern for Pres., You've got to confess, You want McGovern!) on spiral bound notepads. I thought for sure my campaign would guarantee the Office to McGovern. Hell, who wanted Nixon for a second term? There was also an illustrated ant invasion story. (Yeck.) In high school I joined the Villa Novans newspaper and wrote articles. I believed I'd be a writer.
And then my sister went to school for journalism. And my brother went to school for communications. And when it was finally my time to go to college, well, I had to do something different. I couldn't follow the same path as my older siblings! Don't copy me! (No one ever said it but I feared hearing it.) I had to do my own thing, though I didn't know what that meant.
I remember telling my guidance counselor I wanted to be a writer, not a journalist, but a writer. He didn't say so, but he didn't seem to think that a writer was a bona-fide profession. He smiled his you're-so-sweetly-naive-young-lady-how-will-you-make-a-living-from-that smile and responded by suggesting (based on my vocational assessment test—but certainly not my grades) that I might make a good lawyer, or social worker, that my skills would translate well to child development and counseling. And I let myself believe that. For a long time.
I went into social work. I entered the legal field. I didn't write. (Except for contracts, briefs, affidavits and other sorts of exciting legal instruments.)
But I don't blame my guidance counselor or anyone else for my failure to write, for letting the desire to rise each day and run dissipate like escaping steam from a pressure cooker. Just me. Guilty. Even more so now that I have a little more time to devote to the craft.
Here, I apologize to myself. That was stupid—waiting so long. I'm very sorry. What I really need is courage, a better work ethic and production quotas.
As Bradbury says, To feed well is to grow. I'll take his advice—more reliable than the old guidance counselor— I'll open the lid of that cooker. Let the steam out. Breath in the salty stew of words and phrases and ideas. Taste the modified nouns and verbs. Fill myself with pungent and moist hyperbole. Stop writing about me not writing. And write. Dammit.
I hope my son won't ever have to apologize for not following his dream, nor ever let anyone smile a you're-such-a-naive-nice-boy-how-will-you-make-a-living-from-that smile. Art is, indeed, a bona-fide vocation. Listen to the calliope, I tell him. Rise and run.