From White Dove to Bird by Bird: Thoughts on Writing, Purpose, and Being Happy Where I Am

I had a styrofoam version of this bad ax. I was lame. But it's excusable, because I grew up in the 80s...

I wrote this intro the other day, but it was too good and too connected to what’s on my mind right now not to re-use. So if you feel like you’ve read this before, skip to some words that sound new and start there. If it doesn’t sound familiar, good. Now I’ve got you right where I want you.

See, my brother and I once had a band. We were a simple two-piece: keyboard and guitar. This was back in the ’80s, when keyboards were so awesome they hung around your neck like a guitar, and guitars were so awesome they came in strange, angular shapes. I can’t remember who played what (though history seems to suggest that my brother played guitar, since he still plays one to this day) but we had our gear and we had our song and we took to them streets to make a name for ourselves.

Did I mention that our instruments were made of styrofoam? And that our song, a pathetic ditty that ranged into some serious falsetto, was comprised entirely of the following lines:

“White dove, white dove

Fly into the night.

Night, night, night, night.

White dove!”

What can I say?

We sucked.

And no, I have no idea where those lyrics came from (though history would seem to suggest that I penned them, since I’m still writing horribly). I will say, however, that our lone performance in front of the neighborhood kids was sold out. It was also one of the more humiliating events from our childhood, and this is coming from a guy who wore a powder-blue tye-dyed shirt/shorts combo on his first date. We still joke about it, this passing singular moment from our childhood, and usually end up in tears, clutching our stomachs, hoping we can regain enough control of our senses to remember to breathe.

But we only tell this story to people who will get it; folks who either know us or understand that level of childish humiliation and can appreciate being able to laugh at those follies. In short, we know our audience and we pander to them with the hopes of making them laugh with us while they laugh at us.

Because otherwise, if the people only laugh at us, the story becomes just another painful memory.

I’m reading a book by author Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, her memoir on writing. It’s a neat little book, perhaps a notch just below the exceptional On Writing by Stephen King, and I’ve enjoyed Lamott’s playful language and sense of humor. However, what she gives the reader via her insights and laughter, she takes away in one simple, ugly truth: most likely, you will never get published.

Bam. There it is. Welcome to the world of the writer.

I read that the other day and it affected me. Deeply.

My goal, for so long, has been to become a published writer. I bang away on this blog day after day and almost obsessively monitor blog hits because I want to know that my voice, my stories, have an audience that not only laughs at me, but with me. I want to know that people appreciate my take on the trials of life and parenting or whatever. And many of you do appreciate the effort, and kindly share links or comments or encouragement each day. For that I am grateful.

But the elusive goal, the one that I’ve been chasing more broadly, the one that I’m beginning to wonder about, is seeing my name in print, on a book, in a store somewhere. I’ve wanted that for as long as I can remember. It’s only been recently that I’ve believed I could make it happen, and so I’ve written two complete books, have two partials, and at least three other books in relative stages of disrepair. I’ve polished, submitted, and polished some more, and the answer still comes back the same:

Generic rejection. The worst kind of rejection known to humanity.

It’s an awful, awful thing, generic rejection, because it dismisses you without giving you anything to grow on. It gives nothing back. It only takes from you. Personal rejection, while hurtful, at least offers you feedback. It gives you something in return for your effort. You can correct, you can adapt, you can change. Heck, if necessary, you can completely reinvent and start fresh with a new vision because the personal rejection helps you to move past it.

Not so with generic rejection. Not only does it take from you via the process of getting your work and deciding no (for whatever reason), it takes from you again in the fact that you have to find the personal resources to overcome it. You have to look deep within yourself and find the strength to shake it off and keep pressing on. You have to believe in yourself.

And that costs you something. It requires effort.

Now, there are those who suggest this grand psychic battle is worth what you gain in confidence and refinement. There are people who swear by the maxim that “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” And it’s a maxim because it carries some truth to it.

But what the maxim leaves out is the equal truth that when you are nearly killed, the option to go ahead and die is just as compelling.

I’m rambling, and if you’ve stopped reading, I don’t blame you. (Then again, if you’ve stopped reading, why am I writing you a parenthetical? I’m weird.) But all of this comes full-circle:

I don’t know if I have anything to say in a book right now, despite how many I have finished, started, etc. Even if I wrote another three or four books in the course of the next year, there’s no story burning it’s way out of me, nothing that compels me to write, write, WRITE with the kind of single minded focus a true book requires. But the urge to write everyday, to get something down, to express myself creatively and maybe get a few laughs along the way is compelling. It does motivate me.

I’ve been nearly killed, but I’m not going to choose to die. But neither am I going to choose the grandiose path either. I’m going to do what makes me happy. I’m going to write about whatever tumbles out of my little head and let fate, destiny, God, and the Internet handle the rest.

Because the reality is, people do care to read what I write. People do find a common voice for their own struggles or thoughts or life-experiences in these little musings, and they read these posts and say, “I needed that” or “Yep, been there” or “Wow, that takes me back and makes me think of…”

In other words, like the idiot kid with a styrofoam keyboard strapped around his neck, I’ve realized that the big time comes at a big cost. One that I’m not willing (or ready) to pay right now. But there is an immense satisfaction at being good at something and using that talent to bless or inspire or tickle others, and I’m finding that I like that satisfaction a lot. I enjoy the blog and the people who read it, and if I never achieve more than what I’ve accomplished I’ll be a little sad, but not devastated. It’s better to be a blessing to some than nothing to all.

So that’s it. That’s my big revelation for today: I enjoy blogging, am good at it, and plan to continue it. For now, the larger dreams can hold until I really feel like I have something to say, and not just want to find a niche to get me printed.

I’m much happier being a voice than being a product. I hope you find contentment today as well.

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