Come in! Come in!

My own bad behavior recently reminded me how important it is to support each other in whatever we dream to do.

A friend on the van knows someone who is thinking about writing a book and so asked me for publishing advice. My internal reaction was, “Write the blankety-blank book and then worry about it.”

My external reaction might have been slightly more gracious, but it wasn’t exactly welcoming. I didn’t say, “Wow, that’s great. What a fabulous project to undertake. What does she want to write about?” I didn’t pour out a list of helpful resources.

Trying to get published is often discouraging. I recently read an article in Poets and Writers Magazine that said, without connections, a writer has a one in 11,111 chance of getting an offer of representation from a typical literary agent.

That means you can be in the top .0001% of writers and still not get signed by a particular agent. My math is not good enough to figure out the odds if you considered all agents, but certainly not good enough to make me dance a jig.

Which is all the more reason to be encouraging to others entering the game. Nobody enjoys being one in 11,111. It is better to be two and even better to be five or ten, exponentially better, in ways that defy mathematics.

I don’t know why we need the support of others who share similar experiences, but anyone who’s ever felt really lousy and then talked to a friend or family member and felt better knows it’s true. We are social beings, and I think it’s hard wired into us to thrive more completely in community.

So, henceforward, I will take as my motto Shel Silverstein’s poem “Invitation,” which begins, “If you are a dreamer, come in.”

Time Flies

I am not an early adopter. When my sister first got a livejournal account, my enlightened reaction was something along the lines of, “Blogs are stupid. Who would do that?” A diary anyone in the world could read had all the appeal of the unidentified, molding substance in the back of my refrigerator. Today, thanks to leap year, Being Finite is exactly one year old.

I didn’t anticipate enjoying blogging. Even though most posts keep me up past my bedtime, I’m always grateful for the writing of them. They keep me honest, and they remind me to look for “things that help when life gets difficult,” to quote the About blurb. I’ve discovered, much to my surprise, that what helps is telling stories about my limitations, quirks, amazing friends and family, lousy days, and moments of gratitude.

It’s remarkably humbling to hear about my posts striking a chord with others or making them laugh. My original plan, quickly abandoned due to complete lack of research, consisted of finding other people and groups doing impressively helpful things. I didn’t expect my life to make interesting material. Readers’ reactions bring home what many have said, that all we really have to offer is our unique existence in this world, and that is enough.

What’s made the last year both enjoyable and humbling is you who read and comment and like, who share and smile about a post on the van, who reference the blog in a conversation, whether spoken or digital. Thank you for sticking with me, for encouraging me, for giving me a reason to write as clearly and thoughtfully as I can at 11 p.m.

Here’s hoping we’re still sharing pixels this time next year.

Let It Be

If authors did risk assessments, no one would ever begin a book. I’ve been working on a new novel for a little while and have only pieces of the world my characters inhabit, pieces that may never coalesce into a whole. I could spend five years writing this story and still not discover the crucial turn in the plot.

Considering how little faith I often have in simple things, this uncertainty should unhinge me. For example, I will check and double-check all the letters in a mail merge, as if the name field goblin might infiltrate Microsoft Word and match Joe’s address with Sally’s salutation. Given that impressive paranoia, I have a surprising amount of faith in this emerging novel, even though it still refuses to let me get too structured about things—no outlining allowed.

Established relationships are more comfortable, more familiar. In my already completed novel, I know the characters and the terrain—both emotional and geographical—intimately. I’m fond of the people and the place.

But this void of beginning offers a paradoxical peacefulness. There is nothing to do but wait for the novel to reveal itself. The usual poking and prodding and futurizing I engage in with the other aspects of my life will only shut the door this book-to-be is entering through.

Maybe all beginnings have this openness to them only we don’t realize it. We are too focused on getting to where we think whatever it is—our life, our relationship, our dinner—should go. We hardly even realize we’re participating in the creation of something new because we’re so focused on the completion of it.

It might help to watch more parts of my life unfold like unwritten novels that I can’t force ahead of where they are. It would help with the fretting.

Inspired by a Hobnobber

For a while I had a quote from Anne Lamott on my refrigerator: “As we live, we begin to learn what helps in life and what hurts.” I’m afraid that many of the stories we tell each other every day hurt, not because they are necessarily untrue but because they do not contain the possibility of hope or change. I’d like to tell some stories that help. They may be purely joyful or they may contain some sadness or pain because without those we wouldn’t need help.

I believe help surrounds us in many forms: the generosity of a houseplant that continues to thrive despite my best efforts to neglect it, that last streak of pale yellow rinsed from the sky just before dark blue gives way to night’s black, the perfect gooey sweetness of a well-toasted s’more. And perhaps most importantly, community.

Communities are like weeds–they spring up all over the place in uncontrollable and unpredictable ways. Last night, I attended my first hobnob. The couple who organizes these gatherings uses the etymology to explain the evening to newcomers: “in the sense ‘drink together; drink each other’s health.'” The practice is to show up, munch on whatever arrives, and chat with whoever comes–no stressful preparation for hosts or guests.

I confess that I went mainly in search of single, straight men in their late thirties or early forties, of which I found none. I did, however, meet a number of delightful men and women, gay and straight, in their fifties and sixties. Among them was a man, we’ll call him Tom, whose son is a poet and who overheard me talking about the novel I recently finished. (Kudos to the host and hostess for creating such a welcoming atmosphere–revealing my secret novelist identity to strangers still scares me.)

Tom found me later in the evening to ask about my writing, and I gave the elevator speech description of the novel’s plot. In return, I had the privilege of hearing the love and admiration in his voice as he talked about his son. Tom is a retired physician, and his son’s life as a writer–working as adjunct faculty, going through the process of submission and rejection–is a new world for him.

I think parents may worry, and with good cause, when their children announce they want to do something as financially risky as writing, but Tom is thoroughly impressed with his son and the lifestyle he’s chosen for himself in spite of, or perhaps because of, its difference from his own. He enjoys discovering who his son is, and I imagine being in the presence of that enjoyment would raise anyone’s spirits; it certainly raised mine.

At the end of our conversation Tom said to me, “It’s nice to know there’s someone like you here.” Talk about a ray of light in the darkness. My current litany of self doubts runs something like this, “No one will ever buy this book, especially since I don’t spend enough time sending out query letters, and what’s this crazy blog thing and how can I have time to do any of it between my day job and exercising?” So knowing that someone besides my mom (sorry, Mom) thinks my existence, both as myself and as a writer, is worthwhile helps, a lot. Community at work.

Thank you, Tom, and thanks also to your son for having the courage to pursue his writing and by so doing to inspire and remind me to pursue mine.  For all of you artists and writers and everyone who feels as if the rest of the world has it all figured out while you find life rather puzzling, someone in your community, whether you’ve met this person or not, is grateful there’s someone like you here.