Cathy and I enjoyed a weekend of company. First, a friend and former-colleague was our house guest. We all attended the wedding of a former student. Then on Sunday afternoon, a former student and her husband came out to the house just for some porch-sitting. What a vibrant weekend of connections with the dear ones around us.
This has me thinking about the life of the writer, and how disappointment—and, yes, downright rejection—can make us go inside ourselves to the dark places of doubt and despair. Neither has ever been any writer’s friend.
Sometimes I think that antidote for the blues that often befall writers is to simply involve ourselves with the lives of others. When we look outside ourselves and our fears and insecurities and torments—when we connect with others—we separate ourselves from what threatens to paralyze us as writers: the feeling that no one will ever care about what we write, or, worse yet, that we have absolutely nothing to say. We involve ourselves, instead, with the intricate, often mysterious lives of others. Just like that, we find ourselves immersed in worlds where our own worries don’t exist. What’s more, we find ourselves observing, and sometimes participating in, events outside our realm of knowledge. We expand; our hearts grow larger. We take in more of the world around us, and by so doing, we become so much more than our disappointments and our fears of never writing something that will matter.
Frank O’Connor in his book about the short story, The Lonely Voice, claims that the form has never had heroes. What stories have, instead, he says, are “submerged populations”: “Always in the short story there is this sense of outlawed figures wandering around the fringes of society.” The story form, says O’Connor, has “something we do not often find in the novel—an intense awareness of human loneliness.”
Writers are always outsiders in some sense of the word, but staying on the fringes can be deadly for the ego as well as for the art. I submit that the only way we get that awareness of human loneliness is by reaching out to others, involving ourselves in their worlds, their lives, and returning to our craft to report our findings. We relegate our own loneliness to the sidelines for a time as we embrace the lives of other people, and we return to our writing with a keener eye and with fewer worries about the results of our efforts and what they’ll mean. We have our attention, instead, upon the process of writing, and our only obligation is to tell the truth in an artful way.
This weekend, Cathy and I talked 70s rock and roll with a dear friend, celebrated the joy of a couple wedded in love, and listened to stories about roller derby, which we’ll observe in person soon. We saw chickens at this outdoor wedding gather in one spot just before the ceremony began to lie down as if in prayer. We saw a beautiful landscape, witnessed the love between a grandmother and granddaughter, and ate some of the best homemade pie ever. We took a few trips out into the world, either physically, or via the act of storytelling. We listened to other people, not just to their words, but to their lives. We let other people be the stars of our universe for a while, and that can make all the difference to the writer.