Let’s start with the calla lilies. Cathy and I got home from a trip to Illinois late Wednesday night and found a box from ProFlowers, an online delivery service, on our front porch. A dozen calla lilies, complete with vase. Yellow calla lilies and white ones and purple ones and peach ones. Beautiful trumpet blooms that remind me of frosted glass. They need a rest after flowering as if to say such beauty is hard work.
I have a friend who skates in the roller derby. When I embrace her after a bout, her hair drips sweat on my hands. The brute force of the sport combines with flashes of pure grace as jammers tip-toe past members of the opposing team, squeeze through gaps in the wall of defense, scoring points as they go. Such ballet, such strength and dexterity doesn’t come without effort. Bruises mark my friend’s skin, reminders of all she gave and all she won.
Today, Cathy and I went to celebrate a writer friend’s good news. Just a drink to commemorate something big that came after struggle. If you’re a writer, I’m sure you know the feeling that nothing good will ever happen for you again. Rejection is so often the norm. Dry spells aren’t uncommon. But through it all, you keep writing; you keep wrestling with the words, trying to make something that will last. Peaks and valleys. Sometimes the valleys are much too deep, and we think we’ll trudge through them forever, never climbing the mountains before us. Then the phone rings, and it’s a messenger of good news on the other end, and you stand there thinking it must be a joke because, after all, we writers can be a morose, pessimistic bunch. But it’s the real deal, and you’re thinking holy shit, and you’ve got this warm glow building inside your chest, and you’re happy, truly happy. You feel like you’ve been saved. You want to shout it all over God’s heaven. And then you think of all the hours spent by yourself, just you and the word and your will, and you know what your faith in the journey can bring you. And you don’t care, not one snap, about the fact that the majority of the people in the world will never understand why you do what you do. In this moment, you know it, and that’s all that matters.
The Lake, a play written by Dorothy Massingham and Murray MacDonald, made its Broadway debut on December 26, 1933. The play offered one of Katherine Hepburn’s first major Broadway roles. Unfortunately, the play was a flop and Hepburn’s performance brought out the reviewers’ venom, particularly this snarky witticism from Dorothy Parker, who said Hepburn “ran the gamut of emotions—from A to B.” Hepburn would later include a line from the play in the 1937 film, Stage Door: “The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower—suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day, and now I place them here in memory of something that has died.” With that line, she had a good laugh over her biggest failure.
My writer friend doesn’t remember what happened in the mid-eighties when his first book of poetry was accepted by a small press that later reneged, a bitter disappointment that led my friend to vent his frustration by taking an ax to his garage door. He’s been blessed with the power of forgetting that disappointment. Now at the age of 63, good news has found him. “It’s so much sweeter when you’re older,” he says, and I quite agree.
So this is a post of celebration. Here’s to all the writers who keep at it. Here’s to perseverance and the journey. Here’s to the brute effort and the beauty and the grace. Here’s to the unexpected gifts that can come to us no matter our age, no matter how long we’ve had to wait for them to arrive. Here’s to loving what we do and once in a while having it love us back.