Journal Entry 0003

Writing With Uncertain Purpose
Of late, I’ve once again toyed with the idea of writing with the purpose of publication in mind. To that end I’ve joined a local, face-to-face critique group. We meet once every other week, and within that gathering of souls I’ve owned the nervous pleasure to encounter several writers much more talented than I. The conversations we share intrigue me, although at the same time I feel shaken to acknowledge to myself that at this point, nearing the end of my lifespan, writing with an audience in mind might never become a part of who I am. I don’t even own an audience.

Admitting weakness, or even inability, is perhaps an easier task for an old man than for a young one, but the feelings that coincide with such admissions never seem to grow less painful. I’m no good with plots and outlines. When I write, I follow music and rhythm more than story. Like most people who are serious about writing, I read something that absorbs me each and every day; but the more I read the more I realize that I could never write a tale that comes close to the work of the authors I most admire.

I recall the not-so-distant days when the Internet, and more so the World Wide Web, offered those of us who enjoyed tapping away at our keyboards, and inviting reaction to our output, the opportunity to display what we, in a manner now cause for embarrassment to me, named “journals.” I dove into the deep end of that pool without knowing how to swim. By way of what I wrote, I revealed far too little of who I was and far too much of who I wanted to be. Back then, many kind people responded to what I wrote with praise of a certain sort, and I mistook that praise for confirmation that I owned the talent to tell stories. What I really owned, and what I still own today, is an ear for language. Ears, however, cannot pen tales. Imaginations given over to perseverance write stories.

Later this morning, I am supposed to meet once again with the critique group I just mentioned, and yet I hesitate. I have no product ready enough to please me, no story of which I feel confident. The fruit, cheese and crackers that I planned to bring with me to our kind host’s house sit waiting inside my refrigerator, and I’m tempted to leave the meal there.

Perhaps in honor of those early “journal days,” I’ll here and now tell you that my health today is not good. All of us, at some time point as we walk this planet, must begin to crawl. We human beings are a cyclical lot, yes, but we individuals suffer beginnings, hopes and disappointing ends. I am no exception to this unbending rule. Still, I am affected intellectually, emotionally, maybe even artistically by the reality of a waning, failing physical machine. I fear. I tire at times when my neighbors are awakening. I worry. I try to sleep. Sunrise or sunset makes less difference to me now than when I was young and vibrant.

So if I follow doctors’ orders, then I will not eat the meal I leave inside my refrigerator. That type of food, a source of nourishment for most, would cause my body to stumble mid-step. If I search my memory bank long and deep enough to rediscover the many occasions when my parents insisted that wasting food was a sin, then maybe I’ll set the fruit and cheese and crackers on a plastic plate, secure the feast inside a cooler, slide the cooler into my truck and make my way to my meeting after all. Right this minute, though, the thought of such an effort overwhelms me.

The waiting meal, my faltering health, my frustration with what I write, are all parts of an unpleasant package.

So what to do? I do not know.

Change the subject in a slight, if not a sly way.

For several years, now passed, a number of fellow writers have joined a group of strangers, each scribbler there to write a quick and bad novel by himself. Out of the haughty blood that runs through my veins, blood that cannot wash over and disguise the elemental fear that resides inside each cell, I’ve cried loud condemnation of such an effort. Why write a lousy story? I’ve always edited each sentence, each paragraph, each word as I tap along; so why offend my sense of taste by doing otherwise? Where’s the art in stringing together uncertain words that lead nowhere? There’s too damned much crap already sitting on the bookshelves (placed there, no doubt, in order to offend me).

Well, now that I’m an old man with not much time left for tapping, I understand that I can choose to cry into the wind that will soon knock me to the ground, or write the poor prose I was born to write.

So I joined the National Novel Writing Month game. I don’t know if I’ll finish the required 50,000-word novel, but then again, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be around to write anything at all.

What else?

A few weeks ago, I rejoined a local, countywide writing organization. Back in 1988, a year that seems distant — even unimaginable — to some younger folks, I sat inside a university classroom, a member of a group of maybe twelve people who wanted to start a writers’ club. The time was late evening, so the glare of fluorescent lighting accentuated the dust that swirled from the room’s dirty, tile floor and into the atmosphere. I still felt energetic and fearless that year, so unforgiving light could not reveal the wrinkles and the grey hair I nowadays wear. Enthusiasm overtook me.

The woman who led our small troop went on to develop the initial idea and to make it grow. She these days lives a considerable distance from that nighttime classroom, but her legacy remains. The crowd of one dozen has grown to at least a couple of hundred souls. Critique groups, such as the one I this morning hesitate to join, are outgrowths of this talented person’s vision. A local writers’ conference, which I this year attended, attracts authors, editors and agents of national standing. One past member, and still close friend of the larger group, today crisscrosses the United States to advertise his published novel, a novel that owned the honor of inclusion on The New York Times Bestseller List. Sales of this man’s book have surpassed the 600,000 copy mark.

And I? After my retirement from the workforce, I rejoined the group. I volunteered to place my name in nomination for election to a board post, that of Membership Chair. The election, as I understand the procedure, will take place in late November. I want to serve those future authors who might, I hope, not make the same mistakes that I made, who might not surrender to false hopes, but who might instead gaze with steady eyes at themselves and draw accurate conclusions about the nature of their talents, about the nature of their possibilities.

I nowadays sit at meetings of this group simply for the company of friends and acquaintances who enjoy the old tap, tap, tap. Just to entertain my memories of hopeful days. I am old now, but in most ways — as a writer at least — I am the same as I was that late evening in 1988. I am, as well, the same man I was when I first placed a “journal of truths, just short of lies” on the World Wide Web.

The only distinct difference between the person I was then and the person I am now is not a distinct difference at all. Back then I thought I owned the luxury of imagining a future of success as an author, whereas now no such luxury can exist.

Tap, tap, tap . . .

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