Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Insistence On Persistence

This is maybe an echo on the last post, which I put out hastily, but with no elaboration. This is the elaboration.

Reading the Wallace Shawn interview in the latest Paris Review, I thought, it’s hard to imagine this writer would not be doing what he is and have become good at it, if he was merely pompous. Which is apparently what Wallace Shawn is accused of being, pompous.

Barring a stable set of readers, I realize I’m not going to appear to a random reader to have anything new to say--and maybe I’m not. But if my work touches one person, it must be worth the effort. Then again, you have to overcome a lot of skepticism to deign to believe you can add to the conversation.

That’s one of the first steps in being a writer, and maybe it’s too falsely achieved--that quality of believing you have something to say. We’d sometimes like to accuse others in the struggle that they should consider if they really have anything of worth to contribute, but we could heed Wallace Shawn here:

“. . . without writers, humanity might be trapped in a swamp of idiotic, unchanging provincial cliches. Yes, there are writers who merely reinforce people’s complacency, but a writer like Rachel Carson inspired the activism of millions, and writers like Lady Murasaki, Milton, and Joyce have recorded people’s brains! And for any writers to exist at all, there must surely be a tradition of writing. Maybe in order for one valuable writer to exist, there must be a hundred others who aren’t valuable at all, but it isn’t possible at any given moment for anyone to be sure who the valuable one is.”

Who am I to say whose efforts aren’t worthwhile--including myself?

I like to think there is something to persistence, on the other hand there’s the notion that if you repeatedly keep trying to do something and repeatedly fail at it, that this is the definition of crazy. I’d also sometimes like to believe that I don’t have a set tolerance level, that I’ll keep trying to achieve an elusive (seeming) goal without ever calling the attempt into question. But I’m guessing tenacity pays off. Every story or piece of writing didn’t exist at one time, and after it did, it maybe will have taken dozens of attempts to get it noticed (i.e., published). Writing, in this way, becomes the penultimate illustration of this theory. I’d already more or less given up on many stories (not with cause) simply because I spent years sending them out to no avail, and by some fluke I sent one out two or three years after I’d given up on it long enough to come back to it, take it off life support, and send it flying into the void again--for no discernible logic--not that I ever stopped believed in in said story. Another self-serving notion I cop to is that “it just wasn’t time,” or, “maybe next time,” which are really ways of persisting at something even though, clearly, there is no apparent justification for the hope.

Unless the fact of the story eventually finding a home is one.

The kicker of this is that I still try. I still doubt I should, or say I’ll give up, but as time passes, I write more that gets me excited again, and while sifting through the new pile, I find something buried in the old pile. I’ll think, this hasn’t been sent out in two years, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it (hubris has no place in the determination to get published)--in fact, I could just change it here and here, and I’ll send it out. To date, that’s how most of my published fiction got picked up. So even if I had to spend a lot of time going through the slog of postage, contest entry fees, grosses of 20 pound 96 bright paper and countless unenlightening trips to the office supply store, I can’t really say it wasn’t worth the effort.

So, maybe I’m feeling particularly resilient these days, or am trying to coddle myself into thinking I am this way. I just don’t know if I would get anywhere if I wasn’t at least paying lip service to this theme of indomitable persistence.

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