My son and I have been talking about his future. He stands just a few of his 38-inch inseam steps away from adulthood and important decisions — where to study, what to study, what to do when he’s done. The calendar is unforgiving, each day bringing him closer to his final year of high school.
Last week he sat down on the dark side of my office. I leaned back in my squeaky orange desk chair and noticed how the light from a single lamp bounced off his eyes as he looked at the ceiling, then the floor. Books and work piled up on every open surface and three computers gaped open, churning away over something very serious. Smart-looking certificates on the wall entitling me to a handful of letters after my name made my office seem the ideal place to find wisdom on the big questions of life.
Fingers laced behind his head, he pumped his powerful arms like bellows and pushed out a long breath. “I don’t want to screw it up, Mom,” he said.
“I just . . . I don’t want to end up like you.”
The sage aura enveloping my office vanished like smoke in a rain shower and I decided sometime soon I would replace the burned out light bulbs.
Oh, I knew what he meant. He doesn’t want to do things the hard way. He wants to get it right the first time.
When I was my son’s age, I wrote a weekly column for The Milbank Herald Advance, our county paper. Famous with the blue-haired ladies who drank coffee in the cafe at 10:00 every weekday morning, I left my town of 3,000 to study journalism in the university with a goal folded up on lined paper in my back pocket: a best-selling book and syndicated newspaper column by age 40.
Midway through college, I made what my son considers to be the biggest mistake of my life. I marched into the registrar’s office and declared a new major: political science.
I murdered my writing dreams in their sleep.
My son knows it. And he worries that a reasonably bright person could do something so stupid. I had my reasons. They even made sense at the time. But twenty-some years and a winding career path later, I work here in the shadows of my basement office to breathe new life into them.
L.L. Barkat encourages me with a story of her daughter hosting a cooking show in the foyer of their Tudor home, not quite a television studio complete with a large network audience.
If we are worried about our writing future, because at the moment we seem to be standing in the foyer with a make-shift table of old cooking tools and a magic-marker sign to announce our show, we shouldn’t worry. We are exactly where we need to be. Tomorrow we might move to the front porch and entertain a few neighbors as well. This is also exactly where we need to be. The key is to keep working with small audiences, while gradually making forays into slightly larger arenas. Right now, Sonia is in the foyer, exactly where she wants to be . . . (p. 108)
Books and newspaper columns are not on my radar today, but for the past four years I’ve come back to giving the words a place to go, keeping a small blog and making a few meaningful connections along the way. Every once in a while I try something new, and every once in a while I notice a someone pulls up a chair in the foyer. Some days, I even think it’s exactly where I want to be.
the poison juice of a
dribbled down my throat
so the silver tape
constricts til I need
a longer sort of breath.
Look, just rip off
the cap, don’t fuss
for the vein, Quick!
ram it into my thigh,
right here, on the outside
Break the pen already,
release the epinephrine
words into my stream.
We’re discussing L.L. Barkat’s Rumors of Water, chapters 21-26 on Publishing. How have your publishing goals changed over time? How do you develop a small audience?
If you’ve posted on the book this week, please be sure to drop your link in the comments for us as well. Join us again next Wednesday for our last post in this series, chapters 27-32 on Glitches and Time.
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