does not describe me fully
it is where to start

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Making My Heart Sing - Is Writing for the Sake of Writing Enough?

This is honest talk.

I feel pressure to promote my written work. Absent intense and focused promotion, unless I catch a lucky break, my work will likely exist mostly as files saved on a computer.

But, you want to know the truth? My heart is not in the marketing of my work.

I know I am not the only writer who feels this way. Yet, many still go to valiant lengths to ensure that, at the very least, somebody "out there" notices their work. This is arguably easier to do now with the advent of the internet. Further, with the ease of self publication, creating a "finished" work for someone to notice is less challenging.

Still, good marketing is a somewhat different skill than that of creating a well-written novel. Good marketing can also be as intense and time consuming as was developing the product now seeking sales and recognition. It may intrude on the ability to embark on new writing projects. If one does not have unlimited time, one inevitably will have to choose how to allocate efforts.

Here is what I have finally allowed myself to admit. I write to give expression to the quiet voice I hear within. Hustling my work does not make my heart sing. If the work sells, great, but, if it does not, it is not the end of the world. Of course, I say this having the luxury of knowing that my next meal does not depend on receiving a royalty check. If it did, I would just have to suck it up and do as good a marketing job as I could. 

Absent that necessity, though, is it okay to choose to keep my quiet inner voice sheltered from the buffeting winds of the commercial world? Would I gain sufficient satisfaction from only challenging myself to create the best work I can? And then doing it?

Unavoidably, I must ask how, without exposing my work to the world, I can possibly know it is truly good. The allure of getting published and doing so successfully is, after all, not just about the money. It is also about getting validation from readers, from the literary community, and from my own circle of family and friends. Not only do these individuals provide standards of excellence for me to meet, but all of them might see publication and receiving awards as affirmation of the value of my work. But, do I need their validation for me to feel worthy?

I also recognize that options exist for me to assign the marketing of my work to others. I don't have agents or publishers lined up waiting to take me on, but I could allocate some of their traditional roles to others. Editors and cover artists, for example, are available for hire. Of course, beyond how I might feel about undertaking such a multi-pronged effort, it costs money to hire these individuals. And, while I am not starving, I am also not wealthy. 

Aside from the money issue, then, is my arriving at this point in my literary life simply an acknowledgement, indeed admission, of my failure to win the coveted brass ring of publishing success? Or is it that I am not hungry enough for what literary success might provide me? Because, surely, it is not hard work I shirk. You don't complete five novels and publish numerous short stories as well as a poetry collection if you are incapable of hard work.

Still, how do I distinguish between walking away because I did not succeed versus a deliberate choice to walk away because my strengths are ill served?

The answer must lie in whether I feel peace of mind about my decision. In the end, it is a matter of how I choose to spend my life. If I'm going to work hard, I want it to be doing something which honors my authentic self. 

Yet, why do I bother writing stories if no one might ever read them? I do it because writing introduces me to wonderful characters whose joys and sorrows I feel deeply and who become life-long friends. Writing helps me answer the questions I ask of those characters at the start of each story. In resolving those questions, I too grow as a person. In the process, I also enjoy the craft of figuring out the best way to depict how characters grapple with conflict and seek resolution. I rarely know how things are going to turn out when I first start writing. So each new page I write is like turning the page of a good book I just discovered. Ultimately, I write the book I want to read.

It is possible, even likely, that I may revisit more than once the issue of where to focus my literary efforts. I may even ask myself whether all of the above is just a fancily explained excuse for throwing in the towel.

Perhaps. But, now, with a profound sense of relief, I turn without guilt to focus primarily on what I love to do most, which is writing. I do that prepared to experience the consequences of my choice. I will write, though, without the monkey on my back to make a "success" of my writing. I will write to make my heart sing.


Post Script:

A very wise friend read this post and challenged me to make sure I was being honest with myself about my motivation for taking a leave from promotion. His challenge was: if he gave me an interest-free loan to be repaid out of future royalties and, absent royalties, my re-payment obligation would cease, would I still embark on a promotion-free leave? His loan would be targeted specifically to enable me to hire the professionals who might shepherd my work to commercial status. Would I still, given his offer, elect to take a leave and focus primarily on the creative side of my writing, what I had called "making my heart sing"?

I thought long and hard about his generous offer. As my friend intended, it made my decision a pure play about whether it was the creative impulse or the financial factor which was driving my choice.

I decided I still wanted to take a leave to focus on my writing. That doesn't mean that, someday, I won't reconsider. In the meantime, though, I will be responding to a strong hunger to write for the sake of writing, free from commercial considerations. I want to embrace again the energy which allows me to develop to its fullest potential my unique perspective as revealed through my writing.

How this will play out, I don't know precisely. But, it is reassuring to have confirmed for myself that this is a thoroughly deliberate decision on my part. It is also reassuring that, if I change my mind about engaging in the commercialization of my work, it is a decision not hemmed in by financial limitations. Like a new story about to be written, I have the opening circumstances and players, the conflict, and the elements involved in the resolution of that conflict. The denouement, right now unknown to me, will reveal itself in time. In effect, I am reading my own life's book.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dona Nobis Pacem

On this day in which bloggers world-wide blog for peace, I ask…

Who can rest easy
accepting war's lasting costs?
The lives it destroys?

What does peace mean for
the prisoner in her cell?
The war refugee?

 When can peace lighten
a work-weary parent's toil
to feed his loved ones?

Where can the ruler
meet the outstretched hands yearning
for true equity?

How do we create
a language common to the
criminal and saint?

Why do we allow
artificial barriers
to mar connection?

May peace be with us
across national borders
and private strivings.

The international Blog4Peace movement was inspired by Mimi who requested that we title our posts Donna Nobis Pacem, Latin for Grant Us Peace.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Voice for the Voiceless

Four years ago, I wrote a post which, to my surprise, became one of this blog's most enduringly popular posts. That post had discussed Gregor Samsa, the protagonist of Kafka's classic novella The Metamorphosis. In my post, I called Samsa the Voice of Disability.

Because the post kept appearing daily in my Feedjit feed, I finally decided to re-read it. I found the post to be timeless in its demonstration of how literature can be a voice for the voiceless. Kafka's Gregor Samsa had suddenly found himself without a voice. Yet Kafka gave Samsa a voice so clear, the novella The Metamorphosis became a classic in literature.

I am reposting my original entry, which was part of my A Hero's Journey series.  Here it is:

A Hero's Journey: Kafka's Gregor Samsa as  the Voice of Disability

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams 
he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."
Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Once again, I use a fictional character to help depict heroism. But a man turned insect, you say? Where is the heroism in that? Before I am accused of trivializing disability, let me share that three generations of disabling illness in my family have sensitized me to the very real challenges faced with severe disability. The Metamorphosis, once past the fantastical element, is one of the best depictions I have ever read about the challenges, consequences, and ultimately the heroism associated with disability, both for the individual sufferer and for his caregiving family.

As I read the story, I kept wondering how Kafka was able to capture so poignantly the dilemma of a disabled person and his family. Indeed, no analysis I have come across has honed in on Gregor Samsa as a symbol of disability. Then I found out that Kafka had suffered from tuberculosis, requiring frequent stays in sanitariums, extended support and caretaking by his family, until he died from complications of the illness. I realized then that Kafka had lived the limitations and ostracism associated with disability, an experience he transmuted into that of a man imprisoned in an insect body.

A brief recap of The Metamorphosis: The secure if unexciting life of Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, is completely overturned when he awakes transformed into a gigantic insect. His parents and sister, who have depended on him economically, are also thrown into a turmoil over how to integrate this new reality. Though everyone sees him as a terrifying insect, Gregor inside still feels and thinks like a normal person and is heartbroken when others can’t see that. Eventually, after being shunned and attacked by his family, strangers, and a work colleague, Gregor succumbs to a fatal wound and dies, whereupon his family thrives financially and socially.

The trajectory of Gregor and his family is reprised daily all over the world in families living with disability. Many a disabled former head of household exhibits a similar selfless concern for his family. Gregor internalizes his emotional and physical pain while attempting outwardly to guide his family in their new reality. Many a family starts out with the best intentions only to be overwhelmed by the demands imposed on them. Gregor's family, undergoing its own grief and also burdened with caregiving, initially attempts to act honorably, only to be overcome with impatience and disdain.

Ultimately, though, the tragedy is uniquely Gregor’s. He is the one suffering the limited mobility and inability to speak, the rejection, his diminished status, and his having become a burden to those who loved him. Like so many struck with disability, he carries on with the quiet courage that is his most heroic quality. His trajectory begins with a plaintive “What has happened to me?” and progresses through the classic stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It ends sadly with the realization that “The decision that he must disappear was one that he held to even more strongly than his sister.” He dies not long after.

Gregor Samsa’s story, of course, has wider applicability than the compelling one of disability. Vladimir Nabokov has said about this story, “Kafka’s private nightmare was that the central human character belongs to the same private fantastic world as the inhuman characters around him but pathetically and tragically he attempts to struggle out of that world into the world of humans and dies in despair.”

I focus on Gregor Samsa’s life here, though, to highlight the quiet courage and heroism of people whose ordinary lives are made extraordinary by the tragedy of disability. Often, as in Gregor’s case, that tragedy is transmuted into heroism. Sometimes, as in the case of the Samsa family, it manifests as craven rejection and selfishness. Kafka’s genius is that he was able to communicate all this through a story about a man-turned-insect.

The complete A Hero's Journey series here

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

We Speak Bilingual - Hablamos Bilingüe

In English
Recently, my cousin posted a Facebook link to the 1940 U.S. Census report, featuring our grandparents and parents then living in Puerto Rico. 
The response from the generation which followed them was remarkable because of the language in which each person chose to comment. 

The thread started in Spanish. That cousin grew up in the Dominican Republic. I responded in Spanish. In my childhood, that was the only language we spoke at home, though we lived near Chicago. 

Then, another of my cousins responded in English, noting that she could read and understand everything written in Spanish, but she felt most comfortable writing in English.

The thread became only English for a while. Then the original commenter said her situation was exactly the reverse. She could understand everything written in English, but felt most comfortable writing in Spanish.

From that point forward, the thread went back and forth between Spanish and English. I wrote in both languages, depending on which seemed best for expressing what I wanted to say.

In so doing, I represent another variant, someone with a large facility in both languages. I did not speak English until I attended primary school. From that moment on, I lived parallel lives in which, at home and in church, I only spoke Spanish; at school, only English. All of my formal education was conducted in English.

At home, however, I was receiving another education, which despite being less formal was equally intensive. I was involved in classes dedicated to biblical study. I also participated in daily religious services. In addition, my father, who was a poet and a minister, maintained a library containing Hispanic literature, works that my classes in English 
largely ignored.
Despite this rich orientation in both languages, however, I have to admit that, due to my residence in the United States, English is the language in which I feel more capable and comfortable. 

In our Facebook discussion, not all of my cousins shared my ease with both languages. Nevertheless, regardless of the language used, we all understood each other. The connection felt real.

Is this flexible language capability representative only of a transitional generation among Latinos living in the US? Will the next generation use and understand only one language? What will that mean culturally for Latinos? How will our literature, our politics, our view of the world be affected?

No sé, and I don’t know.
En Español
Recientemente, mi prima publicó un link en Facebook, un enlace con el censo del 1940, en el cual figuraban nuestros abuelos y tíos.  Las respuestas de la generación siguiente fueron notables por el idioma en el que cada persona decidió comentar.
El hilo de la conversación comenzó en español. Esa prima se crió en la República Dominicana.  Yo respondí en español. En mi niñez, era el único idioma que hablábamos en casa, a pesar de que vivíamos cerca de Chicago.
Luego, otra de mis primas respondió en inglés, explicando  que  podía leer y comprender todo lo escrito en español, pero que se sentía más cómoda escribiendo en inglés.
Seguimos en inglés por un rato. Entonces, la comentarista original dijo que su situación era exactamente la contraria.  Podía entender todo lo escrito en inglés, pero se sentía más cómoda escribiendo en español.
De ahí en adelante, le dimos ida y vuelta entre el español y el inglés. Yo escribí en ambos idiomas, dependiendo de cuál me parecía mejor para expresar lo que quería decir. 
Al hacerlo, yo represento a otra variante, alguien con una amplia facilidad en los dos idiomas. No hablé inglés hasta que asistí a la escuela primaria. A partir de ese momento, viví vidas paralelas en las que, en casa, sólo hablaba español; en la escuela, sólo inglés
En casa, sin embargo, estaba recibiendo otra educación, que a pesar de ser menos formal era igualmente intensa. Estaba involucrada en clases dedicadas al estudio bíblico. También, participaba en servicios religiosos diarios. Además, mi padre, que era poeta y ministro, mantenía una biblioteca que contenía literatura hispánica, obras que mis clases en inglés en gran parte ignoraban.
No obstante esa rica orientación en ambos idiomas, tengo que admitir que, debido a mi estadía en los Estados Unidos, el inglés es el idioma en el que me siento más capaz y cómoda. 
En nuestra discusión de Facebook, no todos mis primos compartieron mi facilidad con ambos idiomas. Sin embargo, todos nos entendíamos, independientemente del idioma utilizado. La conexión fue real.
¿Será esta flexibilidad con el lenguaje únicamente representante de una generación de transición para aquellos latinos que viven en los Estados Unidos? ¿Se encontrará limitada la próxima generación al uso y a la comprensión de un solo idioma? ¿Qué significará esto culturalmente para los Latinos? ¿Cómo se verá afectada nuestra literatura, nuestra política, nuestra visión del mundo?
I don’t know y no sé.        

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Writer's Journey

Though I first posted the following poem on my health blog, Peace Be with You, I now post it here as well. The poem seems appropriate for also describing my writing journey.

I have had many positive experiences on my writing journey. Those include, along with great personal growth, that I recently published a book of poetry. Numerous short stories have also appeared in literary reviews. My novels, however, remain unpublished.

Of course,the choice to publish is now entirely my own. New self publishing options make it possible to bypass the industry’s traditional gatekeepers who have not known what to do with my fiction. The gatekeepers are now solely the reading audience which will embrace, or not, what one has written. My current hope is to be able to reach that audience effectively and that it will welcome me.

On my writing journey, there will again be highs, as well as disappointments. But, whether I publish again or not, I will never stop writing, which I love to do. Through it all, it will remain a journey of healing and self discovery.

The Healing Journey of a Broken Vessel

Whence does my hope come?
Why does faith in renewal
remain undaunted?

A broken vessel
containing my life stories
lies shattered and strewn.

New life may emerge
from the shards of brokenness.
Will I be patient?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

From Creation to Transformation

Writing my book Peace on the Journey was a joy. I also felt pride because of its potential for helping those about whom Dr. Joan Barice has said, “For those struggling with chronic illness, loss of a loved one, or any major life challenge, these Peace on the Journey poems affirm that one can still choose to smile and resolutely renew life. Facing hardship honestly but tempering it with hope, these healing poems light a path out of despair.”

While my joy and pride came in part from seeing my name on a published book, they also came from knowing that this book is a fundraiser as well. Ten percent of its net proceeds are designated for the Myelin Repair Foundation, a deserving research organization which might transform the lives of millions suffering from MS. 

Yet, I have dreaded the promotional stage of this book’s journey. Then I realized, how will anyone know about the book if I don’t tell them about it? How will potential readers benefit if no one feels motivated to purchase the book? I must enjoy promoting this book as much as I did writing it.

Still, promoting a book of poetry has felt strange.The thing is, I never expected to produce a book of poetry. I was, I thought, a published short story author seeking to be recognized for her novels some day. Then, in 2009, in addition to this blog focused on literary and cultural themes, I started another one called Peace Be with You. The reason was I wanted to write anonymously about my own journey with MS. Somehow, that MS blog segued from prose into poetry. Don’t ask me why. It just happened, and I went along.

After posting the blog’s poems, though, I was stunned by some of the reactions I started getting, and not just from those affected by MS. I received comments like: “With your words I see hope and understanding … At times, your words say what I’m feeling that I couldn’t find the words for.” Another reader said, “You always manage to speak the words that are in my heart and mind.”

Then, people began asking if the poems were available in a book. I kept saying, no, no, no. First, I didn’t know if I was physically up to producing a book. Second, I still resisted identifying myself as a poet. Then, one day, I realized that I might not be a poet with a capital P, but my writing was resonating with readers. Why not provide the book they were asking for?

I proceeded to winnow my blog’s roughly 1100 poems into 366. This format would offer a year's worth of poems for anyone dealing with loss of any kind. Over the next two years, during which there was some teeth gnashing and, yes, a few choice curse words, I finalized the manuscript for publication. 

Now, the paperback and Kindle editions are available on Amazon. Not infrequently, I gaze at the book with a sense of wonder. Did I really write this? Daily, for my own inspiration, I read the book’s poems on my Kindle. Strangely, the poems read as if someone else has written them. They feel transformative, though I am already deeply familiar with their content. Indeed, Peace on the Journey  feels like the universe’s gift to me.