It’s Okay If You’re Not Listening

imagesA fellow blogger once told me, “Don’t expect too much from summer.” She meant visitors, not summer in general.

She’s right about visitors. Something happens in June, and those WordPress bar graphs flatten to foothills. My first two years of blogging, I worried I’d said something so heinous no one liked me anymore. Now the summer lull is a familiar pattern, and, being a grizzled veteran of the sport of blogging, I accept readers’ attention wanes when the weather encourages healthier alternatives to reading angsty, self-doubting prose.

You can hardly look at an overcoat when it’s boiling out. I get that.

In fact, I more than accept the quiet. I relish it as a resort town must sigh through October or the babysitter must claim the whole couch between lights out and parents’ return. It’s not that I relax so much as I don’t worry about relaxing.

Blogging and publishing offer very different companionship. Real writers must imagine readers. In contrast, bloggers can usually guess how crowded the room is and adjust their volume and tempo, maybe even whisper because more intimate speech is okay right now.

Over the last six months or so, I’ve sent some writing away, and all of it has returned with “No thanks.” So perhaps I’m telling myself summer’s drought shouldn’t be ego-killing the way those rejections are. The alternative is believing I have nothing to say. Maybe I have nothing valuable to say sometimes, but I do desire speech. I want to say something.

And a strange relief arises when less is at stake. The less important the end, the more enjoyable the means. Why not be experimental or confessional or meta-conditional or plainspoken?

Writing is like swimming. It’s strange imagining someone inventing a way to cross a river, but someone must have. Conventional strokes—freestyle and breaststroke and butterfly—have well polished efficiencies, and they work. They aren’t the only means to reach another shore, however. Trying other methods might be embarrassing, but you could dream up something if you didn’t worry about looking like a fool. Plenty of brilliant writers master conventional syntax to compose lovely prose, but others revise the rules. Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, James Joyce all swim oddly.

Probably because they didn’t care and worried little about readers—who readers might be or how they might react to their beautiful fumbling.

Our MFA age is more homogenous, full of MacPoems, MacShort Stories, and MacNovels acceptably well structured, thoughtful, and forgettable. Hell, you might be reading a MacEssay right now. The “focus group” and “workshop” sometimes seem oddly named, as they often center on acceptability instead of vision or idiosyncrasy.

“I don’t mean to be mean,” I hear a classmate criticizing Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, “but aren’t these opening pages just a lot of throat-clearing?”

Fumbling isn’t always beautiful, but it’s more human than self-consciousness generally permits. I realize all my efforts to “get myself out there” and “learn what editors want” may improve my work because I’ll learn to appraise and revise what’s invisible to me now. But solitude—or an intimate gathering of friends—can be helpful too, especially if I can become comfortable with throat-clearing as I learn to sing.


Filed under Ambition, Blogging, Desire, Ego, Essays, Fame, Identity, Laments, life, Meditations, MFA, Modern Life, Rationalizations, Summer, Survival, Thoughts, Time, Walker Percy, Work

6 responses to “It’s Okay If You’re Not Listening

  1. I have mostly read your nonfiction pieces and haikus, but I find them to be very well written and enjoyable (the two don’t always go hand-in-hand). What kinds of places do you submit to? Just curious. Here is a link that might be interesting to you:

    • dmarshall58

      I was waiting to respond until I checked out the link, which I still haven’t done. I deeply appreciate your encouragement, and perhaps it is a matter of finding a spot more sympathetic to the type of work I do. –D

  2. Peter Newton

    I always enjoy visiting here. Yours is a consistent, inquisitive and insightful voice of a writer writing, riding out the swells in the sea of language. Some days a contemplative backstroke, some days its time to power-through. You remind me that every writer begins the same way. A quiet moment transformed into a conversation. Sure, it’s easier to stick to dry land but you’re also a teacher. And the best ones teach by example. Thanks.

    • dmarshall58

      Thank you. I take very seriously the responsibility of an essay to address something unsettled. If the subject doesn’t call for anything new from me, in content or skill, I know I’ve coasted. –D

  3. Well, David, here is near June end and I’ll weigh in. I find in your writing a marvellous range of essayings, and your voice is consistent no matter what form your writing takes. Having learned from making visual art submissions, there is a craft as to what propose and to whom – then the rejections are less mass rejections and more specific and personal. That is what I learned to pay attention to, and to aim my proposals toward. Not that my work changed at all, only I had become more selective of their direction of aim. Select your submitted works judiciously, and specifically send them where they are bound to have a fair and interested reading. In your case it is only a matter of time, and persistence, and you demonstrate great persistence as a writer, and as an artist.

    • dmarshall58

      The funny thing is that I thought I’d looked for simpatico places. It’s discouraging, but you’re probably right I might be more judicious, aim differently. With my sabbatical, I have some time to do that. Perhaps at the end of this year I’ll have another report. Thanks so much for commenting. I’m always so happy to see you’ve visited. –D

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