This is Rita. I snapped a photo of Rita a couple of days ago. She and her owners and sister visited the food courtyard where my food cart business is located. Her sister was too shy to be photographed, but Rita desperately wanted to be inside the courtyard and didn’t seem to care who was taking a picture of her.
The photo, one, makes me laugh, and, two, makes me think of my own “outside looking in” scenario. That scenario being that post MFA I feel more on the perimeter of the writing world than I did before I had the MFA. I’m sure that’s mostly my own doing. I’m mostly just trying to figure out where that MFA thing fits into my life now that I am no longer on campus. I don’t have the community I had readily available during my MFA, and as I’ve searched to build a new community it has been somewhat difficult to fit in.
I realized recently that perhaps I don’t have to fit in, that perhaps I just need to accept that writing is a solitary thing and that I need to be doing it in solitude and not in a community. I also realized that I have been trying, somewhat like Rita, too hard to get past the gate that allows me to fit into that community. It all is a waste of precious time and precious energy. Writing does not mean talking about writing or being with writers. It doesn’t even mean having your book published or having an agent. It means actually sitting down with a pen and paper or a computer and diving deep into the lives of characters or the snapshot of a moment captured in a poem. I am ever so grateful to have people in my life who know nothing about writing but somehow seem to get what I am doing. In my quest to get inside the gate, I have probably lost sight of this the most.
With all the hoopla surrounding the book and movie “The Help,” which I have not read or seen, yet, I was reminded that the community I am in is the community I need to do what I am doing and persevere. Independently of each other, my dear husband, Jay, and my mother somehow caught wind of Kathryn Stockett’s many rejections through a couple of her recent interviews. Jay cornered me in the food cart, which isn’t hard to do since it is a six-foot by ten-foot stainless steel box. He asked me how many rejections my novel had received. I told him 20, so far. He said well you have about 40 more to go to get to that woman who wrote “The Help.” Not more than a day or so later my mom called and left a message on my phone telling me all about this article she read on Kathryn Stockett and how many rejections she had and that I just had to keep sending my book out.
Sure, in some sense I know all this stuff, but to me these are moments of clarity that help me see through the fog of insecurity and help me move through the fog of all the chatter about what a “writer” needs. I know deeply that I am supposed to be doing this writing thing, just as Rita knows deeply she should be inside the courtyard enjoying a little pork belly and scratch behind the ear. I realized in this moment of clarity that all this energy that I have spent sticking my nose through the gate has been mostly energy spent on fear, the fear of not making it in the one thing I know deeply I am supposed to be doing. I realized all the different ways I have attempted to get through that gate have been distractions. As much as I loved the newspaper, even that was a distraction, that was a crutch keeping me safe, keeping me from diving into this life that I don’t necessarily feel I have chosen. Perhaps getting the MFA was another safety route, as much as I wanted to do it.
So, I sit here at my desk. I sit here in my writing life of brief moments of peace and solitude to work on turning those metal bars of fear into dust.