Minnesota's co-op op-ed page
This month I’m doing a 30/30. That maybe sounds like a police code or something drug-related. For those of you not involved in the poetry community, which I imagine constitutes the majority of planet earth, these numbers signify 30 poems in 30 days. April, as we all of course know, is National Poetry Month. And all sorts of my poetry buddies do this challenge every year. I never do, but someone said something that convinced me to do it, so there it is.
It’s a good idea. It forces me to write something every day and get back to the roots of it, to write for the sake of the act itself, not for a particular show or publication or audience. I don’t even have to like them all. I just have to write them.
I’ve been out of a job for a month, and while I still hold out that someone is going to knock on my door and hand me a big fat check that will prevent me ever having to wait a table again, I realize that expectation might be a little unrealistic. It’s been a month, after all. I keep my phone on me at all times, but that call from my songwriter friend to tell me he sold the song I cowrote to Justin Bieber for three million dollars plus royalties just hasn’t come in yet. In the interim, if I want to avoid showing off my ability to carry a lot of pints of beer in one hand and recognize them by color I have to start taking decisive action towards making something else pay for rent and hair dye.
So I decided to pair the 30/30 challenge with another one. Every day I have to submit things for publication to two places. It sounds like a small number, but it’s a time consuming activity. You have to read and follow all their guidelines, format the documents to their specifications, research what they have published in the past to make sure your stuff works. A lot of them only accept submissions by mail, the cavemen, so I have to figure out how to get my printer working and actually drag myself down to the post office. I haven’t done that yet. I just started a list.
Here’s the thing about being a writer: It’s a lot of work. You don’t just get to sit at your desk all day and drink tea and pour your soul onto pages that sparrows pick up and carry off to the publisher who lays it out, sends you a check, promotes the hell out of it, and you get rich while your creative lilly white fingers remain unlfted. Unfortunately a great deal of what it means to be any kind of artist is grinding thousands of hours to get someone to notice you and agree to show your work.
A very long time ago, before I found the quick fix outlet of the stage to exhibit my writing, I fancied I would publish volumes of poetry and become all renowned like Bukowski without all the booze. So I entered scores of poetry contests and sent stuff everywhere. This was back when we were all cavemen, so everything was by mail. And I amassed a formidable heap of rejection letters in the lower right drawer of my desk. I even wrote a poem about collecting rejection in a desk drawer. I was a much worse writer back then. And all I got to show for this effort was a couple of honorable mentions and one single piece published on a website that no longer exists.
So I’m back at it again, and I’ve already gotten my first rejection. It’s really hard, you know. Reading a lot of what the literary journals publish, I find it’s all very literary. People stick to actual classic forms of poetry, or they use a lot of imagery, or they make absolutely no sense. And I remember this feeling I had back then where I felt I had to start writing more like that. I had to beef up on the adjectives and talk more about my grandparents and greek stuff. But I’ve spent a while publicly exhibiting what I do, and I have learned this: There is a place for me out there. I just have to track it down. And while I send out a paper storm, someone will eventually bite. And when they do, it’ll catch someone else’s attention and so on.
Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll be de-linting my apron for some other restaurant in six months. But for the time being, I’m going to plough myself into this thing head first, and I am not going to talk about the greeks, no matter how discouraged I get. Discouragement, it’s the food of artists. I have to remember this.
I guess my point is this. Anything you want to do in life takes a whole lot of work to get there. And once you’re there, it takes a whole lot of work to stay there. I suppose we wouldn’t appreciate anything if it didn’t. And while having an ordinary unchallenging job was a really easy and comfortable thing to do, it is high time I get out there and do what I want to do. My laurels have been thoroughly rested.
You should, too. What do you want to do? You should do it. I’m not saying you should leave your job. Hell, I didn’t even do that. They booted me. But you should go for whatever it is you think you have in you for all you’ve got. It’ll be really hard work, and you will often be discouraged. But nothing good comes without a whole lot of effort.