Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Lonely Profession

I've written before about the difference between loneliness, which many feel at this time of year, especially if they have no families, and the kind of creative solitude that writers, contemplatives, and other artists so clealrly need.

I recently became aware, again, of a related problem that writers face: they need readers desperately, need the affirmation of people who read and pay some attention to the quiet work writers do. Not receiving this type of appreciation can add isolation to the writer's solitary life, leading to despair. No wonder so many notable authors have been alcoholics.

With the recent publication of my two articles on prayer, I assumed that some of my like-minded friends would comment on seeing my work in the magazines they subscribe to, but, even when I offered some of them an off-print, they said little. This is puzzling. Perhaps they did not know what to say.

Lynn, who is a largely unpublished writer of wonderful stories for children, has similar experiences leaving copies of her stories with friends, even offering to read a short story after dinner. The result is silence. When this happened last month at a friend's house, no one said anything after her reading. Except me. Even then, not much was said. Even fellow writers say little about her work. She feels at times very much alone in the universe--who cares about her work?--even though the joy of creating stories keeps her going.

At the university where I taught, I expected my colleagues in the English department to be less than ecstatic at the publication of one of my books since academic jealousy is taken for granted. But for people I know, who have the education, skill and interest to read a serious article, I expect a message of thanks or a simple compliment (or disagreement)--so I know that I reached someone out there.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the friends who have responded to these posts. This is no great surprise since I do not publicize my blog. But I expected my articles in national publications to capture the appreciative attention of those who know me. (Well, I did get a message from a stranger in Pennsylvania, who was moved by my article on listening.)

I am not really hurt by this so much as puzzled. Is it that non-writers have no appreciation of the work that goes into even a short article and the likelihood of publication, which is always iffy? Is that everyone is so busy they have no time to read or no recollection of their reading? Are my academic credentials so awesome that people are struck dumb, intimidated by seeing something of mine in print?
Perhaps paying compliments is seen at some level as insincere? Perhaps readers are like students: too intimidated to offer praise at the end of a course.

Involved here is the dynamic between writer and reader, the basic bond of communication between the imagined audience I write for (vs. actual readers) and me.

The issue reminds me of not being thanked and my puzzlement when gratitude is seen as an expression of dependence or embarrassment. Some adults, let alone children, have a hard time saying "thank you." Maybe the response of readers is similar. Either that, or what I write has such limited appeal that I can't expect the people I write for to say much of anything.

Well, I remain grateful for the positive feedback I have received (thank you, Ned, and John: this post does not involve you), and I take great pleasure in the process of writing, seeing it as spiritual exploration akin to prayer. I regret nothing and I thank those who read what I have written.

1 comment:

Ned Kessler said...

posted Jan 6 2010
I found this post quite interesting. The numbers I’ll insert refer to the paragraph # in the post.

It surprised (#1) me to learn that some writers feel a sort of boost by gathering in the company of other writers simply to write. The rule is “no talking, just write,” yet the proximity of others who are writing gives them some kind of energy, possibly encouragement. I guess you’d call it creative solitude in community. I prefer creative solitude in solitude even though I can find solitude in the company of others, at a Starbucks, for example.

I believe that a deep seated need of every human is to be understood, that in fact when a reader feels an emotional response to words in print, it’s due, in part, to them feeling there’s someone else out there like him or her. (#2) Writers may have more of a need for this than others and writing for them (us) may be an implicit way we seek it.

The lack of response to some of your writing might very well be because a reader doesn’t know what to say. (#3) The subjects you cover and the sources you reference are broad and can be daunting to readers, also, readers might feel you got it exactly right!! Other reasons can be similar to the reason I didn’t comment on the reprint you gave me at the Advent retreat that referred to rain: Time!! I wanted to write you in return the story of the morning I sat in the Mary, Mother of God Chapel in a driving rain, and my emotional state was such (for an unrelated reason—have to read the story to find out!) that the sound and varying intensity of the rain felt like God wrapping His loving arms around me and holding me close, and I felt that deeply. I still haven’t written that story.

I feel bad for Lynn’s experiences (#4) of silence after reading some of her stories. I can relate because I have vivid recollections of several presentations I made to our Parish Council many years ago. I’d put much time and thought into the content and presentations, and I thought they made wonderful sense. They ended with calls to action for the Council, telling them what we should do. Yet when I finished, not a single Council member spoke. I was dumbfounded. Then the Chair moved to the next item on the agenda. I wrote my first non-fiction story about one of these; it was a class assignment back in 2000. Maybe I’ll send it to you.

I do think non-writers have no appreciation of the time (and courage sometimes) it takes (#7) to write and submit for publication. Your academic credentials are quite impressive, and that might be a factor (who am I to tell an English professor, etc.…?), but your content is really good, “mindful” is a good word to describe it. Yet there’s always a question one could ask, always something one could agree with, if one were motivated to make a response.

I have always asked lots of questions, therefore, I am puzzled when others don’t. But they weren’t raised by my mother, who nurtured this characteristic in me when I was a child. “You should never get lost as long as you have a voice,” she told me when I was a little boy. “Ask!!” Plus, I have great curiosity and interest in many things. Many people are not built this way.

I take great pleasure in the process of writing also (#10), and I agree it is spiritual exploration. I’ve loved it since childhood, and I know that when I’m writing, I’m using one of the gifts God gave me. I only hope that nothing but good comes from it.

Please keep this blog alive; continue doing what you’re doing!!