Friday, July 22, 2011

What shall we call you?

In some arcane volume, marbled endpapers, pages thin and crackling as onionskin, I wonder if there exists a list of rules for writer's etiquette, protocol. It would, ideally, specify the requirements for calling ones' self a writer, setting fire to the uncertainty of whether or not one has the goods.

Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys, translated into a movie which I love with adolescent excess, includes a scene at a writers' conference in which "Q," played by Rip Torn, addresses the academic audience with a speech that begins, "I (beat beat beat) am (beat beat beat) a (beat beat beat) writer." Hoots, shrieks, applause (possibly fainting, which would occur off-screen) result, and among the movie watchers, especially those with "writer" tattooed on the secret, hidden side of their hearts, explosive laughter.

On some mornings, showing up at the keyboard has a Little Engine That Could aspect of, "I think I can, I think I can." The best days are the ones that feel like being dropped off by a Sikorsky S-76 for the next leg of the journey to find Coronado's cities of gold. You don't want to take time for breakfast, you've made notes on anything at hand before getting out of bed, you worry that the words will leave you if you move too slowly.

In order to claim the word genius, I think it is necessary to be so designated by an outside party. The rules for a writer title are less clear. I have read that one needs to be declared a poet and ought not to self-bestow the name. Poet is specific, creating the expectation of one having composed poetry. A writer could, in theory, be someone who sends letters to the editor.

There may be a fear that too many writers in the universe thin the broth. Especially in Los Angeles, where a car salesman used a test drive to pitch his script to a television executive of my acquaintance, we are abundant as recycled cardboard. Is publication the minimum requirement, or publication of a certain caliber? In the new, the seemingly expected and acceptable world of self-publishing, who is or is not a writer, or is the word available to all?

Because writing is something I have actually done for money - those were the days - and because it is now, as a volunteer, something I do seriously and with intention, I accept that I am a writer. There may be days when I am not clear about how successfully or brilliantly or voluminously I practice my craft. Those are the days I wonder about requirements, though I don't wonder for long.

Which brings me to dreams, the waking visions we have of ourselves and our lives. Is there harm in someone saying, "I am a writer," when the truth is they want to become a writer? If we cannot see ourselves moving gracefully, fluidly through the life, the receptions, signings and readings we imagine, I'm not sure we will get there. We also need to do more than fantasize about doing the actual work. No piece of writing has ever been wished into being.

There are writers whom I read on line, some with published books I buy and read and am made light-headed by the wonder of, and others whose daily, or almost daily, posts are so bright and suffused with feeling and truth, clarity and imagination, that I see it as an honor to be allowed, invited to ease into the worlds they share. Most of them also appear in literary journals, discriminating on-line magazines, invitational group ventures, public readings and performances. Yet if they have not yet been granted membership in that more limited club, I find it difficult to think they are anything other than writers.

Such a roomy planet, on which generosity is a replenishable resource. As long as authors who have no business being there end up on best-seller lists and brilliant word romancers who waltz phrases across the page in ways that make us weep are found in what the world considers small publications, the word writer seems free to land where it will. If this is your first day writing anything that wasn't a school assignment, if you are skipping around the blogdom, scoping the lay of the land before hitting "publish" for your first post, you've taken one giant step toward your city of gold. Dress the moment up with bunting and confetti, let the balloons cascade, declare victory and start calling yourself a writer.


Angella Lister said...

I agree completely. You are a writer if you so decide. You are a writer if the page calls to you more sweetly than any other pursuit. No need to wait for someone else to bestow the title. Your heart knows what you are.

Do you wrestle with calling yourself an artist? Because you are that, too.

Hannah Stephenson said...

I heartily agree--there is room for everything here.

Vespersparrow said...

Marylinn, what a beautiful and moving post--and so well-written. You know you are a writer. Your generous heart shows us that there is room for all kinds of writers who compose all manner of work out of love, given freely for our comfort, our nourishment, our understanding of the world around us and of ourselves.

Angella said it with grace, "You are a writer if the page calls to you more sweetly than any other pursuit."

Yes, the work is everything. It may take a person a lifetime to have the courage to begin, but as you and I and others know, 'thar's gold in them thar hills.' xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Angella - We cannot bring the things worth having to the world if we don't learn to let go...of compartments, limitations and minding other people's business. We may proclaim ourselves to be as we wish.

Two friends and I, nearly 20 years ago, formed an ARTIST'S WAY workshop, from which I emerged with the word artist on my business card. Thank you. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Hannah - There is room, isn't there? That is certainly how it seems and I am appreciative of agreement from you and Angella and Melissa. Sometimes we can only tell how it seems and hope that is what's real.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Melissa - Thank you. Yes, we've arrived here, wherever here is, and how can we not make room for whoever wishes to join the party? Knowing there is gold, even on the days (or longer stretches) when it seems out of reach, is enough to make one excited about waking up in the morning. The more company in that joy, the better. xo

Erin in Morro Bay said...

The same dilemma exists for artists. Yes, we create art, but are we really allowed to call ourselves artists? Even after dozens of exhibits, three solo shows and a handful of publications there are still times when I look around and think "Do I get to call myself an artist?" And of course, the answer is yes, the answer is yes for all of us - artists, writers, creatives of any type. Isn't it interesting how others know and call us what we are, long before we give ourselves permission to do the same?

Marylinn Kelly said...

Erin - And of COURSE the answer is yes. At my somewhat advanced age I have come to know and embrace that the wisdom of the heart so exceeds that of the mind. Our hearts have always known who we are. So much in life is eased by listening to the right voice. And, dear Erin, you redefine the word with your passion. xo