On Writing, Publishing, and Stained Glass

DSCN2058_

I look at the clock, it’s 9:03 pm, then light the beeswax candle. Dirty dishes line the counter, the floor needs to be swept, and there’s a basket of damp laundry that should be looked after. Instead of doing any of it I pick up my pen. Thirty minutes, I tell myself. You have thirty minutes to write whatever you feel like. It doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to make sense, and it doesn’t even have to be words. Doodle, draw, whatever. Just keep your pen on the paper.

I’m midway through the first page when I hear footsteps behind me. I don’t turn around.

“Mom, I can’t go to sleep.”

I keep writing.

“Mom, what are you doing?”

“It’s a test,” I say. “I can’t talk to you anymore. I just have to keep writing. I can’t stop my pen.”

Susanna fills a glass of water, comes close, and looks over my shoulder. “A test? Who is it for?”

“For me,” I say. I keep writing and eventually she goes to bed. At least I think that’s what she does but I can’t be sure. All I know is the next time I look up she isn’t there.

***

The creative impulse fascinates me. Why do we do the things we do? Why do people take the time to express themselves on paper? Plan elaborate wedding showers? Spend hours carving snow into something that will eventually turn into a puddle? Give up evenings and weekends to be part of a community musical? None of this stuff makes us wealthy or famous, or even puts food in our bellies, and yet we still do it.

For the last few years I’ve been submitting my writing to different literary magazines in the hopes of getting published. I’ve kept a log of all my attempts: essay titles, word counts, dates submitted, and dates rejected. I decided I would try 100 times before giving myself the option of quitting. (I read somewhere that new writers get rejected 100 times, on average, before their first acceptance.) Once, when I told Stan one of my essays just got rejected he responded cheerfully, “Well that’s one less you have to go through. Only ninety more!”

At the end of November I opened my email and noticed a note from the editors of Geez magazine. I geared up to read another courteous letter explaining why my work wasn’t the right fit, when I noticed the first line of their email. I re-read it again before clicking on it. They liked my piece! They liked it well enough they wanted to publish it in their hard-copy magazine! I was thrilled that someone who doesn’t even know me was willing to read my writing, let alone print it for others.

A few weeks ago I got my second acceptance. This time it was from a literary journal out of Madison, WI. The editor liked my piece but wondered if I would be willing to consider some suggestions. I wrote back as quickly as I could, trying to sound pleasant and nonchalant at the same time, without typing I’LL CHANGE WHATEVER YOU WANT ME TO!!!!!!

Now all I have to do is sit back and wait for the cheques to roll in. Oh wait. Wrong story. There won’t be any huge bank deposits from my writing just yet, or maybe ever, but I will get several free copies (with a 5 dollar discount on additional copies!) and a small honorarium. Which is fine with me, because it really is about the journey, and not the destination.

Sometimes, though, I forget the cliché about the journey. I forget why any of us make stuff. I forget it is part of our DNA to be creative. I forget that mucking around with paper-maché or fabric or car parts or paint or dirt or wood or strings or seeds or words is actually worship; a way to bear witness to beauty and say Thank You and Wow to the Giver. Instead, I start comparing and feel like a minnow in an ocean of other writers who are edgier, fresher, or more talented, connected, and entertaining than me. When I take on the minnow persona, life becomes a tight and desperate race. How do I get more hits on my blog? Which podcast will give me the key to success? Where can I submit to next? Focusing on questions like this, I forget the real reason I write.

There was a time in our lives, shortly after Stan and I married, when we were into giving away stained glass. If you knew us and it was your birthday, you got one. Your wedding? We had your present cased. You hosted us at your house? You were the new owners of a soldered treasure made with love by yours truly. During this period we took a day off to cycle around rural Pennsylvania. It was an idyllic outing, with towns named Paradise and Intercourse on our route, a picnic lunch, and quaint shops home to potters, glass-blowers, quilters, and of course, stained-glass artists. We bought glass for ourselves, carefully wrapping up the burgundy, gold, and royal blue panes before slipping them in our packs and pedaling on to the next town. When we stopped along the way to drink homemade root beer, sold by an Amish family at the end of their lane, I suggested we work on some stained glass for ourselves. That’s when I found out the truth from Stan.

Leaning against his bike and swirling the jar of home-brew in his hand he responded to my idea, “I don’t really like it.”

“What do you mean? You don’t like the drink?” Surely he wasn’t talking about stained glass after we had spent so much energy scoring and soldering pieces for other people.

“No, I mean stained glass. I guess it’s okay… kinda tacky, maybe. I don’t know, I just like doing it.”

I learned that Stan enjoyed piecing the colours together, but he wasn’t nearly as fascinated with the final product as he was the process. The intrigue and pleasure came from brainstorming designs, then seeing them come to life–one painstaking cut at a time. I think about Stan and stained glass on days like yesterday, when I got another rejection from a publication I had my sights set on. It helps me remember what I know; that the act of piecing things together, be they words or glass, matters as much as the end result. In fact, the doing keeps us true to our identity as makers, and children of the Maker, more than the thing itself or any publishing credentials.

***

The clock reads 9:43 pm; I’ve gone ten minutes into over-time. I shut my notebook without reading anything I’ve written and blow out the candle. Tomorrow I will skim the unwieldy paragraphs, looking for anything worth repeating. Like picking chocolate chips out of trail mix, I’ll filch sentences that point me in the direction of this post. Whenever I get the chance over the next few days, I will type these phrases and many more. Finally, when I hope I’ve caught most of my errors I’ll share it with the world, but by then the fun will be over.  That’s when I’ll know it’s time to give it away and start making something else.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “On Writing, Publishing, and Stained Glass

  1. Yesss!!! We are the proud owners of one of your stained glass pieces! We feel honored! And IRONICALLY, our basement is now full of stained glass paraphernalia for Alea. She was “commissioned” by her former 3rd grade teacher (Joey’s teaching partner) to make her a large piece, in exchange for keeping all the materials, tools & pieces of glass. This was all dropped off maybe back in Nov, knowing Alea would be taking Stained Glass I the next semester. Well the new semester just started this week, and along with Ceramics I and Pottery I, she is absolutely loving her 3 first “real” art classes. Last semester was 2D Foundations and 3D Foundations–prerequisites for freshman wishing to take any future art classes. She completely loved those overview classes, introducing basic projects, dabbling in this and that. She was spurred on by her teachers’ positive affirmation of her work and that they hope to be seeing her in future ________ class and she should really plan on taking _________ class. The answer is “oh don’t you worry, by the time she’s a senior, she will have completed every single art class this school offers” (which is a TON) but of course she just shyly smiled and nodded each time. Last night, I heard banging and clanging downstairs and she came up out of breath, having gone thru all the stain glass materials lovingly dropped off by her teacher mths ago, and confirmed that everything she needed was there (now that she learned in class this week, all the proper tools and supplies she would need)! I love that all her future adult dreams involve creating things (with no thought to earning money or how she will pay the bills or support herself if she doesn’t get married right away to a man with a great job, steady income and health insurance). She calls us “dream squashers” when we try to be realistic and point out that she could be single till she’s 40 like Aunt Gayle was and that it’s really hard to make a living selling things on Etsy. She says she won’t have grocery bills because she’ll grow all her own organic food and have chickens and she’s practically a already vegetarian now and she won’t have a hitting bill because she will chop all her own wood for her wood stove. I hope all her dreams come true! 🙂
    I can relate to this post completely!!! I have always said that creativity is part of the “made in God’s image” and that every single human has whether they acknowledge/realize it or not and that creativity comes out in one way or another….whether it’s their hair/makeup/wardrobe (their own body is their pallet), decorating their home or even just setting their dinner table in a visually appealing manner, baking/cooking and food presentation, their yard/landscaping/flower beds, painting the exterior of their home in such a way, or whether it’s actual music or the arts…the creative side of us can’t be stifled and it will come out one way or another!
    The other part I relate to is the process, more than the end result. When I was a little girl, my best friend and I or my sister and I would spend HOURS building (with wooden blocks & spools) and setting up (furniture and props) our “Little People” house/yard/farm, lining up all the people and assigning them roles and names, etc but never actually play or act the scenes out. But I always felt completely satisfied and never once felt like we “hadn’t played” yet. It was more fun to design it and lay it all out. My mom was so gracious to let us leave our masterpiece set up for several days before the dreaded task of cleaning it all up. But there was always the anticipation of how we would build it better next time, and what we would change/add and how we could reconfigure our design. The joy of the process! I would do the same thing with our doll house (rearrange the furniture, switch out the rooms, etc)
    It makes me smile about the current fad of “adult coloring books”. My sister and my best friend and I colored in Barbie coloring books all the way through high school. It was so relaxing and therapeutic! We would talk and gossip and laugh while we colored. Or I would color while talking on the phone. We would always compare our clothing designs (because now that we weren’t little girls we could actually be more detailed and sophisticated with our coloring…patterns on the clothes, highlights in the hair, shading on their cheeks/faces to represent make-up, etc, etc.
    But I think there is joy in the end product as well. I’m sitting here staring at my “snowman” tree which no one in my family derives joy out of it except me. It makes me smile to look at every day. (In Jan, our Cmas tree changes to a snowman tree, then next month it will become a Valentine tree. Last year I left it up long enough to become an Easter tree). Our kids are old enough that they don’t really care or get a kick out of it anymore…I selfishly decorate it for me. I don’t care if no one else pauses to gaze at it lovingly like I do…it’s my now little work of art. 🙂
    Thanks for writing and sharing and encouraging!!! I love your writing and I love you!
    ~Anissa

    • I am smiling right now because I can hear you say all of this. I feel like I’ve had a little visit with you now!! Thanks for making this a 2-way conversation. I’m glad your enjoying your Christmas/snowman/valentine tree even if no one else is. Hugs for everyone,
      T

  2. Good for you Tricia! I love your writing so much and sure wouldn’t understand why others wouldn’t feel the same!! So keep it up, it’s an amazing gift you have!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s