Last week, I threw all the games off of my iPhone: Candy Crush Saga, Words with Friends, Dice with Friends, and Ruzzle; although, I may have forgotten to delete Scrabble. Regardless, I notified those I played online games with that I was no longer playing. For me, the games were like an addictive drug that consumed my consciousness. I can’t do actual drugs so I did smartphone “drugs.” I’d come home from work and flop on the couch for an hour or more, trying for the 50th time to move past level 23 in Candy Crush Saga, while meanwhile, the Words with Friends games were piling up — six people were waiting for me. I might be in the bathroom stall at work trying to catch up on Scrabble. Oh, yeah, that’s embarrassing.
Where did Cindy the writer go? Oh, hell, where did Cindy the reader go? I have been so busy playing online games that I neglected my reading as well as my writing, not to mention my cats, Timmy and Mia, who can’t figure out why I stare at a 4 inch iPhone screen for so many hours rather than play with them.
Not quite intentionally, I went on a writing hiatus that started at the end of August when a number of Huffington Post readers ripped me a new asshole over my views on smoking pot in public. It’s one thing to disagree with my views, but it’s another to attack me and belittle my experiences. Sometimes, blogging for The Huffington Post is like living in Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery.” Public stoning, in this case, by the vehemently stoned. My apologies to my pot-smoking friends who are responsible; such comments are not directed at you.
Ironically, the most read and most re-posted piece of writing I had this year was that very Huffington blog about smoking pot. If only I could stand controversy, I might become famous by writing blogs that piss off hundreds of people and then get re-posted across the country, for thousands more to read and thus hate me.
In any case, I began questioning every word I wrote, every thought I had, and I began to feel illegitimate as a writer, as a thinker, as someone who once thought she had important things to contribute through the written word. I was embarrassed as I had been in the 7th grade when I made a fool of myself, apparently, writing a paper on “anything you want,” per the teacher, who proceeded to give me a D for a writing on a “nonsensical topic.” My very first Early Draft post, called, “Embarrassment,” is about that very issue: becoming embarrassed to write because of someone’s reaction to my writing. I didn’t think it could happen now, in my 50s, as it did at age 12, but, well, yes, it can.
After 8 months of doing a good job in 2013 of getting my writing out there and read —
maybe not in the most literary of venues — but still, in “literate” places, let’s say, I went on hiatus. I went into hybernation. I worked on becoming a bitchy middle-aged cat lady, something I’m actually quite skilled at, I’m finding.
I’d had some small “success” in terms of publishing in 2013, and won (minor) Honorable Mention Awards for two essays and one short story. I even had a chapbook of my humorous essays win a contest and be accepted for publication. But even after all that, as well as many posts on Huffington and Lesbian.com, and the TMI.org and the It’s All in her Head websites, after all that presence and so much readership, I felt like the same fucking loser who got a D on her first 7th grade paper. In fact, the reason for listing my successes here is to try once more not to feel like the loser I feel like.
Also contributing to my hiatus was feelings of inadequacy in reading of the successes of my writer friends, and indeed, reading their recently published work. It occurred to me: while I may be a good writer, perhaps even an above-average writer, and a better writer than someone who doesn’t write at all, I will never be a great writer, like every else in my life that I do – I am good, often competent, but never great at it: work (at work), sex, driving a car, friendship.
“I’ll never be great at anything,” I said to myself. And so I took a hit of Candy Crush Saga.
Then I heard from the editor/publisher of my forthcoming chapbook who said edits and artwork and contracts would be coming up soon in early December. The update on my chapbook reminded me that much of its content derives from shorter works that I’ve published online, some on this blog, and some on other websites. I realized, too, that I have another chapbook nearly ready to submit, and that, too, was a result of the accumulation of work that I’ve pushed out a little at a time on a regular basis. I have not yet submitted the second chapbook to a publisher, but I intend to. The pieces for the second book came mainly from work I published here on The Early Draft, on Lesbian.com, at TMI workshops, and again, other websites.
So, if I want to realize in a year or two that I have yet another chapbook pretty much written, I had better stop playing Candy Crush Saga and start blogging again, as I did for nearly three years with little self-consciousness. It’s funny how we change, because that woman with little self-consciousness has left the building and I am here again, still sitting at that desk in the back of the room in 7th grade, staring at that huge D on my first paper. “Nonsensical, ridiculous….”
Get over it. Get over it. Get over it.
If I want a steady stream of work that may be publishable, I better start pushing out those babies again.
I don’t have to be a great writer, just a good writer who keeps at it.
And so I have ended my writing hiatus.
- 2013 November PAD Chapbook Challenge (awritersfountain.wordpress.com)
A literature professor at SUNY Albany once told me that I didn’t know how to write academic papers (I had been out of school for 10 years at the time and was an award-winning journalist). I was so mortified that even though she had given me a B+ on the first paper in her Faulkner course, I dropped the course and didn’t go back to school for 10 years. I now have a second master’s degree and I teach freshmen how to write academic papers. It’s incredible the power that bad teachers have to destroy a student’s confidence. How different it would have been if she had written: “Your ideas are good but you’re writing in a journalistic style instead of an academic one, probably because you’ve been out of school for a while; here’s a book that will help you organize your next paper for the course.” How different your experience would have been if the teacher had written, “What an unusual topic! Very creative!” In the end, though, we won because we overcame their bad teaching. Write on!
Thank you for telling me your story, Faye. It is very relevant and helpful. That English teacher I had ended up thinking I was a great writer but it is her first reaction that stays with me. But I agree, we both overcame.