Friday, December 08, 2006


Outside, the cold is shiver-inducing. Patches of snow cover the yard. Yet, in the distance, songbirds still twitter from perches in bare branches. The neighborhood dogs still howl against the wind. And inside, the sunlight still falls through the windows above our mantle, throwing patches of bright onto the coffee table, the area rug.

I've not been writing enough lately.

Stopping and starting. Now and again. An occasional line. A few moments staring at an old story.

Most days, of late, I struggle with the dogs—Archie, once again able to run; Dixie, as ever, the bane of his brief existence.

Most days, I stare at my email, looking for rejections or the occasional note from a friend. And, when the rejections arrive—festooned with the inevitable form letter—I search for markets where the poem might be a better fit. On occasion, I'll decide the poems shouldn't have been in the mail in the first place.


Now, the dogs have crawled from beneath the comforter where they slept away much of the morning. Archie and Dixie are involved in supervised combat.

Since Archie's surgery, I've become much more protective of them, knowing that there's a distinct possibility I'll only make matters worse. I never leave them alone together—unless they are sleeping.

Now, Archie bows to the floor, craning his neck, so that his nose slides beneath the sofa. He sniffs furiously, as though he might find something magical hidden among the dust bunnies on the hardwood floors.

Perhaps one day, he will.


I spent the morning, trying, first to gather my bearings. I was itching to write, but uncertain what path to follow. Should I work on the myriad poems that need improvement? Should I finish a short story about the night before a wedding? Should I work a story I wrote years ago with the intent of polishing the prose enough so that I'm comfortable sending it out? Or should I work on my long-delayed novel?

Ultimately, I simply delayed the decision, returning to this project for a respite.

Yet my thoughts wandered, and I let them. They inevitably strayed to thoughts of money. Finances, which always seem stretched thin by generosity at this time of year, are a constant source of consternation.

And why wouldn't they be?

I found myself wishing that I'd made different decisions with my life: I imagined myself as a stockbroker, finely coiffed in silk tie and three-pieced pinstripe suit. I imagined myself pitching split-fingered fastballs for a university in Northern California, brushing the dust from my uniform. I imagined myself picking up my guitar before flashing a bonded smile at a thronging crowd.

Perhaps this penchant for imagining things is one of the reasons I think of myself as a writer.

If only imagination were enough. Better to picture myself picturing a pencil in my hand, filling in the circles on a lottery ticket that would insure a life of luxury, with no worries about whether or not a particular bill will be paid in a given month.


More often than I'd care to admit, doubt about my ability creeps into my mind, shadowing every word I type. I wonder whether my poems are good enough, whether I have the discipline to continue composing them. I wonder whether I'll continue to develop my skills as a fiction writer, whether that long contemplated first novel will ever be completed and worse, whether it will be read.

I feel like someone standing in the cold without a hat or gloves—the blustering winds stings against your face. You bunch your hands into your pockets, searching for some semblance of shelter.


When I was in college, I remember thinking on a summer day, as I descended the stairs at work on the South side of Pittsburgh, that fate had something wonderful in store for me, that my path was destined for greatness.

Perhaps it is. Who knows?

Perhaps—remember this—my life (like yours) has already been touched by greatness. Perhaps, after all, that feeling of fate that felt linked to the slant of sunshine falling through the windows that day has already been fulfilled. Perhaps, there is greatness in loving your wife. In caring for your family, your friends. Even in coddling two tiny dogs to the point that their needs often come before your own.



Most of the time, I can remember that such thoughts have nothing to do with writing. Writing instead is a process. Writing is about audience—however narrow or broad that audience may be. Writing reminds me that nothing—with a few notable exceptions—is inevitable.

Now, I'll take the dogs outside into that bitter cold. I'll head out for a little while, taking a break from the same spot on the same old sofa. And when I return, I'll light a fire, listen to Christmas music and think faraway thoughts as my hands tap out scenes, one word at a time.


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