Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Friday, March 25, 2011

The House of Words (no. 4): Persistence (Peggy Leon)

4. Persistence

Here’s Peggy Leon on persistence. Peg just published her second novel, A Theory of All Things, with a fine small house, The Permanent Press. I bought mine after her reading at The Green Toad in Oneonta, but you can get yours almost anywhere--and look for her first book, Mother Country, as well.

"Five wildly creative siblings are drawn back into each other’s orbit during a crisis. Along the way, Leon lets each character take turns telling the story and stitches together their collisions via e-mails, texts and telephone conversations, maintaining a healthy balance between tart humor and touching drama. Quirky, funny and eminently readable." —Kirkus

Hear that? Eminently readable. From the famously grumpy reviewers at Kirkus.
And now, Peggy Leon on that curious quality, persistence . . .

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Peggy Leon's first novel
from Permanent Press.
Persistence is always admirable in oneself and annoying in those around us. For me as a writer, it's the nagging inner voice, the "are we there yet, are we there yet" that keeps me barreling down the interstate to the end of a writing project, no matter how doomed the trip seems along the way. I am much more willing to listen to the inner voice than I am to the two voices piping from the back seat on the long drive to spring break in warmer climes. Persistence keeps me sending out manuscripts, shrugging at rejections, and sending out a few more. In the endless job of trying to be published, I hear my mom's voice, circa my teenage years, Sunday afternoons: Did you pick up your room? Yes. Did you empty the dishwasher like I asked? Yes. What about the plants? Watered. The living room needs to be dusted. *Pause* Okay, I'm on it. There's always one more task, one more place to send some writing out to . . . and then after that, there's still another.

I'm not sure I could be a writer without a higher than average level of persistence; it's the only way to balance the impressive amounts of procrastination that I seem to also possess. Every time I sit down at the computer, an interior battle rages, angel (persistence) on one shoulder, devil (procrastination) standing on the other, just like a 1950's cartoon. The moment my fingers hit the keys, procrastination whispers in my ear, the siren song of laundry to be folded, of kitchen drawers that suddenly need to be sorted by function or material, of grouting begging to be mined and refilled. Gentle persistence soothes, "A line or two. You'll see. You'll feel so much better. Laundry? You hate laundry . . ." Then, procrastination rears its little, horned head, "What about the kitchen drawers? Plastic is mixing promiscuously with metal! It's an assault on decency!" Who will win the field today?

There are so many voices in my head, it's a miracle I ever accomplish anything. But, wait. Here's another little voice, Marly's... "Remember you promised to write a couple of paragraphs on persistence for my blog." It's the third reminder. That woman is persistent.

7 comments:

  1. Oh dear. Peggy, how well you have described my life! Persistence vs procrastination! What is that saying about a successful artist/writer/ fill in the blanks? Something like: having oodles of talent means nothing without lots of hard work. And focus.

    I'm really enjoying this series, Marly, even though it's making me say 'ouch'.

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  2. Hello marja-leena--

    Very glad that you are liking it. And that you have found a kindred soul--although I certainly can't tell that you are a procrastinator. You seem to get a lot done.

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  3. This is a wonderful series, Marly, and I'm happy to find Marja-Leena here, a very productive friend who is talking about procrastination!

    Persistence is key, but I'm a great procrastinator as well as a more or less serial quitter, because I'm always giving up one artistic pursuit in order to pay persistent attention to another one. I've done this all my life, moving between a periodic focus on music, the fine arts and writing. It's impossibly for me to give up any one of the three, and impossible therefore for me to be consistently persistent in any one. A recipe for a rich life as well as a frustrating one, where I am always a little disappointed in myself, no matter what progress is being made, and always pulled a little bit in different directions.

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  4. Beth,

    I like your way of moving from drawing and painting to writing to photography to music. It feels like a round, satisfying life. Perhaps it is that problem of what Yeats called the choice between the perfection of the life and the perfection of the work!

    I am too obsessive to be that way, but I see that my daughter has a very hard time settling on one thing--she has been attracted to many, many art forms, and as she has that lovely creative spark, she has been encouraged in each. I hope she is still playing the piano and drawing and writing and so on when she is a little old lady, somewhere in the future.

    I see problems with that way of being, but I also see a kind of fullness and satisfaction.

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  5. Whatever one does, it is, as you have said, best to be making something, whether it's paintings, poems, are a mess in the kitchen. Maybe all three.

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  6. Definitely somebody needs to make a mess in the kitchen! As we have done nonstop for the past eleven days, feeding these Bardians!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.