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

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The House of Words (no. 6): Lucky

This post may seem a little odd to those who have been with me through many editorial departures and books that were timed in some unlucky manner. Nevertheless, I shall simply vow with Emerson that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

* * *

I don’t regard myself as “special” or think that the world owes me any rewards. I am quite glad when it does toss me a gold star, but I do not wish to beg for one or demand one. This preserves me from a great deal of anguish.

Instead, I think that I am lucky.

I think this despite the fact that I am the absolute Beggar Queen of Orphaned Books (“Orphaned” book? That’s when your editor leaves before or during the launch period of your book. And then the poor offspring of your mind wanders the halls and offices, homeless, sitting in corners with the Little Match Girl, desiring only to be taken up to the bright and shiny Paradise of Readers.) You see, I now realize that a writer cannot do one blessed thing about randomness, a thing that includes editors seeing greener grass and unexpectedly jumping the fence, etc., and so these problems no longer concern me.

As I am capable of considerable dark denseness, it took me some time to grasp another little idea: I was given a gift. This gift is a great gift that makes me laugh and feel thrilled and sometimes weep. I jig as a partner to readers I will never meet. Sometimes I encounter people I become fond of because they have danced with me. Yet I did nothing to earn or win or deserve the gift. It is a free gift. You see? I am thankful. I am lucky.

That gift plus life events made me a maniacal reader in childhood and an obsessive writer later on. Also, I grew up in a family with many books, too, and with parents who cared about reading and writing. More luck!

I am nothing but happy that I was given this gift, a thing that has even transformed the tragedies and sorrows of childhood and adult life: those grits that can become pearls in the sea of words. In fact, I have a strong sense that it is while writing that I find the thread of path that allows me to escape the labyrinth--to move toward a sunlit redemption of my own bumblings, sins and errors, and the random "black swans" of life.

* * *

The circle rainbow was photographed by the appropriately-named Joy Butler (wish I had a joy butler in my butler's pantry, but there are only dishes and cleaning supplies) of Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia. Courtesy of Joy and sxc.hu.

13 comments:

  1. So many reasons i love visiting the Palace. This post captures the essence of the primary one

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  2. zephyr,

    Thank you, I think, unless you are pondering the depths of my foolish inconsistency.

    You know, I think it's time for "zephyrus eke with swete breath" to do some inspiring in "ev'ry hold and heath" and bring on the "tendre croppes." I just point that out in hope.

    Did I say that out there in the world beyond Cooperstown it is already spring and positively zephyrous? I saw three swans on a flooded field on the way to Bard. (Already converted into a Fool poem.) Point being, where are the zephyrs around here, and why is there still so much dratted snow?

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  3. Marly, I have been pondering your request to me to write about "luck." As you may know I believe, and why I use quotation marks, there is no such thing.

    I hope to write more to defend this position, but for now, as my hands have wet latex paint on them and my keyboard is getting that home improvement look, I'll leave you with this anecdote that illustrates part of my perspective.

    When I moved to California (Santa Cruz County) after college, my parents would occasionally fly out to visit me. And I would usually take them to a fantastic restaurant. My Dad would tell me "Gary you are so *lucky* to find these amazing places!"

    But the reality is that before they came, I went to dozens of crappy, middling, and excellent restaurants. They knew nothing about that, or at least didn't think about it. From their perspective, I just always had luck - in finding good restaurants, in jobs, in not getting killed on my travels to Japan with almost no money in my pocket.

    In fact, it was not luck, it was something else. Part of which I think I can identify and articulate and part of which I cannot.

    Allowing the universe or an angry or benevolent God or any outside agent specific control over my destiny by powerless submission to just "luck" is not something I can believe in.

    I hope to illustrate my point more deeply in a post for you dear Marlybloggerpoetessmotherteacher, but if I do not, let me leave those who believe in "luck" best wishes.

    Because perhaps I am wrong and will indeed need some luck (unquotationmarked) myself!

    Gary

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  4. Alas, my sisters and brethren are struggling, even here, a bit south of you, to keep spring close. All i can offer is this: the last snow did not destroy spring. Large patches have melted in this garden and we have new crocus, new iris (those adorable little reticulata ones)and fat daffodil buds.

    i keep reminding myself that around here, we hoped the first daffodil would open by brother's birthday on April 15. For the last decade or so, they've been opening weeks earlier...and will again this year.

    i'm just hopinghopinghoping we don't suddenly leap into dreaded summer heat before lilac season...let it wait at least until June.

    All we both want is a really nice spring to come and stay a while.

    Let us pray.

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  5. Gary,

    I think that you and I look at different points on the spectrum that stretches from "everything is a gift" to "everything I have I make myself, and I like Wallace Stevens am the maker of my world." You look at the work of your hands and brain and say that you made your luck. Well, I look at the work of my hands and brain and hope that I have done well with what I was given and feel lucky that I was given the capacities and even the obstacles that I have or have had. Because I did nothing to earn either. I did not always feel this way. Not at all. But it is where I stand now.

    And yes, those are very different views of the world.

    But at least we both have a way of seeing the world and can articulate it. That, in itself, is a kind of triumph.

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  6. zephyr,

    Send your brother and sister zephyrs! It is snowing outside at this very moment!

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  7. Marly,

    I think our points of view have some overlap. I do believe (in the sense of just accepting and not understanding why) in the gifts and challenges I and my son and, for that matter, anybody have been bestowed by whomever or whatever.

    I don't believe the reason that that editor (or Nanny - a story for another time!) did or didn't support your goals was about some random sort of luck. There are things we do and don't do that affect these outcomes.

    We aren't always "in control" of actions and outcomes, but our actions or lack thereof certainly impact outcomes.

    And our ability to articulate ourselves, even in seeming disagreement (though I am not yet sure yet that it is a deep one) is indeed a triumph. Especially when compared to cable news network discussions. Or anonymous online comment boards about the news. Or school board meetings.

    Have a good day!

    Gary

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  8. Agreed!

    Although I certainly think that one can't do a thing about editors and departure. Job offers suddenly appear, marvelous and enticings. People get fired, when one had no idea anything was up. Etc.

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  9. Marly, this is a wonderful post and discussion, and as aways your writing delights me. To me, this seems like a variation on a theme of "luck, gift and hard work" that keeps cropping up for me and for artists of all types.

    I don't have the gift of articulateness with words but do have the gift (at least I think I do) with visual work. I'm lucky in family and that I've been given the opportunity in my life to develop that gift, and I've had luck in a supportive life partner who is my 'patron of arts'. I'm guilty of not working hard enough to sell myself consistently, being essentially a lazy creature. I'm guilty of being the kind of artist who hopes to be 'discovered' by someone who will do all the promotion and selling and all that stuff I dislike doing and keep putting off - like an editor, really! Yet I'm content and feel blessed and lucky - I'm a firm believer in the creative life.

    Sorry I'm rambling here and just saying the same thing as you, and should be doing this on my own blog, heh. Keep on doing what you do for you've done so much great work! And I hope spring is just around the corner in your world. I'm wishing for less rain here...

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  10. You have worked for your work, but plenty work without such excellence, as we all know, so I suppose that in the end, it is a gift, a combination of genetic rolls of the dice, environment, and the will to continue, with a little serendipity thrown in, just to make it interesting.

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  11. marja-leena,

    Yes, I'm with you! We all want some sacrificial creature who will dedicate himself or herself to doing all the marketing and promotion out of sheer devotion to the arts... Delusional but pleasant idea. Yes, perhaps someone will pop up today and shout to us, yes, yes, yes, I love your wonderful work, Marja-leena and Marly, and I will be your knight and tilt against all those whirling windmills. I shall cross my toes for that kind of luck.

    We will hit family later on because that is so important...

    Hello there, Robbi of the brand new abode--

    Yes, it is many things in different proportions for everybody. I'm rather glad that we aren't all just the same, that it is a little of this, a little of that. And yet there are continuities that are useful to see and mull. I hope so, anyway, or else I might as well take my little party and go home!

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  12. I do not think you were 'given a gift', but that you simply have one that you have nurtured and worked hard to refine and shape. As an non-theist I cannot find a 'giver', other than you - and to us.
    And for that, I'm so grateful. It's magical!

    However one approaches it, it's magical : )

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  13. Paul, you persist in being grateful to me when I am grateful to you! See the new post, just up...

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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.