Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
More thoughts on the old journals, and then I promise I’ll stop. After all, if I don’t journal anymore, I do blog. It’s similar.
I used my journals through the ‘80s and ’90s mainly as records of my writing progress, so most of the pages are dedicated to working out stories and novels, reshaping things as I go, planning new work, and bemoaning the fact that nothing is getting accepted by magazines and agents. Story of my life.
But after reviewing these things, I can see how fricking committed I’ve been to this vocation. Easily thirty-five years of intensity, though I feel it backing off at this late date. I wondered to myself when I was about thirty-one or -two, “Will I be a sixty-year-old geezer pecking away at my Apple, or will I find something more worthwhile to do?”
Well, here I sit, pecking away at my Apple. The worthwhile part is up for interpretation.
Seeing all the old story titles I slaved over was poignant. I had a million of ‘em, but only a handful were ever picked up by little mags. Enough to keep me going motivation-wise, but I was always aware that the odds were terrible. One editor said at a seminar I attended that she and her staff were overwhelmed with hundreds of submissions per week, so. Yet I kept at it. You gotta believe, and I did. I submitted stories all over the place, back when you had to actually mail them (with an SASE). I went to see writers I admired, such as Stanley Elkin, Donald Barthelme, Bob Shacochis, Ann Beattie. I recounted the many close calls I had with agents, including a couple of top-notch ones like Liz Darhansoff and Sandra Dijkstra, who almost took books from me. Then I recount the several agents who did sign me, who did try to sell to the big houses, and did wind up letting me go with the old sendoff, “It’s a tough business. Best of luck.”
Yet I kept at it. You gotta believe.
The funny thing is, at one point in the ‘90s I seem to have grasped that the task was getting to be more and more futile and success less and less likely. I wrote, “After everything I’ve tried, I think I’d be happy making a modest living with a few books under my belt and living in a house surrounded by trees with my wife.”
Success after all. I got my wish.
It’s a weird feeling to go over the entire arc of your life in just a few sittings. You see it’s the pursuit that defines you. Even if you don’t achieve what you thought you were reaching for, you are the writer, musician, dancer, painter, actor, sculptor, filmmaker, or poet who tried. The trying is the crux of you.
As wistful and sometimes broody as I got while reading this stuff, I see now how much worse I’d feel if I’d just read a bunch of journals that told the story of someone who gave up. Defeat isn’t a good story.
The good story ends with “he believed.”