Fathom Mag

Published on:
October 7, 2019
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4 min.
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For Those About to Write, I Salute You

I don’t think I learned anything new this week. But I was reminded of truths that, for one reason or another, have been shuffled around, pushed back in the corners of my mind. As you grow older, it’s a gift when someone reminds you of true things you already know. And I am thankful. Wait, I did learn something new. I can now empty the bucket on a dehumidifier. Our rooms were equipped with these R2-D2-like devices that magically pull the moisture out of the air. But the hitch is little R2 can’t empty his own bucket when it’s full. Yes, humans are still needed. The gracious Episcopal lady at the front desk showed me how to do this, saying, “Take a break from your writing, and twice a day empty your bucket.” She winked and walked away. I required only one lesson. Now I know. And I am thankful. I slept less sweaty.

For the last week, I have been in Canton, Mississippi with a dear friend. He is also one of the best living writers I know. And I am thankful he lives still. From time to time he gathers writers and they not only talk about the craft but practice it as well. I know sometimes writers get together and talk about writing but they don’t do any writing, which seems to me to be a gathering of talkers. But this week we’ve been about both. 

As you grow older, it’s a gift when someone reminds you of true things you already know.

My friend and writer (Robert) has been a wide-open fire hose of encouragement. But he’s also put his Toms down a handful of times and given us words to write and live by, like Hurry is never the proper posture for a writer and Don’t read crap. He said if we quoted him on that last one, he’d deny saying it. But he said it, and I fully agree. Life’s too short to read crap, not when there’s so much excellence out there to be imbibed. Mornings had him reading from some of his own beautiful books (thankfully), plus directing our attention to other brilliant voices, such as Annie Dillard and Frederick Buechner. Annie and Frederick were essentially the matriarch and patriarch for the week, while Robert played the loveable rascally uncle. 

Full disclosure, this was a gathering of clergy, and I’m not officially clergy any longer. But they widened their circle and made room for me. I am a writer. I’ve found that if you see yourself, fancy yourself, or even wish yourself a writer, it is good to say those four little words to yourself first thing each morning: I am a writer. For the truth is, if you don’t say it, no one else will. Say it early, say it firm.         

Life’s too short to read crap, not when there’s so much excellence out there to be imbibed.

I am a writer. I’ve written a few books that have my name on the spine. Most of them (sniff-sniff) are out-of-print. I’ve co-written a few books with some interesting people that have gotten a little attention, but only a little. And I’ve ghost-written a couple of books that if I had the chance to decide about again, well, I’d probably say yes again, for as George Bailey told Clarence the Angel—money comes in real handy down here, bud. 

I’ve never been on the top-anything list. Not a-one of those books have been bestsellers, or “earned out” as publishers say. I’ve only seen royalty checks from one, a small prayer book I wrote with an old alcoholic ex-Catholic priest. Every quarter since its publication a small check arrives in the mail. I always cash it and spend it all on red wine, which I then drink in moderation to honor the better angels of my old ragamuffin friend. He’d find that an absolute hoot. 

Would I like to be on the top-something list? Gosh yes. But that hasn’t happened yet. And even though it could, the reality is it may never come to pass. But I’m still a writer. As my friend and writer Robert has reminded us this week, the only way to become a writer is to write. That’s also the only way to stay one. You must keep at it, hand to the plow. 

The only way to become a writer is to write. That’s also the only way to stay one. You must keep at it, hand to the plow.

I suppose if forced to name one thing I already knew but was reminded of this week, it’s that bestseller status, and social media accounts bursting at the seams, and making the rounds on the conference circuits with one of those nifty microphones snaking up your jowl is all well and fine and good (maybe). But those things don’t mean you’re a writer. They don’t. Please don’t get me wrong, you can have/be those things and be a writer. But they don’t make you a writer, not a good one. I am a writer, and I want to be a good one.

That sounds a bit harsh. Like I’m putting my boot down on something. I am. Life’s too short to read or write crap. I’m not talking about those fitty shirst drafts we writers all begin with, but the manuscripts and essays and books and magazine articles we end up with. Somewhere between the highbrow weeds you’ve got to whack through with a dictionary and the lowbrow treacle that all too often oozes along from simply being lazy flows the river of gosh-good writing, waters haunted by voices like Dillard and Buechner, and Benson. Listen close:

When I was younger, I worried a great deal about whether or not I was going to make it home to God…What I fear now is that I will somehow miss what it is I am supposed to learn here, something important enough that the Dreamer dispatched me, and the rest of us, here to learn. What I fear now is that I will somehow miss the point of living here at all, living here between the dreaming and the coming true.

– Robert Benson, Between the Dreaming and the Coming True            

 Gosh that’s good. Lord, I want to be in that number. 

At the end of the road or the game or the journey or the race or the rodeo or whatever your preferred imagery is, the hoped-for sentence is not “done,” but “well done.” Life here on earth is too short for crap. And my gut tells me eternity is going to be much too long to abide even a trace of crapola. Commit to becoming and staying a good writer, if a good writer is what you want to be. Of course, if you want to be a dentist or a lounge singer or a park ranger, then go do that and be a good one. But whether a writer or a ranger, know that you must also practice at being a good human, and this, should you find yourself in the swelter of Mississippi in September, means emptying your dehumidifier bucket at least twice a day. 

Life’s too short to sleep sweaty, if you can help it. This I know.

John Blase
John Blase preached for over a decade but then he thought he’d go where the money is, so he started writing poetry. He’s a lucky man with a stunning wife and three kids who look like their mother. He lives out West but he’ll always be from the South. His books include The Jubilee: Poems, Know When To Hold ’Em: The High Stakes Game of Fatherhood, and All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir (co-written with Brennan Manning).

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