Success factors

“I find this forgivable since I know that getting published is difficult and the shotgun approach is efficient.” —Image managing editor Mary Kenagy Mitchell, in From the Engine Room, Part II: Mountains of Time

I was talking today with my friend Connie about big things. We have fun doing this along with our satisfaction in work well-completed…we wouldn’t keep coming back to our training ground for armchair theologians if we didn’t. The question at hand was how the class’ recent reading of Genesis 22 (the binding of Isaac) helped us see God’s faithfulness–to Abraham, to Isaac, to ourselves–more clearly. Connie noted that each story pointing to God’s big, multi-generational plan helps her stay anchored in God’s faithfulness to her, personally. That the stories remind her that, in the middle, the protagonists don’t know how it’s all going to work out, that the angel will grab the knife-hand and the ram will show up in the thicket.

I return again and again to “tapestry” for a guiding image: my life as a taxicab-yellow thread somewhere in an eternal bolt of elaborate brocade. There’s no knowing what the yellow thread is for until it’s woven in, until the tapestry is finished, blocked, and hanging on a very large wall. And I’m not so egotistical as to think you’d be able to pick out my thread at that point anyway–notice I didn’t say it was a gold thread-!

So I ask Connie: as she’s gotten older/moved further through life, has she found it easier to live in the middle of not knowing how the story turns out? Does she think about not ever finding out about the end of the story? She pauses, quickly assesses, and tells me no. That she’s better now at pointing this possibility out to others, but no better at living with this possibility herself.

Me, I have been thinking about this quite a bit. So I was startled to be ahead of her–her kids are older than mine, and besides, I forget my brain doesn’t work like other people’s. She’s looking a bit startled, in fact, so I start sifting through my thoughts for a little context.

It’s because of The Writing. 

On the one hand, I’m firm in my voice, my style, my expression. I’m not looking for external validation in the macro sense; if someone were to tell me to take apart my poems and write them in a completely different way I’d thank them politely…and ignore them. On the other hand, I want my poems to be published, out for strangers’ eyes to see. To that end, I have, thus far, 142 submissions, counting each poem as one. I have 5 published, for a 3% success rate. (7% currently await replies.)

I could live my entire life, pass away peacefully in my bed surrounded by my great-grandchildren, and never know how this part of my story comes out. Whether God’s intention for my yellow thread has anything to do with the poems embedded in my fiber. And it may not matter, in my writing or in my efforts to be published, that this work turns out orthogonal to the narrative. As the larger story goes, I could be one of the servants, standing around holding the donkey while Abraham and Isaac climb the mountain. We’ll all go back to Beersheba, and my thread will submerge into the tapestry again.

This evening I found “that screenshot” again (grrr I didn’t annotate it-!) . The one that starts, “Probably, your idea of ‘success’ includes one or more of the following,” and concludes, “There’s no ‘right’ answer to what constitutes success, but it’s important to know what it means to you.” It’s a good list for writers. It includes things that I highlighted  for my definition: having my work published, selling a certain number of copies, getting positive reviews from readers,

doing what you love — writing — every day.

I’m unable to leave the big questions of meaning alone. But as I turn them over and over, I will still scatter my work out over the English-speaking world,

and write every day. Success.

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