It's 9:24 a.m.
I have to leave at 10:00 to drive a deeply depressed friend to her therapy appointment. I am in the middle of writing one of my long, thoughtful, typical essay-type posts, which my friend Ronni Lundy calls "blongs." I left it, and began writing this instead.
I have a bowl of Irish oatmeal beside me, cooked with diced apples, which melt to creaminess as the oats cook, studded with pieces of medjool dates, which also soften to caramel-like bits, added in the last few minutes. The bowl, brown and grey pottery, with visible finger-rings, was thrown by my late husband. If I lifted it up I'd see, on its bottom, his scratched-in signature: Ned Shank, 1971. Stirred into the finished Irish oatmeal is a heaping teaspoon of almond butter, and a drizzle of maple syrup, from the trees tapped by my nearest neighbor, here in Vermont.
I am going to see if I can write an actual short blog post, and get it done before I hop into the car to do my mission of mercy, which I both want, deeply, to do, and am slightly irritated at having to do (I have been hanging in there with my depressed friend for many months now. It's getting old. But I am ridiculously loyal, to my friend, and stubborn; insistent, internally, that I know this is part of her life process, and mine, and that she and I will get through it, and that it will someday have meaning).
I am trying to finish this because nothing in the universe, that I have found, makes me feel as "God's in heaven and all's right with the world," as writing, particularly when I finish a piece. (I accidentally wrote, and just found and corrected, "all's write with the world.")
I have 50 published books out: all with name, traditional publishers: HarperCollins (Harper & Row when they published me), Simon and Schuster, Macmillan (now also part of Simon and Schuster), Charles Scribners (now defunct), Workman. And I have one coming out with Little, Brown (leading at times to peculiar, hilarious, but truthful statements like, "I'm going in to have lunch with the Little Brown people tomorrow.")
But I don't believe, in my heart of hearts, that I am a real writer until I have written that day. That day, being each day. Being today.
It's the holidays. Should I go to a party that is large enough so that I don't know everyone and strike up conversation with a stranger, it is likely at some point he or she will say, "So, what do you do?"
And I will say, "I'm a writer."
"Oh," he or she will say. And then that subtle shift in tone. "Published?"
Meaning, are you a real writer or an amateur, just futzing around. Meaning, where do I put you on the one-up one-down scale. Should I be impressed (are you famous? have I heard of you?), interested and slightly respectful (oh, you write a column for the Brattleboro Reformer which I may have read) or merely polite (how interesting, excuse me while I get another deviled egg).
I say yes when so asked, because I am a published writer, after all. Yes. True. But if I haven't written that day, I feel, in my heart of hearts, like a hypocrite.
The outside world, in the form of real and imaginary people at cocktail parties, teachers, parents, and siblings, will tell you, directly and indirectly, that a real writer equals a published writer.
Except every writer was at some point an unpublished writer. And even every published writer returns periodically to being unpublished, during the time they are writing.
This is so obvious. Except, evidently, it isn't.
Twitter is a medium I use (I'm @cdragonwagon) and simultaneously like and loathe, in part because the same limitation of characters that forces you to be succinct and pithy also forces you to write "U" for "you" at times.
Here's the one sentence version of this post, as I put it on Twitter a few days back: "Act of writing makes U 'real' writer. O,U thought it was publication? In his lifetime,Van Gogh sold O paintings; was he a 'real' artist?"
I said above, vis a vis the location where I feel like a phony if I haven't written on the day — any day — when I'm asked about being a writer if I haven't written that day, "in my heart of hearts."
By which I mean, in that interior True North by which one steers; to which, if one is true, one feels in alignment, living life with purpose and integrity.
Veer a few degrees from that compass point, and one becomes a hypocrite in one's own eyes, whether or not the world notices (and it usually won't, until the degrees are so many that the degree of offness is blindingly evident).
At least I feel that way if I deviate by even a couple of degrees.
But not today.
For now it is 9:50 a.m. And though I have not finished my oatmeal, I have written.
Like one of the ads for one of the airlines used to say, "We earn our wings each day."
Today I earned my wings: I wrote. Therefore, I am a real writer.
It's a relief.
All I have to do is hit "publish" and I will both a real and a published writer.
Again. Until tomorrow.