Words Fail

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This is among the first drawings I did on the Wacom Tablet: rough, but effective. There’s me—I can draw a fairly decent cartoon representation of myself, or a representation of what I picture as my best self—and there’s my stepdaughter getting her hair combed before bed, smiling because I’m showing her a funny cat video on YouTube. Working from a photograph would probably render better results, but this is drawn from memory, ninety minutes after she went to sleep. It’s flat; the proportions are off. I must live with my faulty perception, and my unpolished ability.

As may be apparent to readers, I’ve never had an art lesson in my life, save for grade school and camp curricula, and a couple semesters of pottery. What I have studied, extensively, to abstraction, to the exclusion of vast swaths of normal human existence, is writing. I have toiled well over my ten thousand hours to mastery. I have taken ten Iowa-style fiction workshops. I have taken craft classes. I have studied with acclaimed writers, and considered their feedback, received their approval. I have organized my own workshops, created circles of writers who read and critique each other’s writing. I have revised and revised and revised.

I could describe for you, in broad brushstrokes or pointillist detail, the way the light plays on my stepdaughter’s hair, how the blond strands glow with natural rivers of platinum and strawberry, the way the tangles of her youthful athleticism smooth out into silky sheets of gold under the thick teeth of my wooden comb. I could show you the surface: the cinnamon freckles blooming across pink cheeks, the cool ice of her sparkling blue eyes. I could show you the hidden details: the wine-colored birthmark just under her hairline at the nape of her neck, the cracked white leather places between her fingers where her skin at times dries out so completely that blood seeps from the gaps. I could write a book about her: the way she chatters about cartoons no one else has seen, the way she hold her nose not only when she jumps into the pool, but also when she swims, one-handed, beneath the water.

The image is what it is.

All my life, my writing has been characterized as remarkably good. Qualified writers who have achieved recognition in their art have told me that I write well. I have sold a couple short stories. In the corporate world I have supported myself solely through this craft since I finished my MFA, ten years ago, but publishing four short stories in a decade while writing web content at $100 an hour is not quite the same as selling a novel.

I cannot sell a goddamn novel. Another successful writer, a close friend, suggests I don’t submit enough, and so I polish my queries and hurl them out in the universe. Some agents, some publishing houses, can’t afford the courtesy of a rejection note. Most are kind enough to offer the form rejection. Occasionally, an agent will ask for some piece of a manuscript before rejecting me. Whenever I get a little traction, the dream gets pulled out from under my feet. My work is not viable, or commercial, or accessible, or whatever it is they seek.

Originally I considered calling this blog “Words Fail,” which I’ve kept as a tagline. Words fail, but not because of my ability. With modesty and humility, I can state that I probably write in the objective ninety-ninth percentile of people on the planet. But that is not, apparently, good enough.

And here I’ve decided to share my infant scribbles, little amusements in which I’ve invested one fraction of one percent of the effort that I’ve put into ten novels, two full-length stage plays, and countless short stories, and already, before I’ve even officially launched my brand or shared this URL with friends and family, people seem interested in what I’m trying to do.

My drawings only hint at their intentions; I can only polish them up to the point where my ability falters, while I’ve acquired the ability to burnish my writing to a fine, mirror-like glow. But words fail.

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2 thoughts on “Words Fail

  1. Martha Tollefson

    the beauty of your writing brings tears to my eyes. I love you so and hope and pray for all your dreams. You are talented and wonderful beyond words.
    Mom

    Reply

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