fear no art

Lack Attracts More Lack: Writing for the Right Reasons.

 

No, I am not Toni Morrison, Margaret Mitchell, J.K. Rowling, or Barbara Brown Taylor.

I have no award-winning poetry, bestselling historical saga, wizardly creative series, or book of gorgeously evocative essays to my credit. As Popeye the sailor man announced, I yam what I yam:

A writer who, as of yet, has none of the following:
• A literary agent
• A publisher
• A book with a photo of yours truly on the back cover
• Invitations to give readings
• Hordes at said readings
• Sales
• Acclaim
• An appearance on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday
• A respectable livelihood from my writing
• More money from a series than Queen Elizabeth inherited…

… which means I have tended to define myself not as a writer but a wannabe writer. And I’ve been in the wannabe writer biz for a long time. Basically, since keyboards came with carriage returns.

Popeye’s nemesis was Bluto. Mine was BG.

“Guess what I’ve decided?” I announced to BG, a close high school classmate. “I’m going to be a writer.”

BG burst out laughing. “You?”

Granted, for most of us, high school is a Circle of Hell. Thank God, unlike the doomed souls in Dante’s Inferno, we graduate from it. What I couldn’t escape, however, was BG’s incredulous You? What if she was right?

What if she was right?

Rather than risk learning BG had been dead-on, I condemned myself to a Sisyphean writer’s hell, embarking upon a stellar career of self-sabotage. Some examples:

I attended a University boasting one of the top journalism schools in the nation. But just as it was time to get serious, I transferred to a campus with no j-school to be nearer a beau.

After college, I landed a gig writing feature pieces for a local magazine. I freelanced as well and momentum built. Then I quit because I needed to make real money.

I dabbled in screenwriting and actually made some impressive contacts willing to mentor me. But when I got pregnant and became a stay-at-home mom, I focused solely on crafting fliers for the PTA.

I was accepted into a prestigious writer’s conference (Bread Loaf) and, encouraged by my advisor (a writer!), completed a children’s book my daughter’s classmates still ask about. I received a grand total of one rejection and… you guessed it, buried the manuscript in the back of a closet.

I wrote not one but two versions of a book chronicling my spiritual journey through divorce… and then chucked it, after (a record!) four rejections. It wasn’t right. No one would relate.

Popeye quaffed spinach to vanquish Bluto. My fuel of choice was a cocktail of defeatism, insecurity, and envy with a splash of bile, garnished with blame. Cheers to whatever Force — the stars, the universe of publishing deities, Lady Luck, my own lackadaisical work habits — predetermined my sucky, puny fate.

Look up the symbolic meaning of spinach, the muse whispered in my ear just now. I did, and I’m blown away. According to Dreamstop.com, spinach showing up in a dream — and what is writing but an attempt to birth the dream, the story, the enlightenment within us? — is a sign that it’s time to view a situation from a new perspective.

It’s been a long journey, but site by sight, tip by suggestion, aha moment by Wow!, I’ve come to see that there just may be something to this law of attraction stuff. Maybe, just maybe, my writing hasn’t struck a chord in readers because, every time I hit the Send key, I’m sending out Who are you kidding? This isn’t going anywhere.

I’m sending out Lack — lack of belief in myself, lack of faith in my purpose and fate.

Gimme acclaim. Gimme ego-feed. Gimme big bucks. Gimme vengeance on all naysayers, beginning with BG. What is Gimme but I lack, plus an appalling lack of gratitude for what I do have?

Meanwhile, lack attracts more lack. So why wouldn’t this include a lack of readers?

Slowly, but perceptibly, my gimme litany is changing. And it’s not my doing! It’s just kind of happening. My understanding expands, my ego diminishes, my heart whispers Gimme an opportunity to serve. Gimme ways to gift others through my gift.

Is this Me?

All I can say is that, whatever it is, it’s Alka Seltzer Plus for the heartburn of You?

Mystics describe this as enlightenment or grace. I call it my roadmap because, finally, I grasp what Ram Dass was getting at: we are all just walking each other home.

Better yet, this epiphany is writing itself into my life like a stylus on an Etch A Sketch, attracting filaments of goodness and gifts in an array of configurations. I stumble upon a book just when I need it. My ex offers to foot half the bill for my daughter’s baby shower without being asked. I glance out a window and catch the most glorious sunset. A skylark sings. You’re reading these words.

I am a writer because I cannot not write. Not because Agent X, Publisher Y, Journal Z, and BG say so.

Spinach builds iron. Among iron’s many symbolic attributes are fortitude, honor, courage, and confidence in one’s own power. Isn’t it interesting that Bluto the spinach-loather always lost? Olive Oil, the gal Popeye and Bluto fought for, loved Popeye.

And what does the olive tree symbolize?

Peace. Harmony. Love. Supplication to the gods.

This Writer’s Prayer

May my words bear peace, harmony, and love.
May they feed you so you blossom in turn — more beautifully
than an almond tree, no matter how tough a nut life can be
or how much you wince at this metaphor because it’s contrived
and, technically, an almond’s no nut but a drupe —
a fruit containing a single seed. Like an olive, peach, plum, or cherry.
Or the fate you propagate
then cup
within your hands.

***

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Jenine Baines

Jenine Baines

Jenine Baines is a retired publicist who’s replaced press releases with poetry and plants. Eventually, it dawned on her that a book of essays -- An Archaeologist in the Garden: Excavating Lessons on Blooming from the Dirt -- was germinating as she weeded, amended soil, and planted to terraform the blight called a back garden at the funky little rental house in LA she shares with her partner.
Jenine Baines