Riding in Cars with Dead Poets

There is only one thing to do. Go into yourself. Examine your reason for writing. Discover whether it is rooted in the depths of your heart, and find out whether you would rather die than be forbidden to write. Above all, ask yourself in the stillest hour of the night, have I no choice but to write? Dig deep within for the truest answer, and if this answer is a strong and simple yes, then build your life upon this necessity. Your life henceforth, down to its most ordinary and insignificant moment, must prove and reveal this truth. Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

If I ever write a memoir, it will be titled Riding in Cars with Dead Poets and it will pretty much be the same thing as Riding in Cars with Boys but with less drugs and teen pregnancy. Otherwise pretty much exactly the same. Motherly angst, trying to make it as a writer, and lots of arguments with guys. Specifically dead poet guys.

This morning I am in a love-hate relationship with the above quote. Its essence resonates, but it’s hard for me to get past the privilege it assumes. This is the kind of thing a certain kind of man can write, the kind of question he can pose, the kind of dichotomy upon which he can insist. Yes, writing is rooted in the depths of my heart, but would I rather die than be forbidden to write? I understand that I am supposed to exclaim, exuberantly and unequivocally, YES! in order to earn my Writer Merit Badge and be A Real Writer. However, I am not only a writer, but the mother of two young children, and as miserable as I would be if I could not write, I cannot say that I would rather die and leave them motherless than be forbidden to write. Rilke’s dichotomy is too neat, too tidy. It does not encompass the vast grey ocean of a woman’s lived existence. If I were A Young Poet, perhaps I could give the correct answer. But I’m not, and I can’t. I suspect a multitude of parents, both male and female, would agree. And there are a myriad of other circumstances outside my own that I expect would complicate this question. Rilke himself had a daughter when he asked this; I wonder what he was thinking.

I have to get past Rilke’s words in order to appreciate the heart of his message. My writing is complicated by child-rearing, home ownership, animals, and the fact that I am the activities director/nutritionist/chef/chief requisitions officer/accountant/secretary/housekeeper/handywoman/chief communications officer on this cruise. Even so, my writing is essential to my sense of myself. I cannot not write.

And I cannot not keep trying. I have sent out a hundred queries now for Vessel, and chalked up forty-six rejections (I originally wrote “forty-five,” but a new one materialized during the writing of this post). I still have four requests out there in agent-land, but the rejections are mounting. Every day or two, another one or two or three ping in my inbox. Each time my heart jumps a little. Each one could be The One. Each one, so far, is not.

One one level, it’s difficult to deal with the constant rejection. It can be soul-wrenching, especially if you let it. But on the other hand, when I imagine what I want from this life, making a living doing what I love most is my Big Dream. This path through the Valley of the Shadow of Rejection is the way to get there.

That’s enough about rejection for now. Have some pictures of magic–another complication that keeps me from yelling YES! to Rilke’s question. The world is chock-full of magic–how could I give that up for anything?

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