When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.
How will you better clarify whom you serve and what you do for them in 2016?
All right, Chris Brogan. I’ve been avoiding your question since it zipped through the interwebs to my inbox yesterday morning. I don’t want to answer it, but now I’m stuck in a small room with a small dog who makes poor life decisions. My husband is vacuuming, and one of the poor life decisions this small dog chronically makes is to launch rabid attacks on the vacuum the second it turns on. Her life choices are so poor, in fact, that if she is alone in a room, she will try to attack the vacuum through the door. So small dog and I are sitting here in this room. She is pondering how she can eat her way through the door so she can slay that vacuum cleaner, and I am pondering how I can not answer this question.
What keeps darting through my mind is the last line of Milton’s sonnet. “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
I don’t know whom I serve right now. Stories, I guess. I’ve written five novels, but I’m still on the quest for publication and so, aside from a handful of very lovely and patient humans, nobody reads them. Questions like Chris Brogan’s make me crotchety. I know whom I want to serve, but because of where I’m at in this process right now, I don’t feel I’m actually serving anybody.
“Serve” feels like a fraught word from the perspective of a woman and mother, and maybe that’s why I resist it. My tribe’s been serving everybody else since the beginning of history and frankly, I get sick of it sometimes. Is it easier to talk about service when you’re male, when service isn’t necessarily what’s expected of you by default? Jesus could wash people’s feet and it was a huge deal. If God had had a daughter instead of a son, would this service have surprised anyone? What if the Buddha had been female–would she have had time, while serving her family, to have gotten enlightened in the first place? Sometimes I think of all the music that didn’t get composed, the stories that didn’t get written, the art that didn’t get made because the particular genius who alone could have done it had two X chromosomes and was therefore expected to serve others first–and the thought of this loss makes me feel crushed and empty like a discarded soda can.
But it’s not just that. It’s that I know I’m not really serving anyone yet in the way I want to be–as a novelist. The submission process is a long one. Sometimes it seems interminable. I know it isn’t. But I’m impatient, and I have to work every single day to keep myself from falling into the pit of despair, which is the worst possible place for a writer to be and yet one of the easiest to end up in.
I’m trying to come up with some important answer to this question, but I can’t. Not yet. Maybe I’m not at a point where I can even think about this one. My resistance tells me that this may be one I need to sit with for a while. Maybe it’s one I need to tuck away for now and bring out later, when I’m in a position to answer it.
I could keep going–about the readers I want to write for, about why I write, about what all of this means to me and why I have to do it this way–but right now, that feels about as productive as attacking the vacuum cleaner.