Publish or perish.
Although this phrase was birthed by academic writing, I don’t take this aphorism lightly. Writing is a vital component of the humanities, and the humanities endure, defining what it means to be human. I’ve always had a dream of publishing: at first it was a book of poetry, then perhaps a collection of short stories or even a novel. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Mark Antony says, “The evil that men do lives after them;/The good is oft interrèd with their bones” (Act III scene II). This line resonates with me; I don’t want to be remembered by the mistakes I’ve made in my life or by the mundane or morose anecdotes that may be passed down. After I watched the animated Disney movie Coco, I don’t want to be forgotten by my family.
A character in Coco named Chicharrón disappears from the Land of the Dead because nobody remembers him anymore; there are no photos of him in existence, and his family no longer honors his memory. He simply dissolves into nothingness. This concept frightens me. If I could be published in this world, perhaps my memories and thoughts can live on. This is definitely over-the-top thinking, narcissistic at best. Instead, I can leave a treasured legacy to my children, my grandchildren, and perhaps reach further out in the world and across time.
When I retired from teaching, I was given a three-month membership to Vocal. I dabbled with this platform, testing out the waters, seeing what it had to offer. I checked out the work of modern-day writers after spending a lifetime of teaching literature from Beowulf to Dylan Thomas. What was new? What’s on the horizon? What are people discussing today? How many people are still reading and writing when social media exists?
Turns out that many people still read, still prefer books or Kindles in their hands, or sitting alone listening to audiobooks. Minds are still growing, reaching out, and touching the endless possibilities of being part of the human community. It was right there on Vocal. I wanted to join that promise of unfettered writing since I wasn’t weighed down with grading essays and lesson planning.
As 2024 plays out, I want to jump back in, double dutching across paper and platforms, spilling out the labyrinthine recesses of my mind to the world. The beginning of the year is an excellent time for resolutions, for reflections, for taking steps toward self-care and enlightenment. I haven’t written as much as I’d hoped to, and I want to change that. I know that life unfolds, and should be celebrated when joyful, mourned when heartbroken, and saddened by frustration or setbacks. I also know that I’ve used writing to make it through these uncertain times, making notes on napkins or lines on the back of a receipt. It’s time to revise my writing plan.
First, I will visit Vocal more often. Once a week at the least, daily if possible. I love the Challenges and enjoy the mental gymnastics these exercises provide. Words are building blocks of thought, and I can rearrange them endlessly to create new pieces and inspire introspection. I enjoy reading what others have put forth understanding the amount of trust it takes to “put it out there” for the world to read. I want to “sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world” as Walt Whitman wrote in “Song of Myself.” I want my voice to be heard as the tiniest people of Whoville did. I want to be Horton listening to the voices of others as well.
I plan to attend my Writer’s Guild meetings each month. After winning my first Challenge, I was invited by a former peer to join this local group where we grow as writers through retreats, guest speakers, and share sessions. I get insider tips on how to publish my writing. To hear constructive criticism on my writing is both exhilarating and daunting. As I taught my students: everything we write is a draft. There’s always room for improvement. Write, rewrite, edit, proofread, wait a day, repeat.
The first month of retirement (July 2021), I posted a request on my Facebook page: “Hey! I'm publishing on Vocal+ right now. Short stories, poems, fiction, non-fiction. CHALLENGE ME: Give me a topic (or list of 2-3 items) to write a short story on. First come, first served. I'll then upload it to Vocal+.” Every person who suggested a topic received their own short story with topics such as flat earthers, sentient spiders, tiny monkeys, and a super-specific “TA overthrows a teacher in a coup d'etat and becomes the new teacher, though the new TA regime isn't liked by everybody.” I had a great time researching and writing these stories and stretching my wings as a writer. The recipients enjoyed them, surprised that I followed through. Some even sent me topics they thought I wouldn’t write about because it was contrary to my personal stances. I researched it, spun it, and sent it back. One should never assume writers are lily-livered or spineless.
A variety of poems, prose, and plays comprise my writing collection. I want to mix things up a bit. One genre I’d like to explore is song-writing. A gently used keyboard is on my wish list; I have some musical training, and writing a song with both melody and lyrics would be exciting. For visual art, blank painting canvases await my vision inspired by one of my poems. I wrote a poem based on a photograph I took up in the mountains. Mixed media is an entertaining way to explore blending perspective and elemental harmony. How amazing would it be to create a unique genre?
The main goal of the year is to publish big. I have two and half books in various stages, and much more research is needed to finish. One book can qualify as fantasy, supernatural, mystery, and semi-autobiographical. The other book is autobiographical following a health journey. The end of that one isn’t in sight yet, but I know it’s just around the corner. I need to provide some current details and then comb through the whole piece for bubbles in the timeline. The “half books” are potential collections of short stories and/or poems, sorted by theme and/or intended audience. I will dedicate writing time each day, from a tiny ten minutes to an all-day affair. Writing is therapeutic.
Philosopher René Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am” as he contemplated the concept of reality. His ruminations were captured in his written words, and as such, he and his ideas exist today. Memorable writing like that requires thinking, and therefore, I exist. I want my dash (ref. Linda Ellis, “The Dash”) to be filled with humor, memories, creativity, and possibilities. I want my thoughts to be sifted and float through time as John Keats mentions in his sonnet “When I have Fears.” One day I also will cease to be, but my writing will remain. I want to wrap things up nicely and not toss them into a fireplace as Emily Dickenson did.
As I finish this particular yawp, I hear Whitman speaking to me again: “Missing me one place, search another;/I stop somewhere, waiting for you.” Maybe on a shelf in a library or a used bookstore. Perhaps I’ll be in the fiction section by my last name, or maybe I’ll be in the Dewey Decimal system around 810-818, but I’ll be there, waiting for you. Let’s meet up one day.
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