Thursday, January 6, 2011

AIN'T TOO PROUD TO BEG

TIMES SQUARE BEGGAR, 1960'S
Photo: Erika Stone
One of the great things about being so completely oblivious to much of what's going on in the world is that I am often pleasantly, if not insanely surprised, by things that other people have apparently known about forever. The other day for instance I went to a fellow blogger's site and at once my eyes were drawn not to his most recent post, but to a darling little widget at the top that said "DONATE NOW."


Who knew? Here I've been nattering on about my cash flow, or lack thereof, and it turns out any Tom, Dick, or Harry can simply set up a paypal account and the $$ will start flowing in. How can you say there is no God? In three and half years, I'll be 62 and can start collecting $882 a month according to the Social Security retirement calculator I consult every other day or so, but until those filthy rich days arrive, really, feel free to hit that little yellow logo over there to the right (paypal and/or credit card(s)), let the good times roll, and please accept my heartfelt, everlasting thanks.  I have got my expenses down to rent, phone, netflix, AAA, website hosting, and car insurance but a gal has to eat, tithe, and it must be said, purchase an occasional piece of finery at Goodwill. Plus shell out approximately six and a half million dollars every year for dental care.


More to the point, I'm continually musing about the whole notion of  "the writing life." A friend recently sent me the link to a Slate piece entitled "MFA vs. NYC: America Now Has Two Distinct Writing Cultures: Which One Will Last?" and after reading it, I, for one, hope neither of them lasts. The piece contained not a single word remotely connoting the glory, nobility, art, and sacrifice of writing, and only corroborated my own career-long resistance to remotely participating in any kind of literary "scene," not that anyone's asked. But seriously, publishing, like much of the rest of the world, is in an extreme state of flux and I'm wondering whether if, together, we could not all create some new kind of model...not just for the writing life, but for life in general.

At the risk of sounding corny, one of the things this blog has shown me is that what we really want is not to get all the things we think will make us happy, but to give all we have...but that is the subject of many future posts, as is why I quit my job as a lawyer and in fact recently resigned from the California bar altogether. I happen to have a NYC agent, but I've also recently learned of (self-) publishing-on-demand--oh I have been coming out of my shell and learning all KINDS of things--and am seriously thinking of signing on with amazon and selling any future work directly from my blog. Or not.

courtesy makethingsinteresteing.wordpress.com
For now I'll just say I'm with Léon Bloy, the nutcase (in a good way) Catholic convert-ranter-writer from the late 1800’s who refused to get a day job to support his family, was perpetually penniless, and had a thing for down-and-out prostitutes. In Pilgrim of the Absolute, he wrote:

"[T]he weightiest of my books, the one of which I am most proud and the only one, up to now, which would dare present to God, without the least fear...is the ripe fruit of fifteen years of labor...and of an even greater number of years spent in sufferings chosen by myself, for the love of God—whereof you are absolutely incapable of having any conception, for some were worse than the most miserable destitution.
          
This work of 'pure glorification' had no success, nor could it have had any. God alone was witness to my struggle and sole judge of the frightful difficulties I had to overcome in order to concentrate, in so few pages and in so searching a form, the vastest theme there is. In an age long past when men did not scorn these things, such a work would probably have attracted attention. It appears that today this cannot happen, since even my friends are unaware of its existence. Therefore let it exist solely to glorify God, like some poor little star lost beyond sight in the sky’s depths."

Either that, or I can keep writing and posting, to my profound pride and honor, on Shirt of Flame! Christ himself, after all, observed that the laborer is worthy of his hire. [Luke 10: 7] And in the meantime, let it be known far and wide that I, Heather D. King...

8 comments:

  1. Dear Heather, I wish you the best of luck: at least people read your blog. The little "donate" button on my blog has never been used.

    I've also been half-heartedly self-publishing on Lulu for a few years and last year received one small royalty check. I intend to get together a volume of my best fiction, maybe that will be of more interest to the public than Rosary meditations or an arrangement of the psalms.

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  2. Thanks, Robert, as you say by far the most important thing is...well, not even that people read the blog as that I write it...and of course will continue to as it is the most fun I have had in ages...the guy on the streetcorner playing the violin puts out his battered little case for people to throw money into, after all--but interesting how the whole issue brings out many uncomfortable, triggering, warring feelings/thoughts, in ourselves and others...

    As for your own writing, personally, I love a good meditation on the Rosary and/or the Psalms!...I feel that writing what's closest to our hearts somehow goes toward the ongoing good whether it's of interest to the public or not...

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  3. Speaking of self-publishing, I assume you saw this, and perhaps are even referring to this:

    "Amazon's promise in October to give authors who self-publish through its Kindle store a 70% royalty rate, far greater than the 25% in a standard publishing contract, inspired panic throughout New York's publishing houses."

    I didn't know they were doing this.

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  4. Heather, I love your "perhaps you'd like to..." Very gracious indeed! I have to say, I wish we lived closer to one another. I would love to have coffee with you and meet weekly to discuss this writing life we so love and sometimes despise, too. :) I'm also very glad you've discovered blogging. I was resistant at first, too, but have come to really appreciate how it keeps the writing wheels well-oiled. And there is immense satisfaction in posts going up immediately, whereas I'm still waiting for a home for my memoir, which took so much of bleeding my soul onto paper. This blog thing is more immediate, though oftentimes just as powerful a sharing tool as a book. So, keep at it, and I will too, and I do hope you will find success on all counts. You already have, really, having left the legal world, which was lifeless to you. That's worth its weight in gold.

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  5. But seriously, publishing, like much of the rest of the world, is in an extreme state of flux and I'm wondering whether if, together, we could not all create some new kind of model...not just for the writing life, but for life in general.

    I don't know if it's "extreme"--though it is certainly beat up right now. American publishers in down markets feel obliged to play things safe, and therefore we see a spate of right wing political books, for instance.

    New models are mostly old models with makeup. In 2000, many thought the bricks and mortar banking world would all but disappear within a decade--and banks themselves were hoping for it--but street presence is still very important to banks. Online billpay has barely been more of an "innovation" than ATMs were in the 1980s--another innovation that promised we would never have to go inside a bank again.

    Books as handsome or precious documents are still important to readers, and they are to writers too. As Jonathan Galassi said at the last BEA, "authors will continue to want to hand their mothers their nicely-printed book for a long time."

    Publishing houses may become more like book "one-stops" in the future--"get your editing - printing - marketing - distribution - publicity here, because we do it all, and we do it all"--but in a way they have always been that! Those are a lot of things for a writer to master all by his or her self. Publishing houses, one suspects, will continue to do it better, especially the business end, even if the selections they make seem capricious from time to time.

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  6. When I say new model I'm not so much talking about the specifics of the publishing world—about which, having after all published two books with mainstream presses, with a third on the way from a smaller Catholic press, I can say with all modestly I do know a little about, or all I need or want to. And which has also served me in many ways beautifully and well, and for which, along with my literary agent and the editors with whom I've worked, I'm deeply grateful (especially with my unfortunate tendency toward run-on sentences!) and in fact I'm humbled to the ground to have ever been published at all.

    Nor am I talking about all the things a writer has to master by him- or herself which, again, I can say I hope with all modesty, I have "mastered," if that's the word, or at least accepted more or less gladly as part of the package and done as best I can with.

    I'm talking about a "model"—of writing, of life—that features the victory of love over fear, an "order" where we actually believe that if we ask we will receive, that if we knock, the door will be opened, where we are free to express and act upon our deepest needs and desires to give and receive. Where we are not afraid, with tremulous hope, to climb the sycamore tree, as Zacchaeus did to get a better view of Christ; or to say To tell you the truth, I am open to receiving some spare change and here’s the modern version of a tip jar; where we have the courage to take a risk, make a mistake, or make fools of ourselves for love. In fact, the very reason writing means so much to me is that someone as weak and frightened as me ever left the security, benefits, steady income, and relative prestige of a job as a lawyer and set out at the age of 41 to "write"--with no mentor, no support, no guide other than the absolute, insane, rock-bottom conviction that writing was my calling, is one of the surest signs I know of a loving, ever-astonishing God.

    I don't need the imprimatur of the publishing industry--I have already earned it. I don't need to prove my credentials as a writer--they are written on my heart. That is why, or some of why, I could put out my tip jar. So when I say maybe there is a new model, I mean something way more radical than marketing and distribution. I have no idea what that will look like. But I do know that it is going to take all of us to create it…

    In the meantime--LONG LIVE BOOKS!!!...
    and many thanks for all your comments...

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  7. When I say new model I'm not so much talking about the specifics of the publishing world...I'm talking about a "model"—of writing, of life—that features the victory of love over fear, an "order" where we actually believe that if we ask we will receive, that if we knock, the door will be opened, where we are free to express and act upon our deepest needs and desires to give and receive.

    Forgive me for pressing, but--how is this a "new" model of writing?

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  8. Hello Joseph, I'm thinking that if we didn't live in so much fear, we'd be able to move more toward the truth, and that our writing would therefore be more likely to have the search for the truth, and the desire to love one another as Christ loves us, at its heart. Instead of being motivated by the market, peer pressure etc. we'd be motivated by beauty. Instead of trying to tear each other down, undermine, and attack we'd be joyfully absorbed in tending our own gardens. Instead of insisting that the other person is wrong, we'd try to examine where we might be wrong.

    And this whole way of being and seeing would result in literature, music and all other kinds of art what would convert hearts and that would endure. That's all. The idea isn't new, but the attempt to actually live that out, in writing, or in any other kind of life, is always new...

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