Ignis fatuus, invisibles, and the ivory tower

My husband and I moved cross-country for several reasons: to establish our professional careers, to spend our first year of marriage being self-reliant (and reliant on each other), and to travel and see and experience living elsewhere while we’re young.

Our year abroad is coming to an end, so we’ve decided to move back.

It’s been amazing to begin our marriage this way. We came here without personal contacts, without pets or kids, without a crutch to lean on. We navigated entirely new places together, furnished an apartment, and learned to efficiently pare down and pack our possessions. Moving is never as easy or less stressful than with the right person, and this time around we have it down to a science.

Our partnership is a fixed recognition of equals, even as our selves are constantly in flux. With many years behind us, I can only reflect that we didn’t get married because we had something to prove. We got married because we had nothing left to prove.

The same principle applies to the work I wanted to pursue post-relocation: building my freelance editing portfolio and client base, and working toward publishing my own novel(s).

I won’t forget when the Mr. told me, essentially, with so much sincerity and enthusiasm: “Well, of course you have to.”

He meant that I had to keep doing what I love because I had nothing left to prove.

It’s an assumption that beginning writers have everything to prove — that they have to publish X works of short prose in prestigious literary journals to secure an inkling of success. But the One True Path to Establishing Yourself as a Writer is a myth.

In an age when social networking and self-promotion is the business norm, I’m content to stay behind the scenes. I actively pursue work that offers no public recognition. And I prefer it.

I don’t blog with an expectation of commentary or “getting discovered” — that’s not how it works. If it can offer perspective, wonderful. But getting published means putting in the hours and playing the long game.

It’s what I love to do, and it’s not “a living” on its own. It is, however, a lifestyle. With a degree in the arts, the education never ends.

There came an epiphanic moment, more a bombshell than a lightbulb, when I accepted that I had nothing to prove to anyone who asks. I only had to prove it to myself, and to do that, I had to dig in deep. To research, study, practice, all on my own time.

That moment came when we set up desks in our apartment, the first writing space I could call my own. It’s where I worked day after day, in an entirely strange place, in solitude. I had my own veritable ivory tower, and I enjoyed it while it lasted. I think Stephen King said it best in On Writing:

Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.

It would have been all too easy not to believe in myself. To think I was chasing an ignis fatuus, a ghost-light, a “hope or goal that leads one on but is impossible to reach, or something one finds sinister and confounding” (Wikipedia). But it’s incredible what I’ve found myself capable of accomplishing with the belief of someone else, and the external support of friends.

It means being unafraid to work in an ivory tower, become invisible, and let that ghost-light lead me where it may.

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