Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Vow of Silence

I am thinking of taking one... a vow of silence, that is. This because I am told over and over again, in one way or the other, to keep my thoughts to myself.

My kids, of course, never want me to say anything to them other than, "Sure you can have some more money." The silence I am vowing in this instance has more to do with the fact that I have no more money than anything else.

My church members sometimes want me to speak only "smooth things," as it were, and if platitudes are all I might offer, moralisms masking as the gospel, little ditties on this and that, then I ought to take a vow of silence.

More to the point today however is this:

Various editors have rejected me enough now that I have to conclude that I have nothing very interesting to say. Which has left me to examine myself to see whether I write because I think I do have something to say or only because I like the idea of seeing my words and name in print. Maybe I should just shut up till those ambiguities are cleared up.

Recently, I wrote a piece that I rather liked. I sent it to about twenty of my "friends" in the "business," some of whom had in various times and ways commended my work, asking for their opinions and suggestions as I tried to ready the piece for submission to a journal I have written for once and perpetualy long to write for again. The only response I got--the only response I got--was from the most arrogant, self-important (and, damnably, successful) scholar I have ever had the duty to endure. Or maybe he is only that way to me. To others he is, apparently, a resource and a blessing. He neither likes nor respects me, however; I disappointed him both scholastically and morally, and for thirty years now I have been chilled by his Texas shoulder with most every chance meeting or conversation.

Note to my former professor: I am SORRY already. Can you in your Barthian sensibilities find it in your head or heart to forgive me? To treat me with a little hospitality?

So why did I even bother to send my stuff to this guy? Only, I guess, because I really do respect his knowledge, his expertise, his success, and like a starved child hoping for the least attentions of his distant father, I keep hoping that one of these days something I do or write will garner a blessing ("have you no blessing for me, Father?" I guess not). Ironically, his wife read one of my recent books and liked it. He has refused to read it. Excuse me, has not yet had time.

His email regarding the piece excoriated me, suggested that the "good editors" at this particular magazine would "laugh me to scorn" over such an offering--as much as he he had already done, I suppose. I prayed so hard over those next nervous weeks, unseemly prayers, I guess, for a measure of vindication, that the piece would be published just to give me a bit of satisfaction over my old foe.


But it was close. The rejection I got was a "good one," if you could call it that. The piece got a serious reading but the editors "finally passed." I forwarded a copy to the guy, swallowing one last gulp of bitter, humble pie, and I am sure he gloated at what amounted to a confession (no, that is too strong; he most probably did not smile gleefully but frowned, shook his head with a "how typical" kind of "duh," this being one more evidence to him of my fecklessness and culpable ignorance (could you not see that this was unworthy?!) and confirmed not only in his eyes either but also by both the email from the editor and, I guess, the silence of the others to whom I sent the piece).

So I am thinking of putting away my pencils and parchment. I do not need to do this to myself time after time. I already know I am a joke.

But every time in the past I have done so, made this same kind of vow, determined neither to write nor to submit anything ever again--and certainly not to share anything in advance--there comes after a while this urge, like an obsession, like a demand that I try it all again, put something down on paper, string together a couple of thoughts with a strand of metaphor and hope.

A fool for Christ? Just a fool? Who knows for sure.

How I wish I could inhabit in my own sensibilities that remarkable verse from Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians: "It is indeed the smallest of things to me to be judged by you or by any human court. Indeed I do not even judge myself."

Well, okay. Good for him. For my part, I am just the opposite.


Rachelle said...

Tom, you've left me all speechless here. There are not many things more frustrating than the publishing world. Yet those of us drawn to the written word, and those of us who feel like words are constantly bursting out of us, just looking for a place to land, will always pursue it no matter how painful.

Yes, I understand this journey.

Chris Tessnear said...

Rachelle is right! Don't be silent. You still have much to say that needs to be heard.