Women, Writers, and Those “White Hot Moments”

The bubble and I have a love-hate relationship.  It keeps me feeling safe, insulated, and even hopeful.  Outside the bubble, there are too many people who make no sense to me, and too many bad things to count.  There are so many horrific events, really, that  I am often left somewhere between wanting  to rail against an ugly world,  or wanting to curl up inside the shelter of idealism.

I waver, I struggle, I rage, I hide, I justify — I have what musician Daniela Nardi calls “white hot moments” — where I collide against myself, and that tiny piece of the universe around me.  I want acceptance / I don’t care if I’m accepted.  I want understanding / It doesn’t matter if other people understand.  I want success / Success isn’t that meaningful.

Writers, particularly those who write fiction, hear no a lot more than they hear yes.  Rejection is far more common than acceptance, which imbues the rare acceptance letter with a joy that has no grounding whatsoever in common sense.  You mean you’ll print the story I spent weeks sweating over, and pay me absolutely nothing but a copy of the book?  Yay! It’s hard for non-writers to understand that kind of thrill, but it exists, and it has less to do with seeing one’s work in print than it does with knowing that someone thought you wrote a story worth telling.

Like me, most of the women writers I know have a deeply hermitic side — their own version of the bubble.  They thrive in solitude, and carve as many free hours out of a day as they can in order to be alone with their stories.  When the work is done though, the mood shifts and the desire changes.  A finished story isn’t meant to stay pristine and isolated — it’s meant to get dog-eared, creased, bookmarked, and highlighted.  It’s meant to get dirtied by critiques, loved by some readers, hated by others, passed around, or given away.  A story is meant to have a life of its own, quite apart from its creator.

When a story is stillborn — when it never knows life outside the bubble, or dies upon its first gasp of outside air — there’s sadness and a sense of loss.  Some writers are too cool to admit this, but I’m not.   I am not cool enough to be indifferent.   I’m not, as Jewel once sang, fashionably sensitive and too cool to care.   I get nervous when I submit my work to publishers, and even when I post a new story on my blog.  I get a huge rush of joy when I get an acceptance letter or feedback, and feel somewhat crushed when my work is rejected or met with silence.

So yes, I pulled a story from this site.  Eleven hours, 473 readers, and zero comments later, the silence was too sad for me.  Some wonderful women* wrote me letters afterward saying some really beautiful things, all of which were deeply appreciated but still….those eleven hours filled me with doubt.  I think I could have done better — I know I could have written something that was not as elusive or enigmatic.

I also wondered if it was too gay.   I know most of my readers are straight, but I really don’t think about my sexuality or other people’s when I write.  Being a lesbian is as natural for me as other people’s heterosexuality, so I tend not to explain it or qualify it in my stories.  I don’t think I’ve even used the words lesbian or gay in any story I’ve written.  Straight writers don’t mention they’re straight, they just write what comes naturally, and so do I.  Readers here know me though, and the ones who’ve stayed aren’t the homophobic kind.

I wanted to give the story another chance for life, so I submitted it to a gay literary site that on first glance seemed to be a good match for me.  Still Blue: More Writing By (For or About) Working Class Queers.  It was rejected less than 24 hours later.  The author’s bios are considerably more impressive than mine — MFA’s, lawyers, award and fellowship winners — a different kind of working class than where I come from, but the stories, as might be expected, are good.  There’s no expectation that working class equals poor language, or an inability to speak of anything outside of the slum.   I appreciate that.  Wendell Ricketts has an eye for stories.  I can’t hold it against him that mine wasn’t one of them.  Instead, it just confirmed for me that the story needed work.  It confirmed that there was silence for a reason.

A white hot moment can last for days, and they are almost always unexpected.  On some days, our bubbles just aren’t insulated enough — or we feel a need to challenge ourselves by bursting them open and seeing what happens.  Of course we never know what we’ll feel about the outcome until we’re facing the consequences — and the dichotomous, sometimes fractured, parts of ourselves that are more strongly felt in a crowd than in solitude.

—————-

*With special thanks to the wonderful women I feel so privileged to know.  Along with Daniela, you helped turn my white hot moment into a manageable glow.

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30 comments

  1. sometimes your stories…the passion behind the stories….are so great it leave us lowly readers speechless. for me it takes time to form my thoughts about them and i know i’m not alone. even still, it’s like walking up to [insert favorite musician] and saying “nice song. i especially like what you did in the bridge.”

    submit it to The Sun Magazine. submit anything to The Sun….

    and don’t for one second doubt you are a gifted kick ass writer. i’m just sometimes left at a loss for words…

  2. I never had an opportunity to read it. Over the last few months, my blog reading style has changed, and I sometimes only get to my list once during the week. Yes, I saw on Twitter that you’d posted something, but since your work tends to be meaty, I didn’t immediately click over because I wanted to read it in a quiet moment. When I came over, it was gone.

    But 473 readers came by in 11 hours? WOW! Feel good about that! Comments or not, being read by that money people is a huge honor.

    I’ve been blogging for 3+ years and for the first 2+ years, my numbers rose steadily. When I went to a more literary/art format last February, my numbers fell.

    They have fallen steadily EVERY SINGLE MONTH for almost a year.

    My readership has dropped 80 PERCENT since last January, even though I have consistently updated 3-4 times a week and continue to “circulate” among social media. My numbers are now as low as they were when I first started.

    I am the blogging version of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button!

  3. OOPS. Should have proofed my comment.

    What a great slip–substituting “money” for “many.” Ah, the subconscious is a powerful truth teller. Yes I’d be happy if my work generated “money” and “that many people.”

  4. Jane, I did read your deleted piece and it was beautiful and amazing. I have to agree with Kris D., I needed to come back and re-read before commenting. Your talent is inspiring and your words filled with passion and emotion…sometimes it takes a while to digest it all to be able to offer you a worthy comment for your work.

  5. Ah Jane, another *spot-on* observation about writing. As has already been stated–it is often difficult to respond to a silk purse with a sows ear. Your piece was excellent. And over 400 readers in 11 hours, c’mon give us a little time.
    Your words sent me scurrying to my keyboard TO Write. You are appreciated.

  6. I was fortunate enough to read the piece you speak of, Jane, and to echo what has been stated already, it was a work that is not to be taken lightly. To dash off a quick, “nice job” or ” loved it” comment and flit off to another page in the blogosphere would be an insult.

    Your wordsmithing is light years beyond the pap of what is found in this format, but what your smithing evokes comes from puncturing deeply and precisely; just one acupuncture needle insertion into the singular node that releases all that binds me, much of which is difficult to revisit. Once triggered, it all must then be dealt with.

    I see it as your gift to me (us), Jane. And I’m still searching for something more than a humble “thank you” to acknowledge what you have bestowed and am far from knowing how to reciprocate.

  7. First let me say that the article above is something I relate to. Even though I’m not a writer, I am as your article said, a person of integrity, and seeing mediocrity make millions disgusts me.

    Second, I’m sorry because I’ve been here, I think, longer than most. I remember you saying a few times that you didn’t want or expect more than an “I read it, I liked it…or not, thanks”. I was also here when you had your first contest, and asked people who didn’t normally comment to come out of the woodwork and say hello.

    I read the story and had mixed feelings about it. I didn’t know if it was real life or fiction at first, although later I did catch the tags. It was a very strong piece, and I had to re-read it a few times. About the third or forth time, I got it…it was about reinventing love as something free from all of society’s expectations. Once I got that, I thought…. OMG, how do you think of these things? And then I didn’t comment. I didn’t even tell you that I was here.

    Teri and PirateQueen wanted to say something meaningful….I know though that even an “I’m here” would have sufficed. Like them, I think I fell into that trap of wanting my response to match the writing, when all you wanted to know was, “was it a story worth your reading”. It was, Jane.

  8. All of the comments just make me smile – thanks to Daniela Nardi for so eloquently stating what I could only say in a few short sentences. Don’t stop the magic—-

  9. Oh Jane, I KNOW. I know every feeling in this post, and the white hot feelings that preceded it. Your instinct to turn the comments off was a good one. It IS too hard to watch the empty page, and instead of watching, you should be off creating MORE stuff, and you make that harder to do for yourself when you take the silence as a sign of poor writing or a bad story.

    My advice is to get offline, or at least never, ever post your fiction or any other pieces of your best work here. It’s not good for your career, or your spirit. If you have to blog, blog about everyday stuff, not the stuff of your higher mind or soul.

    You know I know. Let this white hot moment lead you to something more tangible.

  10. oh Cyn I couldn’t disagree MORE! Even if for only selfish reasons, I would HATE HATE HATE for Jane to “get offline” !! Having this site to come to, these thoughts to read . . it is such a blessing, a pleasure, a window, a mirror, a breath of ‘real’ I would miss very much.

    Thank you, Jane. For what you say and how you say it and for taking the risks and sharing with us. I will never again read and leave without commenting. Even if it is only to tell you I have been left speechless!

  11. ONLY 400+ readers?! I’m amazed and impressed. I think that’s a fantastic response. A good friend of mine thinks blogs are narcissistic–if I had a book contract though, she would think that was great. It’s weird. As a writer, I wish I had a bigger audience–is that narcissistic? Aren’t all writers always addressing an invisible audience? Also I have to weigh in from the other side–part of my job is reading and accepting or rejecting essays. It’s a very subjective process and when an essay is rejected it doesn’t necessarily mean that the writing is bad. Sometimes it pertains to the mix of pieces scheduled for publication or simply that the approach doesn’t fit that that particular issue. I hate rejecting essays, because i hate getting my own work rejected, but I try to be kind.

  12. Kris – I followed you into the Sun on FB today.
    Neil – Um, okay. But it added to the weirdness.
    V – I’d rather have a small responsive group than a larger, indifferent one.
    Teri – All comments are worthy. Even just to say “I liked it” or “not my favorite”.
    Doris – knowing it inspired your writing is lovely!
    PQ – there’s no insult in “nice job”! Someone once just wrote “thanks”. I thought it was wonderful.
    Donna – done, and thank you.
    LBJ – yes. That last line. All I wanted to know. Thank you.
    Anne – Re-read what you wrote and laugh with me.
    Cyn – I am processing everything plus your letter. Thank you.
    SusanS – Thank you for that, and your letter.
    Nikki – You are an incredible writer. I think you’d have hundreds of comments if you promoted your site more. Your posts have touched me to the core several times.

  13. Jane everything you write is revelant, moving and worth the read. I check your blog every day and am always happy to see you have written something new for us.

  14. Didn’t read your mystery post, but I would hate to see you stop. Your work is jarring and thought provoking, but I come here for the humor/satire. I admire anyone who can put it out there and wait.

    Quiet regards,
    Lisa

  15. Dear Jane,
    Rejection. I am familiar, almost comfortable with it. Before my last book was picked up by a SMALL publisher it was rejected by all the big guys and about three dozen others. This was the book I gave up a regular paycheck and monthly column to complete. I questioned my sanity. I questioned my choices. But I never questioned the fact that THAT book needed to be in print. And ultimately it was.
    As a writer, I will never be rich. In fact, in this economic climate I question whether or not I could even support myself with my writing. Probably not. Fortunately I have a partner whose paychecks are ample, and so I write.
    I write because I am a writer.
    I cannot remember a time when I didn’t write. Writing is a passion, a compulsion, a calling, a joy. Most of my words are not for other people to read, although when they do and they like them, I’m thrilled.
    You, Jane, are also a writer. You string together words in your unflinching, provocative, startling Jane way.
    Your work is art.
    Your words are magical.
    It doesn’t matter how many others are unwillingly to pay.

    (And I, too, want to read that post!)

  16. I thought this was a very brave piece of writing to post, Jane. I think no matter what we do, we all struggle with the duality of wanting acceptance/ not caring if we are accepted. We seem to think it is better and perhaps somehow more spiritual if we don’t care. That the not caring is our goal, or should be our goal. However, maybe wanting to be accepted and validated is a basic human need. I don’t think you are uncool to admit this. I think it shows great strength to admit this to yourself and even greater strength and honesty to then share it with all of us. Thank you for doing that. Perhaps when we are “too cool to care” we are really shutting down our emotions, breaking our connectedness with others and somehow becoming less human. I know this is what I do. I try to keep myself in my bubble, thinking it is safer that way, that I can protect myself from being hurt this way. And that may be true … but at the same time it keeps me from fully living, fully loving and fully allowing myself to be loved by others. How much healthier it is, I think, to be able to admit our needs and speak them. So, thank you for breaking your bubble and helping me see how I create my own bubble. And the cost that comes with it.

    I always enjoy your writing, both fiction and nonfiction. It is always worth the read. That is why I keep coming back. Now that you have helped me understand that what you really need is simply some honest feedback and not necessarily some eloquent philosophical discourse, I will try to provide that. Although, I must say I always enjoy reading other’s responses, I have got caught up in the trap others have mentioned of thinking our comments have to be worthy of your writing.

    I have to ask … Do you really want to know if we don’t like a certain piece? So far, I haven’t read any I don’t like. Of course some grab me more than others. The writing you deleted I thought was worth the read, but honestly it didn’t grab me as much as some others have. But of course, we will all be drawn more to some than others based on our own life experiences. But always worth the read.

  17. You bring up some very interesting thoughts for me. My Great Grandmother wrote articles for several newspapers and my Grandfather kept journals and was a great storyteller so writing is something that’s somewhat in my genes. I love to write, but I know that I’m not that good at it. One of my life goals is to write a book. You’ve made me begin to question what lies beneath that goal. Most of the writing I do is really for myself I think. More so as a kind of release of random thoughts. But if my goal is to really write a book, then shouldn’t that mean I’m writing for others and not myself? If that’s the case I don’t think it’s possible. You’ve really given me something to think about with this article.

    BTW I didn’t get a chance to read the “Mystery Story” either… if I don’t post a comment it’s probably because I’m processing, procrastinating, or I have a 2 1/2 year old climbing all over me and never had a spare moment to read it. :) So please give me a chance to read everything you write before you remove it ok? :) Don’t tell my husband but I read your blogs far more often than his! lol

    Julia
    p.s. I know I’m rambling… it’s late and I’m too tired to edit but I think you’ll get it…. I hope.

  18. Ann, thank you. I love that you came with the Elephant Girl story & stayed.
    Lisa, I appreciate that, and if you’re a 70′s girl, you might like the beginning of my next story.
    Kate, I also can’t recall a time after 4th grade that I didn’t write. It’s always come more naturally to me than speaking.
    Suzanne, you nailed it about the duality. That’s exactly it. And yes, I do like hearing people’s gut reactions to a piece, whatever they might be, because it helps me understand things about my writing that I wouldn’t otherwise. Even saying “it didn’t grab me as much as others” is helpful…and much more assuring than silence.
    Julia, I think all writers write for themselves, but unless it’s a diary, it’s meant for others when the work is done. p.s. You didn’t ramble, and I’d never tell.

  19. Jane – I’m sorry I missed that post — I would love to read it. I must say that some of your posts leave me thinking about so much that a comment cannot be pulled from it. I look forward to your posts and thank yuo for putting it all out there. And the “white hot moments” resonated…..

    hugs, Jeanne

  20. I love to laugh at myself – it’s even more fun to laugh at myself with others!

  21. I’m just a mom, just a reader, and play at writing occasionally. I’m much to constipated and insecure to let it rip and experience success (It’s okay. I’ll get therapy.) I’m blown away by the talented writers that stay in the bubble. I think you’re great. I understand your feelings. So honest.

    My name’s Chris – first time commenter here. Nice to meet you.

  22. I felt the need to communicate. I have been a long time lurker, and I feel like I “know” you and the people who frequently comment. Although it is hard to join in the conversation with people who appear to be old friends, I believe that you and your community would welcome newbies. I also would love to read the mystery post, as I love your writing. I don’t ever feel like I have anything to add to the conversation, but you expressed the desire to hear from the silent masses. I am here, and I love love love reading what you have to say.

  23. Jeanne, Chris, and Corrine — thank you!

    New people are always welcome, and vital. I hope nobody ever feels like they wouldn’t fit in, because there’s really no “fit” here other than sharing stories and opinions, and I think the commenter’s views are every bit as important as my own.

    I’m working on a new post…hopefully it will be up tonight tomorrow late late tonight.

  24. Dear Jane,

    I’ve been writing for nearly 30 years, and I never stop being frustrated by how difficult it is to get my work published (or even featured in online publications). At the same time, though I know that writers (including me) typically eat their guts out trying to figure out why a particular piece didn’t make the grade with a particular editor, here’s what I’ve come to realize: You almost never really know why. Or let me put it another way: If you get rejected and you do understand exactly why, that’s very likely a sign that you shouldn’t have submitted in the first place — the piece wasn’t ready, it wasn’t the right publication, or whatever else your gut told you was true. For the Still Blue Project, I’m looking for a very specific kind of writing — it has to be good writing, obviously, but it also needs to combine queerness and working-classness in a way that appeals to my aesthetic. That’s not a very objective criterion, but it’s mine. Of course it’s true that Still Blue does feature work by “MFAs and award winners,” but there’s also work on the site from people who’ve never published anything before, who don’t have advanced degrees, or who do something else for a living (other than write, I mean). The answer to all of this, in any case, is to keep writing–though it sounds like you hardly need my encouragement for that! Your work will keep getting better (from your own standpoint, as well as in the eyes of editors and readers) and you’ll have more of what looks to you like success. In the end, the people who get published are those who simply never, ever give up. In closing, I can’t resist one tiny piece of advice: Beware of those who tell you that every word you write is the most amazing thing they’ve ever read, that you’re an unrecognized genius, that you’re the incarnation of Virginia Woolf — as artists, we need that kind of praise for our morale, which is often fragile, and that’s just fine. As a practical and technical matter, however, it is all but useless for your writing. Kind regards. W.

  25. Thank you, Wendell. Your advice is appreciated, and something I always try to keep in mind. I love what you’ve done with your site, and thank you for dropping by to offer your words of experience.

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