Ain’t No Harm In That, Girl

In our previous home, the one we moved out of last year, my carpenter/contractor husband had converted the dormer-style attic into a large, sun-filled office that we shared. Everyday I would sit in my ‘half’ of the attic at my glass writing desk amidst so much space and light and attempt to write out my insides.

In that office, on the window ledge next to my desk, I kept a little altar: incense; candles; crystals; Buddhas; saints’ cards, mandarin oranges, and vials of holy water from Knock and Lourdes. Yes, this Irish Catholic girl got a little Zen crazy.

I also kept a bookmark that my husband’s niece, Danielle, sent to me years ago, with a poem that begins “You Are A Writer …” A little girl I didn’t even know cared believed in me and her innocent faith is just one of the many things that has touched and fortified me over the years.

On that altar I’d also displayed a sheet of yellow notebook paper lined in light blue that listed thirty literary journals I really, really wanted my stories to be published in. At the time of our house move, as I was packing up, I held the yellow page, torn. The page was yellowed and drooping, sun-damaged, and the black-inked list barely legible. I almost tossed the sheet, but didn’t.

Today, that page remains on my altar in our current home. My office here is in the basement, rather than the attic, and is small and cold and dark. I need the light on all the time and the space heater blows regularly. There’s also that chaotic sense of the ever-growing contents of the room about to spill out beyond the walls. My altar here is on the two top shelves of a bookcase, away from the windows, and the yellow sheet of notepaper is faring much better, away from sun bake.

Every time I place a story in a magazine from this yellowed ‘Dream List,’ I make a check on the page. There are now twenty-three checkmarks. The Dream List is from about four years ago, when I first started publishing online and learned of Duotrope and the many, many magazines available to us as readers and writers. My Dream List today of publications to contribute to, were I to take the time to write one, would look very different to that of just a few years ago. There was a recent discussion on Facebook, largely between xTx and Barry Graham, on the hierarchy of literary magazines and writers’ shifting ambitions. Graham maintained that if a magazine was good enough for your work once, it should remain good enough for your work. And I agree, for the most part, but the desire to move ourselves up the hierarchical tower of literary magazines shouldn’t discredit or damn anyone.

My ‘Dream List’ today has changed because I’m ambitious. I want to further my career, widen my readership, and garner greater respect. One key way to do that is to publish my work in magazines that are highly valued, both nationally and internationally. I also want to earn money for my writing and see it win awards and recognitions. My Dream List has also changed because I’m now a better and more confident writer. I aim now for publications I once believed out of my reach. Publications I didn’t believe I deserved to be published in. Publications I never believed my work was good enough for. Now I believe different.

Every acceptance I’ve received from a magazine editor has pleased me, and some acceptances have delighted me more than others, particularly where I especially admire the magazine’s editors and aesthetics, and where the magazine is more widely valued, has a bigger readership, and publishes ever-more brilliant and exciting writers.

When I look out the window of my basement office and into our back garden, I see an orange wall, black railing bars, our daughters’ bicycles, my husband’s rusted, blue wheelbarrow, and in a straight row the skinny calves of young green trees. The trees grow and grow, and reach every higher. Who’d put limits on a tree?

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2 Responses to Ain’t No Harm In That, Girl

  1. tanita says:

    I love how organized your ambitions are. I just… wanted to write… stuff. It was about as vague as that. I was very fortunate to find my way to an editor in a large publishing house – the largest young adult and children’s imprint – and I guess there is a certain amount of hierarchy – but I’m just glad to be published. I don’t even know how to think in terms of ambition. Not that I’m lacking it, but I don’t know what else to wish for that isn’t dependent on me just writing more and better.

    Go, trees. I love the imagery of them with skinny calves. I love the imagery of us shooting up as writers, and surpassing our dreams.

  2. Ethel Rohan says:

    Thanks, as always, Tanita. I love YOU.