Oranges. Christmas Oranges. That was the first time I saw a writer published whom I knew. It started with a simple story, autobiographical, about remembering eating oranges at Christmas time during the depression. That author was my grandmother. She was proud that it was shared with a larger audience and that something she wrote had enough merit to someone else. It was published in a San Diego newspaper and given a decent spread. I never knew if she received any monies for its publication but I knew it meant a great deal to her to be published. She cut it out and framed it and hung it in a short hallway in the back of her house. It was there until she passed away a few years back, out of sight and on display.
A bulldog and a boy. That was the second time I saw a creative person in my life find their way onto the printed page. Funny cartoons about the misadventures of Gruff the dog and his friend. They were printed in the Madison Tribune. Their artist and author, Benjamin Bautz, my older brother. A talented artist and writer he created this dog and cartoon and took it to the Madison local paper and sold it to the publisher. He even went so far as to start seeking syndication. His run lasted for a year or two, then he stopped when he became a teenager. He’s still writing. He’s a great humorist and writes some fantastic offbeat novels. Probably that most talented author (this may seem biased but it’s not) I’ve read in quite some time. He’s prolific too. He has had two books published on small indie labels, The Book of Goat, and Johnny Chaos: Book One of the Arrows of Chaos. He has several other self-published works.
A children’s book was written. I watched the manuscript go out in the mail over and over and over. I watched as the small envelopes came back. Rejections. I remember watching the manuscript, neatly typed and clean on watermarked paper, go into its cardboard coffin, the lid sliding shut. The box placed into the back of a closet on top of a green leather bag containing a bowling ball. The darkness swallowing the manuscript, its words lost to the ages. It’s author, my mother. The most literate person I’ve ever known. She’s read more books than I can fathom. While we winnowed away hours watching disposable tele-stories about stuntmen, ex-cons living with judges, talking cars and hillbillies never meaning no harm, she read. She reads almost a book a day. She’s never tried to publish again.
I understand where I get my drive to create. I see where the struggle and passion need to be. I’ve watched and waited and understand the pain of being rejected. I’ve seen better voices than my own stifled and unrecognized. My main quality the keeps me breathing is persisting. I don’t know how to quit, when to quit or why I should quit. I believe and that keeps me breathing, working and pushing. I quit hard because I loathe the end. The end of dreams, the end of hope and the end of me.
I see success is limited by initiative, passion, persistence and a willingness to accept failure as a final answer. My every inclination is to blindly push forward and everything else be damned. I saw what success and failure has meant to those I care about. I want the former for myself and refuse to allow the latter to define me. I know why I write and I know that its in my blood.