A Consolation Prize

About eight weeks ago, I submitted a piece of writing to a national contest sponsored by a magazine. (Complete with 40 dollar entrance fee.) Yesterday they informed me I wasn’t chosen.

Part of the deal, however, was that someone from the magazine would send applicants thoughts on their submission. Among other things, they told me that the piece was the work of “an immensely talented writer,” though it lacked the “heart and soul” they were looking for in the contest entries.

I’m disappointed I didn’t win. I appreciate their compliment. I’m somewhat confused by their finding little “heart and soul” to the piece, but it was their heart and soul, not mine.

But at any rate, now that it isn’t exclusive anymore, I’m sharing the piece below. I call it “Literary Lapidary.”

 

In my writer’s mind, a pick ax dangles ever present on my belt. A landscape of boulders, cliffs, rock faces and the occasional diamond mine surrounds me. From these are hewn, (with constant labor) the phrases, sentences, fragments and clauses-,the lists and letters, plots, points and protagonists. The thoughts and metaphors, remembrances and explanations, all the words I compose.

Particulates of rock dust powder my hair, my clothes, my shoes. Calluses and scabs and scars and fresh, bleeding cuts adorn my hands; they are the price of gaining passage to my voice.

On certain days the ax swings dormant at my side. On other days I call upon reserves of strength and swing away at my own personal Gibraltar. Most days lie in between; I excavate the crossroads of the real world and my mind.

I have uncovered novels in this fashion, and poems in this fashion and essays in this fashion. Into the tumbler of revisions they go, until they shine and glimmer in a manner worthy of my name. These are my offerings in which I am well pleased.

Then, of course, there are the “lesser” finds: The cloudy gems and broken crystals. These are “imperfect specimens”, uncovered far more often as I dig than that which is destined for museums. A turn of phrase, a partial narrative, a character without a home, or a home with no one in it. These I save as well, in my private collection. For they are the treasures I unearth, all be they broken, common, heavily included. I hacked my way through mountains just to reach them, when no other person did or could.

Now, I have known the muse. Here and there, he or she or they wander into my life, and bestow on me a gem already cut and clean, and move on, with perhaps a wink. Thus far, perhaps a half a dozen times I’ve known this gift.

With somewhat greater frequency than this, I look up from my digging, and the dust clears, and a muse is leaning on a distant rock formation, eating an apple or sipping coffee. They throw their hand up, nod their head, and something distracts me. I look back and they are gone. Yet now I hew the ax, as hard as ever, where they stood. With no little bit of sweat I do in fact uncover wonders.

As a rule, however, I am not blessed with constant inspiration. Ideas do not exactly soak my mind like a monsoon soaks the ground. God love the writers who find their ideas that way; I hope they know their gift.

I, however, am a different sort. A geologist of genius, a literary lapidary. The writer’s life does not come to me; I must go to it, and do so over and over again, sharpened pick axe in hand, ready both to swing all day, and catch the muses when they opt to appear.

Stories must be told, and I am here, with my ax. I keep swinging.

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