The Great Yawp in the Echo Chamber of the World

Previously Published on Blogetary 1.0 August 2014.

Whitman resonates with me. I can pick up Leaves of Grass and open it just about anywhere and within about a minute I’m saying, “Yes, that’s it exactly!” In my opinion Leaves of Grass is a true epic poem of the U.S. It might not be Homer’s Odyssey or Virgil’s Aeneid or Iliad, but Whitman uses the poems within this volume to try to encompass the greatness and the potential he saw in the U.S., and I feel him.

One of the passages that I have been thinking of a lot lately is about the great “barbaric yawp” — Walt Whitman’s description of our need to express ourselves:

“The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me—he complains of my gab and loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable.

I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Lines 1328-30

Many people didn’t really pay attention to the “barbaric yawp” until they saw Dead Poets Society, where Robin Williams’ character is trying desperately to get these young men to let go their yawp and make their mark on the world.

In a very real sense, Leaves of Grass is Whitman’s own “barbaric yawp” which he admits to being “untranslatable”.

But lately, sometimes it feels like everyone out there in the Internets is clambering to be heard. Are these authentic yawps though? Are they truly shout outs in expressing of ourselves? Our “Song of Ourselves”? Or are they merely grabs for attention?

Sometimes it feels like when we strive to make our truly authentic yawp sound out over the roofs of the world that no one is listening. It’s a big echo chamber and people are so busy trying to make themselves heard, or so tired of the yapping and yawping, and trying to tell the difference between the true and the fake, that they have gone off….

And so you reach your authentic self and try to really yell out, really let go, cuz this one’s for real baby —

And there’s no one to hear. No return answer, no acknowledgement that you’ve found your authentic self and are showing it to the world in this bold-as-brass expression!

Or maybe there’s a snort of derision.

And maybe it’s untranslatable.

That doesn’t make it any less authentic, or real, or absolutely your own expression that you have every right to put out there in the world. It just means that, like Whitman, sometimes we have to live with the fact that not everyone is going to get our “yawp”. We’re going to let loose and get a load of crickets in return. But that’s okay.

One of my recent strivings toward expressing myself has been to enter my book of short stories, UnCommon Faire: A Fiction Sideshow, into a contest for published collections of short stories of speculative fiction. It sounds like the college press (Etchings Press at University of Indianapolis) is trying to build up their library of scifi/fantasy short stories to use as study material, because even if you don’t win, they’re keeping the material for future use in their department library. And they want everything that’s a novella or smaller.

My striving to “yawp” in the direction of independent bookstores, of trying to reach beyond those people I know on the Interwebs, didn’t work. All but one of the 30 books I sent out on consignment was sent back to me. I would have loved for the bookstores to keep them, “just in case”, but in all cases they’d already kept them at least six months past their three to six month cut off. My yawp went unheard, or was untranslatable. The yell fell flat in the echo chamber of independent bookstores (Yes – I tried both Village Books and Skylight Books, and Chevalier’s was having none of it after my tiny little first book signing).

But this contest at UIndy — they HAVE to listen. They might snort in derision, but they HAVE to keep the book I send, even if I lose (most importantly if I lose). So, I tossed in my other three novellas (even though they were separate from the collection, they WERE novellas, after all – like Cinderella – they are still “ladies of the house”). I included my contest reading fee (otherwise known as a $20 bribe for them to keep my books!), and a letter explaining that the novellas were extra (not part of the contest) as I believe in not only proselytizing writing, but also proselytizing speculative fiction writing, so I was “donating them to the cause”.

The deadline is September 1. I put them in the mail on Monday. They arrived today (per USPS tracking number), and I feel like I can breathe. But I’m still crossing my fingers that some overly diligent Dudley or Dudleyette DoRight doesn’t decide to mail them back to me. I have sounded my “yawp” — or one of my “yawps”. And this time they have to listen. They just have to.

City of Dreams 2012 ad sm

“No one will ever love your stories as much as you do…”

Previously Published August 2014 on Blogetary 1.0.

A college friend of mine passed away over the weekend. It was quick, sudden, unexpected. He was someone who was loved by all. And while I mourn the loss of the friend I knew in college and pray for his family and close friends, I also — selfishly — mourn my failed plans to go visit he and his wife (another college friend) some day and show them the story with the character based on him. Mourn sharing the remembrances I have of asking him (one of my first adult friends I confided my need to write stories to — one of my first adult “geek” friends who unapologetically loved scifi, fantasy, and superheroes) about space/time continuums and how he thought they might work.

But that is not about the man. That is about the story. And going through that realization reminded me of this saying:

“No one will ever love your stories as much as you do…”

I remember reading or hearing that somewhere in some writers thing and immediately my brain, focusing on the absoluteness of the statement, came up with all the arguments about how that couldn’t be true. For example, there are lots of stories that a reader will focus on because of something in their own life and the writer, once that story or poem is out there, lets it go to have a life of its own. And there have been stories I wasn’t sure I liked at all, that other people who read them loved. So, when I first encountered that statement my kneejerk reaction was to reject it.

But now I understand the statement a little more. Stories are a little like children (especially novels). And every parent/child relationship is different, and that is a little bit what it is like. No one loves a baby like their mother or father. No one else woke up in the middle of the night with an idea about that story. No one else watched the main character morph and grow into his or her final self as they went through the story. No one cried and screamed and stayed up until 3 a.m. with that story. You. The writer did.

And yes, by the end of that story, you are so over it. You have spent sooooo much time with that story you can’t wait for it to get out of the house. Like a teenage boy driving his parents nuts, you want to shove the story out the door and tell it to go get a job or play ball in the street or SOMETHING. But, like the teenage son (or daughter), if you shove it out the door, send it out to other people before it’s ready, then you might be asking for trouble. And some stories, like children, take longer to get out the door than others. That’s life.

I confess. I have had a tendency to use the submissions process as a sort of pro tem source of feedback for my stories and poems in the past. I’d do the best I could, get a sketch of feedback from friends, rip through the proof and then send it out. And cry when it wasn’t accepted. But then in the meantime, after all that time out in the world, I could look at the story and see aaaaalllll the mistakes. And then if there were editor’s comments, there were even others pointed out. I had sent my poor child out into the world without his or her galoshes and raincoat. I had forgotten to straighten their jacket and remind them to say please and thank you. It wasn’t the story’s fault it had failed, poor thing. It was mine!

I used to say, and still kind of think, that you don’t exist in writer world unless you have a submission out there to show editors you still are around. So, I used to feel this pressure to always keep something out there. “Don’t forget me! Remember I am out here writing. Like my stories and poetry!”

But I’ve been learning that pushing stories and poetry out there too soon is like pushing your kids out in the crosswalk before teaching them how to look both ways. Sometimes it’s just good to enjoy this creation you’re creating. Don’t think about where it will go and what it will do. Revel in the creation and the shaping and the editing and revisions. Really take time with the proofing and the feedback from friends and the research to get things right. Just spend time and sink into the world. It will leave your hands soon enough, most likely.

In the meantime, just love your children. Because no one else will love that story like you do.