I knew I loved to write at a young age. In fourth grade I started to write little short stories in pencil on half sheets of loose leaf paper. The stories were my escape from the social pressures of fitting in at a new school. I was a shy, introverted kid, more happy alone than anywhere else. Writing was my outlet and my ticket to a world of adventure and, evidently, a fair amount of tragedy.
Most of my stories had a heavy moralistic message to them. Looking back, I can blame this on my Catholic upbringing where righteousness ruled the day. That and the fact that the Catholic faith is a fair target for most everything, it seems. My characters were often the victim of their own wanderings from the straight and narrow path that my young mind felt was the one and only true road. Some reaped what they sowed, others were just the victim of natural and man-made disasters like flood and fire. All of the stories were my way of working out justice as only a fourth grader could.
When I showed my first story to a couple of friends, their response spurred me on to write a second, then a third. Eventually my homeroom teacher, Sister Patricia, found out about them and asked if she could keep them in a special box of student projects for the year. I think I told her no, only because I didn’t want the attention. So, one minute I was writing because someone praised my work, and the next I was shunning attention because it made me uncomfortable. Such was the conflicted life of a shy young writer.
Fast forward nearly fifty years and you will find that I am still that introverted writer working out my escapes from reality via my words on a page. I have two published memoirs and two poetry books, with a third one with Unsolicited Press forthcoming in October of 2018. The accolades for my efforts have taken me by storm and I’d be lying if I said I ever expected this kind of success this quickly. Granted I am a small press, small potatoes writer, but I am enjoying it for what it is; a rewarding, creative outlet that I cannot imagine not doing. Every book, short story and poetry acceptance gives me an adrenaline rush as big as my first publication acceptance eight years ago, a simple little sixteen line poem.
At the same time, the price of success means selling one’s soul a bit. Publication means public readings, book promotion, horn tooting, elevator speeches and lots of glad handing. Most of these activities push me far outside my comfort zone. There is part of me that is still that shy fourth grader creating worlds with a number two pencil and half sheets. Now it just takes the form of clickety-clacking on my laptop at the library while listening to Pink Floyd on my headphones. These items are my armor. This is my Buddah posture of contentment that screams, “Leave me alone! I am seeking Zen.”
Recently I was appointed Poet Laureate for the Village of Wales, Wisconsin. Wales is a small village of about three thousand residents a short drive from where I live. The appointment is not a huge deal, but I was both honored and flattered to be considered. One of the poetry education and appreciation tasks of the position is to read a couple of poems in front of the Village board before their monthly meetings. As usual, this requirement ramped up my anxiety, as does any public appearance. However, after I’d read that first time, I had a nice banter back and forth with the board and the citizens that had us all laughing and helped us relax. I came away from the whole experience a richer person and realized that if I hadn’t pushed myself outside my shell, I’d have missed it. Not to mention it raised awareness about my writing and my books.
So, as I prepare for yet another reading a week from today and another signing at the end of the month, I do so knowing that these appearances are all part of a writer’s cross to bear. I liken it to being a parent of two children. Launching them into their college experiences was a leap of faith for me. And, like presenting and promotion, I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. It worries me.
But in the end, it is necessary and it’ll all work out.
Jim has two published memoirs, The Portland House: a ‘70s memoir, and Dirty Shirt: a Boundary Waters memoir, by eLectio Publishing. He also has two poetry collections, Written Life and Reciting From Memory. His nonfiction has been published in Main Street Rag, Sundown Press and others. His poetry has been published in many different journals. Jim currently resides in Waukesha, WI. For more information, visit: http://jimlandwehr.com