When I was granted a summer 2014 writing residency in Prague, I knew I would have to start admitting to people I’m one of those, you know, writers. That, while others spend their non-working hours attending birthday parties, growing tomatoes or spelunking, I’m happily hunched over a page, creating characters and searching for exactly the right dialog for those made-up characters in my made-up stories.
Usually, I’m pretty outgoing. But I don’t say too much about my own writing. For one thing, people who aren’t familiar with the long, solitary process often equate writing with publishing.
“What have you written?”
“A couple of novels.”
“I don’t think I’ve heard of them.”
“They’re under my bed.”
This is when I get the raised eyebrow, the look of pity. And I suppose writing can seem like a sorrowful endeavor. At the end of a lengthy road, what we have in our hands often does land under the bed. Or, buried in a stack of spiral notebooks we’ve been filling while squirreled away in garrets. Or even in the reject pile, when we finally try to market what we’ve worked on so diligently.
Yet writing, like any other activity we pursue for love, is an end in itself. As with knitting, gardening or playing soccer, there’s a comforting familiarity in handling the tools. There’s an understanding of how things have to come together. There’s growth over time, and an ability to draw back and look at what we’ve created. Finally, there’s a headiness in getting something exactly right and a triumph when we finish–even if it doesn’t go anywhere but under the bed.
And so, when I received the news that I’d be going to Prague with nineteen writers of all ages, genders, genres and experiences, I mentally prepared myself to reveal to others that I write. That, if you count the weepy poems of my youth, I’ve been writing for half a century. I got ready to discuss the joys and disappointments of working for hours at a keyboard. And I braced myself for the question of how widely I’d published.
As I knew they would, the comments came. Like rapid fire.
“Wow, Prague! Where’s Prague?”
“Wow, Prague! Got your passport?”
“Wow, Prague! Who’ll take care of your dog?”
It appears that the only person surprised by my revelation was, um, me. I have been uncloseted as a writer, apparently for some time.
When one of my students heard the news, he said, “Wow, Prague!” And then he repeated to me what I say to students and colleagues before we part for an extended amount of time. “Come back with stories!”