The Fear of Forever

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual book fair stretched before me: a dozen aisles of small presses spanning the length of three football fields. I had one day’s attendance to soak up whatever I could.

It was daunting.

I came there because I wanted to turn a new leaf as a professional writer. What I learned is that becoming a professional writer does not resemble turning a leaf. It’s much harder than that. In fact, with over 800 presses and journals on display, becoming a professional writer felt like chiseling my name in the rock of Gibraltar with a scalpel.

As is true of any worthwhile endeavor, there is no easy way forward. Presses require months to reply to your piece because they receive so many. At the Washington Convention Center, over 12,000 writers were after exactly what I was after. The smallest of presses receive hundreds of submissions a week.

Like a good addict, I attended the event hungry for some instant gratification, expecting to be discovered in some way. Like a good addict in recovery, I left with a humbled understanding of how I fit in the world.

My fear of forever too often shudders in the present moment. I know the man or woman in recovery can relate. How about when you first got clean and sober, and a lifetime of abstinence has its eyes on you like a magnifying glass under sunlight.

ME: “You mean, I can never drink again?”

THEM: “Not safely, no.”

“What about when I’m an old man, bedridden—I can’t hurt anybody because I can’t leave my bed. What could a drink harm then?”

“You’re missing the point.”

“Which is?”

“We just don’t drink today.”

“Right. We just don’t drink today, forever. It is a forever of todays in which we don’t drink.”

“Or use.”

“Right. We don’t drink or use today in order to not drink or use ever again.”

“Now you’re getting it.”

“What if I lose both legs in a sober boating accident—”

“Just keep coming back.”

There is a burning need in me for closure. I either can drink, or I can’t. I either am a writer, or I’m a hack. I feel this need to identify in extremes despite life’s repeated attempts to inform me that happiness isn’t a black-and-white measurement.

Acceptance is.

If I can accept that I am an alcoholic, then I won’t give a shit about taking a shot of whiskey on my death-bed; I just won’t drink today.

 

What I’m getting at is this: I’m finally willing to admit that I am a writer.

What this means is that no person or press can change the fact that I am a writer. It means that if ten years from now, despite all my efforts to get published, all I will have to show for myself is a personal blog on recovery from drugs and alcohol, I will be thrilled because it will mean I have been writing for 10 years.

This may sound simple. But if you followed my forever-in-a-day dialog above, you understand that the I am a writer no matter what bit is a tough pill to swallow.* It means I must disregard those minor hungers for praise and positive reinforcement. It means I can’t measure my success according to who deems me worthy. It means, in short, that I must be happy with the mere fact that I write.

(*Funny thing, swallowing pills—you swallow them whole right? I always did anyway. And don’t give me that “what about if you grind them into powder and snort them?” bullshit. Snorting them whole is the same as swallowing them whole, quit identifying out. My point is that the expression—tough pill to swallow—is troublesome for me. While pills are meant to swallow whole, life is not. Life is made to struggle against, to wrestle with, in small satisfying increments. That’s why the pill analogy is incomplete to me and—much like my physical addiction to pills themselves—dangerous.)

Simply writing shouldn’t be a problem for me. I wrote for years without thinking about getting published. In fact, it was only since the blog came out a year ago, and readers responded with kind appreciation, that my imaginary race to the top of the mountain began.

In my first month of sobriety, writing was my elixir, my medication. If I didn’t put the pen to paper, I couldn’t sleep right, like sleeping in someone else’s bed just doesn’t feel the same. Writing is the reason I became an English teacher in the first place.

I had to ask myself, after nearly a decade of writing: why haven’t I at least tried to make it as a writer?

 

The answer’s not easy to face—until I faced it.

Deep in the recesses of overlapping brain tissue and dark matter, the fear of forever kept me from trying to publish for all those years. If I don’t try, I don’t have to fear the rejection. Some see it as a symptom of perfectionism. By not putting myself out there, no one can tell me that I don’t have what it takes. By not trying, I don’t have to face the finality of being or not being who I want to be.

This is what AWP’s warehouse-of-small-press intimidation taught me: I can knock on the front door of the publishing world in full confidence because, whether or not someone answers, I am a writer.

37 Responses to “The Fear of Forever

  • I can relate to the “I am a writer”. I am a writer. Whether anyone else knows it or not. 😉

    ANother brilliant post, for other reasons as well.

  • I enjoyed your deeply heart-felt writing in this post. I have no doubt that you are a writer because you possess the attributes and skills. And yes, to query agents and gain a traditional publication under your belt is tough business – not for the weak. However, to coin a phrase – just do it. You’ll get published if you keep trying.

  • Mark, this is a fantastic piece. I have the same conversation with myself all the time. Just because I haven’t hit big, doesn’t invalidate what I do. I hope you don’t mind if I share this to Facebook and twitter. I’ll wait for your response before I do. Anyway, thank you for writing this.

    • Please do share. I hope it can help encourage all those who might relate to it.

      I followed got connected with your social media so you can see me there.

      Hope your bracket(s) is(are) still strong.

  • Superb connection you have drawn between addiction, identity, writing, and “being.” I know I’m not the first to say that you, Mark Goodson, are *already* a writer. Shifting to the pro-side isn’t all it’s cut out to be. Certainly there isn’t the fame and glory for most who enter it. But you already know this stuff.

    When I was at Hazelden, one of the rituals we did in Tiebout Unit (my first 30 days . . . before I went on to Jellinek for 60 additional) was to recite a certain line. I cannot remember where it was found, and a simple Google search returned nothing (I may be remembering it wrong though), but I remember the phrase, “Those two awful infinities.” THAT, I believe is exactly what those of us in recovery have to face everyday . . . except we don’t—when we see that all there ever is, is now, then the past and the vast future become nothing more than allegorical doors we have already gone through.

    It boils back down to that our stories are not yet finished, but hopefully, in the fullness of time, we shall see the oneness of all our pain and disappointments, along with our successes, dreams, and wishes.

    I’m so glad I know you, Mark. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: the world is a richer place with you writing in it.

    PEACE

    – Danno

    • Danno – we are indeed destined for the things we do. Part of what makes me know I can do this forever is the friendship we share. Seriously man.

      As a fellow Hazelden man myself (a Silkworth brother) I recognize the reading. Search no more my friend.

      This leaves only one day – TODAY.
      Any man can fight the battles of just one day.
      It is only when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities
      – YESTERDAY and TOMORROW –
      That we break down.

  • Love the transition of forever into the defect and how it all ties back together with your recent attendance to the fair.

    Love the, “Just Keep Coming back” -> HA! It’s so something I would say.

    I can totally relate to your struggle. If I don’t acknowledge that I am good at something, then you can’t take it from me or ruin it. For me, its totally a fear thing, and I totally agree that it sounds like a possible symptom of perfectionism. For me, that defect ties me back to pride, even though I hate admitting it. I have done A LOT of work in that space, but as I am constantly reminded the work is never done. 🙂

    Great post, and way to just PUT IT OUT THERE! HELL YEA!

    • Never done, right? There’s always another layer to the onion, and it usually makes you cry.

      I’m glad you could relate! And yeah, when I decided to put it out there, sort of went all out with it. Just my (our) style, ain’t it?

  • Yes! Of course you are a writer. We all knew that from your first blog post when we all got to meet you. More than a writer though, you are someone in process who is walking it out honestly and forthrightly…and I know you really want to be a published writer, and I want that for you too because I know how much it means to you….but even if it never happens (but I think it will) YOU are living an honest life, connecting with people, and making a difference in your world every single day. That counts for a whole heck of a lot Mark.
    PS: When you are published, I will be the first in line at your book signing. : )

    • You are, as always, so kind Annette. It’s funny. “We” on that first blog post, was more like “you”–haha. Really, I think you were the first and only comment on that post. It totally revved me up and made me realize that real people are out here doing the real deal in this blogosphere. That comment did it, for me. Truly. I’ll never forget that! Well, I appreciate the support, Annette. Let’s keep this thing up, one day at a time.

  • I totally get this. I do. I would have been hyperventilating at that place. Like me entering a buffet. or a liquor store when I was active. Too much. And the struggle would be feeling like I belonged.

    I still struggle with the “I am a writer” thing. Yes, I have a book in the works, but I paid for it. So in some ways I still feel like a fraud because I wasn’t accepted for the work, but because of a cheque I wrote. I say this in a matter-of-fact way, not in any other malicious way. I know they say that if you write, you’re a writer. And some days I can accept that, but then the alcoholic mind creeps in and tells me that I haven’t “made it” yet. But at the same time I would never say that to you or anyone else I know who writes! That’s ego at work, ain’t it? ha ha. And that’s not true. I consider you a real writer. You know the reverence I have with your work, and I know you will get published, in small and not-so-small print. You have made that decision to be a pro (that is not a decision I have made). I firmly believe that once you make a decision, the universe opens up. Not that things will be handed to us, we still have to work at it, but things do open up. And I know that you will see the fruition of your work come through, man. You deserve it.

    Thanks for this – once again a wonderful piece.

    Paul

    • Paul – You are so kind to say that.

      Well, no sooner as I post this thing, does the fear creep back into my life. The insecurity, all that. This post was sort of a stab at establishing some finality with it. It may just be a struggle. But–the struggle is sweet, man!

      Another thing I learned at that conference was that so much of this “pro” thing is up to circumstances beyond our control. Like, paying to publish a book doesn’t make you any better or worse than others who don’t have to. It’s hard to sort of wrap my head around. And from what you wrote, and knowing you, and speaking about the ways we struggle, it’s hard for you to do that too. But, I have to believe it’s true.

      Paul, I can’t wait to read your book. One thing I know–for certain–is a core group of people who are eager to read it too. You impact so many lives in your outreach. You’re an awesome writer. What I like most is your ability to take something I’ve looked at a thousand–a million?–times and flip it on its head for me.

      Thanks for taking the time to sit and let this resonate.

      Enjoy what’s left of your vacation!

    • I self published my book. I still consider myself a writer, after all, I wrote it and choosing to share what one writes with the world is a brave thing.

  • “feel this need to identify in extremes despite life’s repeated attempts to inform me that happiness isn’t a black-and-white measurement.”

    I really relate to this, I have actually been exploring this concept of identity, sometimes it feels like a duality, but then I wonder where do I exist in the space “between”. Emotionally , personally, and other: “Living in the gray” someone once said to me. And as I ponder this, I think you must live one day at a time in the gray, and not worry about forever.
    Just like in recovery. As for the writer part, you are a freakin talent, and really one of my first inspirations doing this recovery blogging thing. You continue to inspire me with your writing. Can’t wait till your, haha just kidding, you’re published!
    All the best
    Marahu

    • Marahu, you rock! I remember when you exploded on to the scene. I appreciate your talents. That Fix piece is live tomorrow, and you helped me realize how incomplete it is. I have to go back and write a part 2. Isn’t it awesome when you know you NEED to write something? I have you to thank.

      “Living in the gray” makes perfect sense to me. It’s that middle ground where the miracle of the mundane exists. I appreciate it in these sporadic fits of euphoria, instead of in the day-to-day grind. And that’s when I write. Interesting. I write in the gray! I used to think creativity was in the black or the white.

      Anyways, thanks for continuing to help and challenge me!

      Mark

  • stepsherpa
    8 months ago

    Hi Mark. I probably shouldn’t lead with my truth but I like you so…By making this about me? Maybe I can help someone who suffers. I have never read a book cover to cover, have no formal education beyond the 9th grade. Never completed any homework whatsoever. Went from reform school/ work camp/homeward bound to being a runaway living on the street by 15 when my first daughter was born. I have found good reason the lawyer, the janitor, the housewife and the Air Force pilot share the same AA table.

    Yesterday I was saddened, deeply affected? By someone in my emotional ghetto some refer to as the AA warehouse district. Where people go to AA or similar emotionally secure cornerstones and sit waiting for the wind and rain to pass. Sitting in their corner watching the ring girls prance around marking the round. This is their AA. Never taking the suggested free 12 Step course offered in building and reconstruction. There are many, sure. I don’t care about the masses, I only care about this one in this day at this time and place. I feel hopeless with him and them and everything. I can’t seem to get over myself and fall in deep. I can’t let go of it, I am afraid and must control everything. Even though I have proven to myself time and again that my way never works.

    I parked my truck a block away amidst trash that would be deemed unacceptable in my neighborhood. Your neighborhood, any neighborhood. I thought well, I’m not picking it up either making me a good part of the problem. I knocked on the door with a safe and friendly (not an authority threat) one knuckle rap rap rap. The door cracked open and I was let in by someone seemingly braced for SWAT. Laying on the couch in opiate wasteland was a man without direction. His 4 year old son yelled and jumped across the room to me and I showed him touch with a squeeze hug around the neck and bushy head rub. He’s 4 and only really understands Spanish while I generally speak English so this is how we communicate. Rather than stumble through some Spanglish greeting I let him know I am here, I am safe and I am here. He smiles.

    It’s a bad scene. Bad.. I don’t like to use words that shame but yes, It is bad. Not much good here. I am not usually affected by this type of scenario but for some reason today? I feel my heart breaking. I’m on the verge of crying and blurt out some anti media spew directed at the blaring 24 hour TV news channel. I am emotionally unstable and I know it. I gotta get out of here, I want to run to a place where I am unaffected. A place where I am in control?

    So, typical long story short. I’m on my way home thinking why? Why do I run. We? Where do we think we are going? Why is it so paramount we find what we are looking for when we don’t even really know what it is? Undisciplined, like the Book says yeah. Wayward. I think of myself. Am I the same way? What is my drug of choice? People? Validation? Motorcycle parts? Giving in to the peer pressure and throwing some money into my own website? I am emotionally off now and searching for security just like he is. He’s using the dope and I’m using people wallowing in my self centered fear where the blind man sees all. He finds peace shutting his life down and I find peace rearranging mine to something more suitable. Delusional.

    Almost home I think about turning to my God for further direction. I’m very sad and can’t shake it. Not depressed really, just sad. It feels different. The codependent feeling overwhelms me. I feel his feelings as I think they should be felt. I am frustrated with his inability to understand my solutions I fail to express. I get it, I am now some kind of telepathic caregiver and he is now my problem when he doesn’t even care?. In the midst of this chaos he doesn’t know I’m sitting next to him. I think wow, are any of my problems really mine? Or are they someone else’s I pick up as my drug. Something to fix, someone to save, searching for my purpose. This better not go all the way back to “daddy doesn’t love me”…

    So full of myself I give up. I’m no map reader, I’m a map folder. Nothing wrong with that. I know what to do. I’m going to be the first one home so I will get dinner started. I went to work, I have a house which I make a home. It is not always a hiding place. My fort. I have the willingness to provide emotional security to those who live with me. Everything I am is everything we are as a family. I’m a man, what I believe a man should be. A sober man, a clean man in his mind, a trusted man. I think to myself, why would I need more than this? When is enough enough? Maybe I or we just need a good spring break. Ask for help, take an inventory of the good things, man..I got a lot of good things, more than I need really. Plenty to give away, yeah.

    • Sherpa – It is enough. It’s enough just being clean and sober. That’s the cake, everything else is the icing. My problem is, icing has sugar. And I want more. I get hooked on going overboard and finding my way to shore. It’s the -ism we share. That’s all that matters.

      You’re doing the deal, brother. And that was a bad scene. But, like the prayer says, bring darkness where there is light. Bring love where there is hatred. It’s not easy being on the firing line of life, so to speak, but weren’t we always? And aren’t we now walking that line toward the good? Toward the light?

      Can’t that be enough?

  • Follow your heart. It will not lead you astray.

    I don’t think much about tomorrow. I have absolutely no desire to drink. Why would I dull life when it is so full of light and opportunity? Live for today.

  • This was so good, Mark. Of course you’re a writer! A damn great one, but glad you finally admitted it to yourself 😉

  • You ARE a writer, and you write beautifully!
    You have a wonderful gift!
    xo
    Wendy

  • stepsherpa
    8 months ago

    Thanks for the reply Mark.

    I have a history of extreme selfishness, extreme self centered fear. I’m never going to be “not selfish” or lose my self centered nature, how can I? I keep myself safe behind my gate of thought. I remain the gate keeper. The best I have today is the ability to not become extreme. This I owe in total to the AA Big Book 12 Steps. It is absolute, I am convinced.

    Years before I found the security of the unaccountable internet blogger life, I was approached by a “very famous” writer who became a good friend. Oddly we were friends first before I knew him as a “very famous” writer but once I knew that about him well..I saw myself.. He said he was drawn to me over my ability to “sling the lingo”. Did this mean I had something he wanted? OHBOY..Later alone, I wasn’t sure what that meant and hoped it was ok. Yes, I was sharing the evening with another “famous” guy, speaking to a crowd of 4500ish at a Civic Center. Airfare comped room, all that.. I had arrived. I dreamed I was in Hollywood Movie between being scared shitless as the crown lined the block…Did this make us equal? No, the truth is? I had the crowd, when the crowd was gone so was I, they took me with them. At the meet and greet I left to call a guy who was suffering from alcoholism back home. I don’t know, lipstick on a pig? Gutter monkey? I was just a guy with a message. He had a foundation. When his surroundings changed? He remained the same. I had the affirmation of thousands of people whistling and whooping it up when I was finished yet still wasn’t sure it they were touched by me or just happy I was done. There was still not enough support for my flagging self esteem. I would still trip over the world at my feet. I was a flash in the pan, and I knew it. But doesn’t the flash in the pan bring hope to those who seek gold? Yeah, hope..Something to be grateful for.

    Now, he had the books, the screenplay, movie. The shockingly big checks coming in from winning awards in literature he wasn’t aware existed. He puzzled me. I wanted what he had yet knew it would never happen. The path he traveled wasn’t like mine, it wasn’t a crap shoot like mine. It took a few years of inner turmoil to reach this understanding. Which is? He is a writer and I’m a doodler. I doodle. He writes. What I needed to understand was to me? He was a doodler too. Scribble scribble scratch erase.. repeat. I had no idea of the wasted words, the days weeks years gone by searching for that right combination, Like the outlaw safecracker in and out of others thoughts in search of validation. The mystery achievement awaits.

    Now, I know I don’t fit here. For me the ice is always thin even when I do attempt to squeeze into my skates and join the circle.. Let me say I’ve enjoyed your site and thank you. The best thing I notice is the other people posting and replying are secure enough to speak honestly of themselves and support you in many different forms of positive affirmation. You create this emotional security. It is a very positive attribute. These are your friends. People who can be kind and considerate with each post. You are as fortunate as they are. Everybody is a star.

    Anyway… my friend the writer. You kind of remind me of him or, when I think of you? He comes to mind.. Yeah. He was educated, literate. Literature revolved around his life. He schooled others during the day and schooled himself at night. Learn something new? Pass it on. Grow in understanding? Pass it on. The effectiveness was in the ability to pass it on as you do here in mapping the many tributaries that feed the river of dreams…. He didn’t wake up one day and scribble a piece of American history from a sun stroked umbrella shadow in the Keys. No, he was a writer and it was and is process for him. A mathematical equation of sorts known only to those who show up to learn.. He lived it, showed up for it and became it. Now today, recognized as it. Above all else it is who he is. Fortune and glory Indy, fortune and glory.

    As my Big Book 12 Step friend Jimmy from Boston and Vermont says in closing .. Until then.

    • We share the same history. Same solution, and I hope, the same sober future. Would be happy to connect with your writer friend.

      I feel very fortunate, like you say, to have this community of support. Man, I love New England. I live in the mid-atlantic, but dream of being up there.

  • Yes…YOU ARE a writer. Great stuff. My life has taken a turn since a decision was made to have my 15 year old, Freshman, son try virtual high school. I miss your work. I’m indulging in your writing from the past 2 weeks. You have no idea how great it was to find you have been writing, while I have been somewhere else…trying something new…still sober. 🙂

    • I hope the “new thing” brought you what it hoped it would.

      Well, I appreciate the feedback. Really do Merry. Until further notice, I’ll be here, holding it down. Did you blog about the new thing?

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