Finding Your Tribe



Early in the morning, a chickadee sings outside my window, two notes, B flat to A flat. I don’t hear an answering call, and eventually it moves down the street, the call getting fainter and fainter, until finally it’s gone.

My friend Ron MacLean, who works at Boston’s wonderful Grub Street writing center and has published three books, says he doesn’t give up on a story until it has been rejected 40 times. Given the lousy odds, why isn’t it enough to write in our journal? Or share a story with our friends? Why do we keep sending our work out to be rejected over and over again?

There’s always the hope that we’ll become one of rock star writers. And then there are the Pulitzer prizes winners, though they usually don’t end up at the same camp fires as the millionaire writers. I’ve known successful writers with more than ten published books who still have to work a day job and steal time to write on the side.

Then there are the nobodies write something only to have it attributed to someone famous, as is the case of Bessie Stanley who wrote a poem called “What Constitutes Success” in 1905:

He has achieved success who has lived well,
laughed often and loved much;
who has gained the respect of intelligent men
and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it,
whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty
or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others
and given them the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.

This quote is usually attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson in a tweaked version.

Good words, no matter who wrote them. Other visionaries have similarly inspired: Gahndi: “Whatever you do may seem insignificant, but it is veryimportant that you do it.”And my favorite from Martha Graham: “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”

But with so many amazing writers already out there, does the world REALLY need another one? Does the world REALLY need to hear MY voice?

Birds sing to find their mates, wolves howl to find their pack, and we send our work out to find our tribe. In order to figure out who to send your work to, you have to read the journals. And there are a lot of quality journals putting out innovative, rich work by people with very little name recognition. In fact, when you do the work of reading to find a home for your writing, you come to see a whole different America than the one plastered all over pop radio, TV and billboards, an America of intelligent, creative, and deeply caring people.

We write because it’s what our minds and hearts do, and to stifle the voice, to refuse to answer the call, is to be less than we were born to be. But the reason I send it out to find my tribe. There are quite a few excellent magazines that don’t yet realize I’m in their tribe, yet, like Ampersand Review, The Doctor J.T. Eckleberg Review, Atticus Review, Agni, and The Kenyon Review, all worth reading even though I’m not in them, I might (magnanimously) add.

To get published, you have to be like that black-capped chickadee outside my window at 4 a.m, calling and calling and calling, “as though eternity stretches out before you” to steal a line from Rilke.

I’m happy to report another story of mine has found a home. Check out “The Opal Maker” in The Collagist.





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