I recently cleaned out the basket where I toss magazines I don’t have time to read. Naturally, in the process of valiantly trying to cull through old issues, I found several I couldn’t put down and spent more time reading than cleaning.
During this episode, I stumbled on a terrific profile by Alexandra Schwartz in the February 3, 2020 issue of The New Yorker. (Side note: Why didn’t I read this one? I mean, shouldn’t a pandemic be the best possible reason to read every magazine you’ve been hoarding?)
Schwartz’s profile is of literary critic and memoir author Vivian Gornick. One line in particular would have brought me to my knees if I hadn’t already been kneeling by the basket. In describing Gornick’s desire to become a writer, Schwartz says:
Could there be any better description of why we write, even when we doubt our ability to put words on the page or convince other people to read them?
I first experienced desk ecstasy as a teenager. Convinced I could make good money writing romances, I submitted stories to a romance magazine despite the fact that I’d never even been kissed. I never sold a single story, but it didn’t matter. I wrote those stories while on lunch breaks at a furniture factory where my job was to staple plywood backs onto wooden dressers. (My apologies to anyone out there who bought one. I’m certain your neatly folded clothes went straight through the dresser when the back fell off.)
So what if the factory was hot and loud? I had created a magic portal I could escape through.
Still, I tried hard not to be a writer when I went to college a couple of years later. My obsessive reading led me to plow through nearly every book in our tiny town library by the time I was sixteen, but I majored in biology, determined to have a “real” career. Medicine, maybe.
However, during a single elective course in creative writing, I once again experienced desk ecstasy. This time I couldn’t give up writing. I have never once looked back at this decision with regret.
I have known publishing rejections—too many to count—and successes. Ultimately, though, that score sheet fades in the face of what matters most: the ability to make the world disappear by creating new worlds of my own.