(Manqué: short of or frustrated in the fulfillment of one’s aspirations or talents—used postpositively; i.e., a poet manqué)
Guest post by JW Rogers
Dinner was winding down and I’d just gotten into an unlikely conversation. A man I didn’t know had been sitting across from me all night and I’d written him off because of his silly bow-tie, foppish mustache, silver hair and wide-striped bespoke shirt. We were with a big group and conversation had been firing all around the table about the latest trends in design, the recovering economy, first jobs and childhood memories. It had been easy to avoid talking to him.
When coffee came, he leaned across the table and asked, “Where exactly did you grow up near Brockton?”
I told him East Bridgewater, by the pond. He smiled and told me that he was from Brockton. He’d grown up on the west side of town, the good part, and had gone off to one of the prep schools nearby.
The perfunctory memory sharing quickly transformed into something more substantial and provocative. He’d been “an observer,” he said, inside and outside the thick striations of generations of New Englanders who had seen their fortunes rise and fall, the tense artifice of an early industrial economy that lay fallow, the coiled violence that rest beneath the calmest moments. The way he looked at things back then was exciting. I could see where I’d gone wrong in a novel I’d started about the place and then put aside. I mentioned it.
“I’m a writer manque,” he said. “I often tell myself to write about that time, but I can’t keep it up when I start.”
How many times do we say that to ourselves? Hear that from someone else who writes? The immediate dismissal, as if the writing club was so exclusive and so selective that you know even before you try to join that you don’t have a chance to get in.
My wife had her coat on and was heading to the door. I had just a moment and I wanted to say something that might make a difference.
“Don’t look at it that way,” I said. “If you walked in to a room and saw a child scribbling on paper with crayons until every inch was covered in the color of mud, what would you say?” I asked.
“I’d say that it was really good.”
“When you start to write, what do you think?”
He didn’t answer.
“You’ve got to be gentle with yourself, like you would be with a child. You have say to yourself, ‘Have fun. That’s great. Do some more.’ Let yourself play.”
He nodded his head.
“And when you are writing, you have to write to the one person on earth who is fascinated by what you have to say, who says to you when you pause to gather your thoughts, ‘Go on. Tell me more. I want to know what happens next.’ And you keep telling them.”
I was standing then. He’d gotten up too. He was short and trim. I towered over him.
“When you start writing and you hear all the voices in your head that make you want to stop…and believe me, you’ll hear them for as long as you write…you have to say, ‘Leave me alone. I’m playing and there’s someone who really is fascinated by what I’m saying.’ Then, when the voices leave, just keep moving ahead. Because you’ll discover the best thing about writing about things that you care about: you learn something that you never knew before.”
We shook hands. I told him I’d love to see anything he wrote, if he wanted to share.
As my wife and I navigated our way down the shadowy steps outside the restaurant, I thought to myself that it was easy to proclaim those two key concepts of encouragement, but that it was a constant struggle to hear the same positive voices inside yourself. That’s one of the privileges of writing. You earn your way into the club by dint of perseverance and courage. No one can tap you. And no one can keep you out.
JW Rogers is a writer who understands the struggle against our internal voices of doubt. His were so strong they kept him from writing for nearly 15 years. You can see recent samples of his work at www.drmstream.com.