The First Time I Got Paid For It
It’s finally happened – I’ve had a piece paid for and printed in a magazine that I really look up to.
Two years ago I would scan the postings at Poets & Writers, Inc; on a monthly basis. They put up calls for manuscripts and submissions which I wouldn’t normally be exposed to in my normal reading, and it made me feel like I was making some small progress by reading through these listings. Of course, like many “budding writers,” I figured that the work would come through osmosis, whether I wrote a single word or not. This is, incidentally, the same attitude that scuttled my acting career.
After about three months I got angry with myself. “Self,” I said, “You’re going to write something for the first magazine you see listed this month. You’re going to treat it as an actual job, that someone has already accepted you for. You’re going to edit it. Have it looked over. Rewrite it and submit it all in the same month. Done and done.”
The first magazine I saw was, luckily, Alimentum, The Literature of Food. Lucky for many reasons, but most of all because I know a little something about literature and a little something about food and drink. I wrote out an essay on a friend’s homemade mead and what the gift of a bottle had meant to me – what I saw in the golden promise of that bottle. I sent it around and got feedback, positive and negative. I rewrote based on that feedback and sent around again, rewrote a third time, and found it good. I sent off the story and waited.
I waited a while. I point this out not to cast aspersions on the people at Alimentum, but to reflect on my own tendencies toward impatience. Most of my life, I’ve wanted my projects to be either wrapped up quickly or cast aside. I always worked hard to develop and extend my own patience with other people, but never treated myself and my own loves so well as those of other people – at least, so my self-talk went. That’s another tale for another day.
After some time, I decided that I wasn’t going to hear back, and that I had been kidding myself all along. I was no good, nothing was any good. I quit trawling the submittal sites and packed my pens tentatively away again, mocking myself for having “tried and failed” again – tried once, mind you, and failed only in spirit.
On July 4, 2006; I returned home from a vacation to find an email from Alimentum asking if I was still offering Three Promises, One Bottle. I assured them that I was – payment was to be two copies of the magazine, and publication could be delayed for up to two years. I was over the moon about it; moreso when a check arrived months later with the explanation that a new grant allowed them to pay their authors.
July was about the same time we knew my father was getting sicker and sicker. I needed the good news and so did he. Within the day I was talking via Skype to him in England, video streaming showing his wheelchair-bound frame and the song of his respirator underscoring his words. I told him all about it, and promised to send him a copy of the magazine when it was published. He was over the moon, had raised an artistic son and a talented young man, and he was proud for me.
He passed in September, knowing when he did that he wouldn’t see the magazine. I asked him before he died if he had any last wishes for me to fulfill.
“Get published,” he said. “Write. You do it well, and I think that you love it. So yes, get published for me.”
The copies came in the mail on December 12, 2007. I came home from a long day in the office and a four-hour session of reading tarot cards for a party, followed up by a poorly done hamburger and fries and two pints with my wife. I thought it was the funniest thing in the world to come from Bennigan’s to find my writing about gourmet drink, to find this excellent magazine about wonderful food, sitting on my desk.
I read it. It’s the last piece in the magazine and it takes up three pages – one for each promise, really, that was held in the bottle. My wife went to bed but I stayed up a bit.
I took dad’s ashes from under our altar and showed it to him. I’ve completed his request, though I don’t consider myself finished. He wanted more, I know; and even if he didn’t I do. I almost read it aloud to him but I think that will wait until the sun comes back to the skies on the Winter Solstice. I’ll give my golden words of golden mead to the golden sun and this golden memory, the thought that somewhere he might hear me and smile.
One of my copies is resting on his box of ashes. The others? I don’t know yet what will happen to them.
But the first one is for him.