Hi, I’m back.
I apologize to my reader(s) for being absent so long. I thought I knew why I gave up this blog last fall – because I felt demeaned by the way a certain magazine changed a story of mine without asking.
But as I got over it, and sat down to restart this blog last weekend, a deep, paralyzing sadness came over me. What the hell? I thought.
So I dove into the emotional laboratory of my journal to place this feeling. And hey, it’s my old frenemy, helplessness, powerlessness, to help or save or protect something. I can’t protect my stories from careless or uncaring editors.
Well, so what? As a writer I should have thick skin. Why is this feeling paralyzing?
Oh, wait, right. I couldn’t protect Mama from herself. (I went into medicine to learn how to fool people like her into saving themselves. But I couldn’t save her.) I couldn’t keep her from crushing Daddy.
There was the patient I couldn’t save in med school because t I couldn’t make my residents listen. It’s still a heart-twisting memory. That failure to save someone who desperately needed help set off a crisis for me. It resolved in my med school senior thesis (a play I called “The Moment of Death: Or, How Your Doctor Got That Way.”)
Helplessness and I go way back.
Should I stop taking risks I can’t control the outcome of? No way.
Maybe I should send my stories out and trust them to take care of themselves. But they’re not just stories. I have a debt to the people who trusted me to tell their truth with actual facts. If the copy is wrong, I’ve betrayed them, by not being able to control the editorial process.
I can’t resolve this dilemma. But recognizing it helps. Here I am.
Aha! Or rather, uh-oh. I’ve been writing about how hard it is being unable to write, but I just learned it’s not that I can’t write. The problem is that I can’t find anyone who’s listening. The problem is the writing economy. Especially the science-writing economy. I’m not alone in isolation, but that’s no consolation.
At The Open Notebook: The story behind the best science stories, freelance science writer Kendall Powell writes
[T]he collapse of print advertising, declining magazine subscriptions, the enormous availability of free content online … has writers of all kinds talking and writing about their job security fears and inability to make a living wage in journalism.
Yes, it’s the first line of Hamlet, but that’s not what I’m writing about. At least not directly.
In my last post, I promised to bring to the table other writers who’ve written about fruitful relationships with imaginary readers.