A couple weeks ago, Bernie surprised me by asking, "Why do you work so hard for the Press?"
At first I didn't have an answer for him, wondering what he meant by "work so hard" and being immediately annoyed that he'd asked me, "Why do you ... "
I am not introspective by nature. I tend to do what I have to do and then move on to the next thing. Task-oriented, I think they call it. Analyzing my own self tends to bore me silly -- after all, I'm HERE and this is what I can DO, and what else matters, really?
Giving the question some thought, a day or two later I was able to muscle into my motives and eavesdrop on my reactions to submissions to and writings in the Piker Press.
When I was a kid, my mother used to tell me about how her brothers and their friends would sit out in front of their apartment building in the evenings and sing. Sing!
And Mom and I frequently sang together when we were in the car, going somewhere -- show tunes, oldies from the Big Band era, silly folk songs -- we sang, both of us having big, bold voices.
Now tell me, when was the last time you heard your neighbors sing on a summer evening, just for fun? Kids stop singing around age seven, embarrassed by the sound of their voices without the mixing equipment that marks and makes recorded music nowadays. The very few kids who sing try to imitate the pop culture, squeaking, swooping, chanting "Muh-Fuh" -- not really singing, merely imitating rather than putting their hearts into an expression.
The Music Person at our church, marveling at the voices raised in song at our Passover celebration, turned to me one year and said, "How do we get the congregation at Mass to sing like that?"
She really didn't want to hear what I'd have said, so I just grinned and offered her more wine.
You get people to sing -- by accepting that they can sing, and inviting them to do it. You set an example by your own voice, and you recognize what songs they can sing. How many people in any given group have professionally trained voices? Few if any. Then why would you expect them to sing music designed for the professionally trained voice?
Most people have read what is called "legalese" writing, and few understand it unless they are professionally trained to do so. Same with music -- people sing what they can sing. If the pitch is such that only a professional can hit the high notes, the people are not going to sing. If the tempo is so slow that only a professional can drag through the pace, people are not going to sing.
Writing is also like that. If you nitpick every little word, people are going to stop writing. However, if you give them a venue that allows them to "sing" with their writing, they will have a "voice" sounding out loud and clear and individual and beautiful. Sometimes there are sour notes, but I believe that with practice, the "singer" will recover and go on, better than before. Pointing out every sour note is not helpful. Coaching is good. Nitpicking is not. Expecting symphonies from a gang of kids singing on a doorstep is just a waste of kids' voices.
That's why I'm committed to the Piker Press. We're singing. We're writing, we're throwing our words and tunes right out there for the world to hear and see. We don't have to worry about comparing ourselves to a given mold. We are words, and music, and by God, that's why I'm there, most of every day.
Writing is fun, and beautiful, and as liberating as tossing confetti into a brisk breeze. The Piker Press is all about writing, and keeping on writing. That's what's important. We don't have to be chanted in Latin at the Vatican; we don't have to rack up Pulitzers; we don't have to make bazillions of bucks.
Write on, Pikers. The world needs some honest voices raised in words.
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November is National Novel Writing Month, an upbeat challenge open to all to try to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Created by Chris Baty in 1999, the activity is shared by tens of thousands of participants who experience intensely the fear of writing something goofy, of writing something badly, of spelling mistakes and grammar errors and blow past it to keep pounding words out on their keyboards. The also feel the desperation of falling behind in word count, the choking irritation of writer's block -- but many will also celebrate ecstatically their creativity and perseverance when they officially hit 50,000 words and can say for the rest of their lives, "I wrote a book!"
NaNoWriMo's website opens on October 1st, with helpful hints for getting started, a huge forum where participants can converse, and lots of other fun things to pass the time while waiting for the clock to tip past midnight into November.