Just One Reader
Updated: Apr 12
I am unable to write the evocative word salad creations that indicate talent for many people and publications. Perhaps it’s because so much of my day job involves using Plain English, or maybe it means I have no right to consider myself a “real writer” – whatever that means this week.
There is nothing quite so lovely, in my opinion, as a story you can understand, or characters you can relate to, or poetry that feels natural. I realize my opinion is not universal, and talented and edgy writers will continue to turn out works that must be read repeatedly and parsed carefully in order for the reader to get a hint at meaning. This is not the work I’m meant to do.
Instead I hope to let readers feel the heartbreak, revel in the joy, or smirk at the oddities of life in my work. And though it would be wonderful to be rich, famous, or to grace a best sellers list one day, none of that has to happen for me to keep writing. I just need one reader. One reader for each piece that says “I liked it” or “It moved me” or “Please write more” is all I need to keep pushing through. At least that’s what I tell myself when the rejections pack my inbox and I can’t come up with an idea.
The whole world has been examining and exploring what it means to work and how we define success. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to force a collective existential crisis.
What were you meant to do? If the world falls apart, as seems more likely every day, where do you want to be…and with whom? What are we doing all this for? The writing, the painting, the sculpture, the gardening, the knitting, the creative work of everyday life will be what we leave behind to future generations, or to the aliens who discover the wreckage of our world. As we pour our energy and souls into the work, how do we decide when we’ve achieved success?
Success. Does this word mean the same thing to you now as it did pre-Covid? In a world of soaring inflation, are you still measuring your worth in dollars? As war splashes across the screens of your devices, has your definition of “a good day” changed? People who pull the levers of power are judged in big, broad, terms. Success for a politician is a slippery concept that involves pleasing mobs of people who themselves often don’t know what they want. Or success, and job security, for leaders means delivering results that please one group and are toxic and hurtful towards another. We who are not rich, famous, or powerful can at least be thankful to be spared this ethical juggling act.
A poem written for a loved one, a batch of cookies for the neighbors, a bowl of water in the garden for passing critters on a hot summer day – these accomplishments, so quiet and so needed, are all that matters. We all have the power to dole out the measures of success, the smile, the thank you, and the unspoken gratitude.
You can be the patient listener for a child’s first original song, or the enthusiastic recipient for your friend’s latest cooking experiment. Show up for those dance recitals, and applaud that beautifully groomed garden. Be the one reader for a budding writer. Time for creativity is a luxury, and that is an additional injustice in this world filled with inequality and injustice. It’s time we separate survival from success, and stop equating the worth of individuals with their bank balances. Sure it’s hard and complicated and will probably take the work of many lifetimes across cultural boundaries, but we can build a society that provides for everyone. This dream, a world where basic needs are addressed without thought, and all people are free to explore and create is not impossible. I need to believe this.
I need to believe that humans really want to do better. The same way I need to believe that touching one life means my own life’s work hasn’t been wasted, or that I am a writer if I have just one reader.