Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Waiting for My Ship to Come In

There’s an old expression oft used by hopeful optimistic people the (English-speaking) world over: “I’m waiting for my ship to come in.” English common law, developed over centuries and aided by the British culture’s emphasis on the importance of the written record (as opposed to the oral), is one of the foundations upon which the modern world rests. Investors in prior centuries would buy shares in ships that were bound for the frontiers of Asia or the New World. The written record of common law ensured that they would be paid—or that they would lose everything they staked—whenever that ship came into port a year or two after sailing. Spices, exotica, timber, precious stones and metals—these were the rewards a businessman speculator (or gambler in respectable garb) could expect to receive in return for his risk.

So why the history lesson? Because I’m waiting for my ship to come in. I too have risked, and believe I have backed a winner. I too have been hearing low rumors from the ether about its fortunes now for about two years. That ship is my own writing career. Roundabout September I believe I’ll see her majestically sailing into her home waters with the tide, making port heavily laden with the produce of the venture.

I’ve not financed her with gold or silver. Well, maybe a little treasure; whatever has been required. But mostly I’ve financed her with God’s favor, my own toil, my own time and effort and sweat, my own conviction that doing whatever it takes to be successful at writing will be worth it. That’s why I’ve gone back to residential painting again—because I need a little more cash to get through to September, yes—but mainly because that’s what a man does. Whatever it takes. I’ve been painting walls and trim in a rental home recently assaulted by several cats who marked their territory with impunity. The carpets ought to be pulled out and burned (they’d probably blaze with neon green flames), but that’s not my call. Maybe the same ought to be done to the previous tenants, but that also is not my call. I just open all the windows and crank up Journey on my iPod and paint in the midst of the poisonous fume. This kind of thing builds character, and besides: what right do I have to complain about anything at all?

My ship is coming in soon. Unlike my forebears in business, who had to risk their investments in the face of shipwreck, squalls, treacherous waters and still more treacherous men; and the captain and crew of the vessel itself, who risked all that in the flesh and still more besides, I risk only my time and effort. If for some reason that is not enough, I shall have more tomorrow to wager. The question I put to myself is this: how badly do I want it? I can assure myself of the answer: that I want it very very much; enough to have brought me this far and to carry me on as well.

If you’re a writer or think you are, my honest prayer for you is that you would find encouragement in the words of a fellow sojourner along the same pathways you no doubt tread yourself. The process is not easy; you and I know that. But it can have rewards, and not just at the end. Sometimes we gather fuel for the fire along the way. I hope as well that you would find a little healthy fear. Maybe that will be enough to spur you onward. Now I’ve gone from ships to paths to horses; oh dear.