Being part of Families in the Loop has lots of perks. At the top of the list is the incredible group of Chicago professionals and business owners I’ve come to know over the past year. Each day they’re hard at work, achieving excellence in their industries and inspiring dreamy entrepreneurs like me to keep going. So this month I’m dedicating the Families in the Loop blog to these Chicago superstars. And since it’s the month of love, I’ve added a twist. I have asked these experts to share how love has factored into their career choice. Was it love at first sight? How about a breakup? Find out here, all throughout the month of February. Parents, it’s time to recharge our career batteries with FITL’s “Live It - Love It” career series.
The Write Love
~By Melissa Wiley, Families in the Loop
A very smart person once said that the course of true love never did run smooth — or smoothly, grammatically speaking. And very fortunately so, in my opinion. Why? Without life going wrong, we wouldn’t have any good stories. Story hinges on something happening, and not in the way the people it is happening to expect, which is just how we like it. Is that crazy? Possibly, but it’s just how this kind of love works. And love of story, I can’t help but think, is at the heart of why so many of us who grew up falling asleep with Pride and Prejudice on our pillows became the editors who sit in audience at A Midsummer Night’s Dream secretly reworking some of the immortal bard’s syntax.
For all their mutual obsession with the written word, editing and writing are often at cross purposes. Editing is essentially a craft. Guided by certain rules and conventions, you retool prose that is already slated for publication, dotting the “i”s and crossing the “t”s, so to speak. It makes the left brain, the person inside you who likes to vacuum and shape your cuticles into perfectly arched crescent moons, extremely happy. True, it acknowledges the right brain with a polite nod from across the room, but that is all.
Whereas writing, at least creative writing, belongs to the muses, those larger-than-life divas who drape themselves in feather boas and overrun the right brain at 3 in the morning while playing their music at full blast. Needless to say, they demand complete control of your faculties, particularly in the initial stages of creation, when the blank page looms over your field of vision like an ominous thundercloud. The creative spark commands center stage, period. The left brain and its vacuums can just hold it.
At one time or another, all of us with such feather boas in our closets dream of idling the rest of our days in Parisian cafes, hunched wistfully over a journal on an impossibly tiny round table. It’s a fetching fantasy, one that Owen Wilson updated with understated sensitivity in Midnight in Paris. Something about that lovable Texas twang in conversation with Hemingway on the Left Bank, though, upset my normal willing suspension of disbelief and brought the plausibility of writing for a living palpably into question. Does writing the great American novel really afford the opportunity to take three-hour lunches in the Latin Quarter for a solid year or so?
As I see it, the phrase “writing for a living” is open to interpretation. Yes, you can watch your bank account grow in direct proportion to the number of words you string together. You can also write simply to live better today than you did yesterday.
One of my favorite authors, Michele de Montaigne, the most honest and groundbreaking of essayists, pioneered the written exploration of the interior life, a genuine innovation in his day. His revolutionary idea was to use language to explore how best to live, though he also told us plenty about his kidney stones, sexual appetite, household pets, distaste for sport, and other topics in the interest of full disclosure of his humanity.
Far from practicing mere self-indulgence, writing his essays served the most practical purpose imaginable: to enable him to observe his life, interior and exterior, as closely as possible and thus not to miss its beauty, however subtle. Day after day, he mined and exposed his peccadilloes, prejudices, and predilections. He also told absorbing stories, though with innumerable diversions and often no real ending.
Like Montaigne, I also like to think that writing can provide well-needed clarification on what this living business is all about. But if I’m mistaken and am none the wiser, at least I’ve given myself something to do aside from burdening my neighbors with my harmonica practice. At least I’ve nestled up close with the written word. Time spent with those you love is never wasted.
Call me naive, but in the end I see no way around the fact that love defies all explanation; it just happens. It is the invisible prime mover that simply gets everything going, including the urge to write and rewrite, read and reread. For those of us for whom a well-placed comma is nothing less than melodic, however, we know our lover to be a bewitching, elusive minx.
Fortunately for fans of Charles Dickens, David Sedaris, Haruki Murakami, and prolific writers everywhere, all lovers enjoy the thrill of the chase. And for all our seeming stillness at coffee shops, staring into laptops dotted with jagged, half-written paragraphs, those of us who wield words for a living are in hot pursuit.
We’re attempting to distill the fluidity of human existence — that storied, sinuous course that we know cannot run smoothly — into sentences without too many restrictive clauses. Sure, it might sound like a frivolous endeavor when all is said and done, but that’s only because I’m not putting it well. The right words are eluding me, though that’s not my fault. It’s only noon, and the muses aren’t awake yet. I’ll get back to you at 3 in the morning.
Melissa Wiley, Families in the Loop's Word Slinger
A tireless wordsmith, Melissa Wiley is a freelance writer and editor with a Master of Arts in writing from DePaul University. When not minding her Ps and Qs, she enjoys mining the Chicago arts scene for various opportunities to dance, draw, laugh, and gape. She also volunteers for Open Books as a literacy tutor and plies her pen writing narrative essays highlighting the haphazard beauty of quotidian life.
Filed under: Live It - Love It... Career Stories