Refusal of the Writer’s Call

Craig Jones

My mom had dreams of being a published writer, and she always through the years referred to “The Writing,” rather than “My Writing.”

I hadn’t thought of that until recently though it was there, hiding in plain sight. When she said she should, “You know, do something about ‘The Writing,’ ” it was almost always accompanied by a sort of sigh, a resignation, an eye rolling without an actual roll, a posture suggesting “The Writing” was a burden she kept carrying through the years, like an old dusty and moth-eaten chair she couldn’t get rid of.

“I just can’t bring myself to part with this old thing. It has sentimental value.”

Of the fact she had, and has at ninety three, a writer’s heart and soul, there can be no doubt. She wrote, all the time, as our nine months of work prepping her house, my boyhood home, for sale bore mute testimony. She made notes about everything she deemed important on any scrap of material at hand, including paper plates written on in crayon. She read constantly and marked the hell out of books, took literature classes at the local college, and wrote profiles of fellow church members for the monthly newsletter. I found a short story she had started, a foray into fiction.

“The Writing” sounds now like a big bulky box or, as I said, an awkward and past-its-prime piece of furniture or chachkie someone is trying to wrestle up some narrow stairwell. Yup, once again, I am moving “The Writing,” Lugging it around making the same grimace. God help me, this is no longer a criticism, if it ever even was. Parents have personal shit their children know not of. I am just following whatever thin thread I can out of this cave into the light, in order to get fully aligned with my own magnetic north.

I worked hard to blame her for my own lack of ownership of the writer’s life.

Maybe I was afraid of the same fate. Like Ray says in Field of Dreams, “I’m afraid of that happening to me.” If his dad had dreams, he said, “He never did anything about them.”  When I do say “my writing,” as in “I get up at four and do my writing,” I notice it still feels a little off somehow. I say “my writing” and notice it, like a tiny speed bump. Does it suggest a kind of ownership or lack thereof? My vs The, which is at a slight removal from ownership. It isn’t mine, it’s a disembodied and unattached “The.” A definite article rather than a possessive pronoun.

The shadow of my mom is long in my life, in all particulars, whatever she did with “The Writing” long shadows are what this whole journey is about. The shadows are long from the night of the nude October trees on Second Street that I was trying to describe, in all my callow innocence, at age 14 while walking to a Boy Scout meeting. The desire has never left me. “The urge to convert experience into a group of words that are in a grammatical relation to one another is the most basic, ongoing impulse of my life,” as Jhumpa Lahiri wrote of herself.

Every resumé I’ve written or given up on writing might be the shadow side of simply refusing the writers call, as Joseph Campbell called it. An article in Taileaters notes: “If the refusal of the call can be summed up easily, it is the refusal to change when everything around us tells us we should change. It being beholden to fear. This means setting aside an old, no longer useful way of being or identity, and adopting something more useful for the present. The Hero’s Journey is a process of death and rebirth, and the refusal of the call is a refusal to kill one identity and begin a new one. Eventually, taken to completion, the Hero’s Journey is the complete eradication of identity to simply be.”

Sometimes it seems we treat “busting through barriers” as if it were a line of scrimmage and blockers are knocking it down in an off-tackle rush. One play, a touchdown, and QED. We win. Breaking through barriers may sometimes be more like a slow ascent toward a summit, which mostly seems to be retreating the longer one climbs. A 40-year wandering in the wilderness or the drip by drip growth of a stalagmite or Proust’s “slow accretion of many, many days.”

“Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock,” wrote Jacob Riis, “Perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

Blow by blow, over fifty years, I’m getting to a place where I can actually say the words “My Writing” … overcoming a long and wide barrier.


All I can do is take the next step and write the next paragraph.

Read more of Craig Jones and his “GratiDude” HERE

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *