Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Good Knock-Knock is Hard to Find

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
You who?
Don’t get so excited, it’s just a joke!

You have to go with the phonetics on that one. It’s the joke of the day, the week—heck—the month, for my seven-year-old daughter. And here’s another one for you:

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Me who?
You don’t know who you are?

This time the “who” operates as designed. And that one, though she doesn’t serve it up as much, I like much better. For a writer, what better question?

Because most of the time, I’m not a writer. That part of my life happens between 5:00 and 6:40 am, which is when said seven-year-old has to get up for school. After that, I’m a mom, an errand runner, a volunteer, a worker hoping to make it to wherever I’m going on time. Occasionally I’m a writer when I show up for a book club gathering or a conference, like last month’s wonderful High Point University Phoenix Literary Festival, which brings together college and high school students for a day of workshops capped with an awards ceremony. Though I was thrilled to be asked to keynote (what, someone blew my cover? They know about that writing sliver of my life?), the best part was watching those students walk across the stage to claim their awards.

Who knows which, if any of those students, will keep striving to wedge writing into their lives? Reading John Jeter’s account of the years he struggled to find that elusive voice, to push all that desire out, line by line, is a strong reminder of what a challenge it is, day by day, to keep going at this writing business. (Thanks, John, by the way, for the comparison to hand-kneaded bread—though I have to admit I feel more like an author sandwich, too. Or maybe just kneady).

My daughter tells jokes, and I tell myself little lies. Get up, I tell myself. You’ve been stuck on the same section of this novel for two months, but today is different. Today you’ll make your break. Most days I believe it and come back for more. This is why I would never hit the tables in Vegas. I would be picked clean in an hour.

But I guess that capacity for belief, along with a willingness to work past the frustrations, the rejections, the bad reviews or no reviews at all, is what is necessary for one to write. We have to be willing to play the fool, to not anticipate the punch line, to be surprised.

In a season where we’re supposed to ask ourselves and everyone around us what we want—in wrapped boxes or in the coming year—it’s good to remember what we need. Enough faith to get out of the bed, or to stay out of it while the rest of the family has gone to sleep. To show up at the desk, go back to that scene, that paragraph, that line, and believe that today we’ll get it right.

A quiet room, enough light, a love for the souls of our flawed characters. It’s enough. Just enough.

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Boo who?

I’ll let you take that one from there.

Quinn Dalton is the author of a novel , High Strung, and two story collections, Bulletproof Girl and Stories from the Afterlife. She lives and tells knock-knock jokes in Greensboro, NC. Visit www.quinndalton.com.


John Jeter said...

See. This is precisely why I want to grow up to be like Quinn Dalton.

Anonymous said...

This was so funny and wise

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