I am far from the first to share the feeling that writing fiction can feel like a lonely pursuit at times. I am fortunate to have a few creative venues in my life, and I have learned that surrendering to the sustained alternate reality of writing a novel day after day can be fulfilling in a way that is opposite to the fulfillment that comes with, for example, performing music for an immediate audience. That said, when an appreciative letter or email from a reader comes along, it can really make my day. Such letters have let me know that I am on the right track, that what I feel resonating might indeed be transferred to resonate with another person as they read. I can’t help but think of what John Cheever said so elegantly: “The room where I work has a window looking into a wood, and I like to think that these earnest, loveable, and mysterious readers are in there.”
A few years ago I experienced a moment when that window opened in another way. I had finished my first two novels, and though neither had been published yet, I had made some headway selling articles about running and outdoor exploration to magazines and newspapers. I was working as a record store manager in downtown
at the time, and had just had a
very personal essay about running, history, and memory in Montpelier,
Vermont published in the magazine NEW
ENGLAND RUNNER. I was
at work in the store one busy Saturday when a young woman and man walked in.
The young man roamed the CD racks. But the young woman was obviously not interested
in shopping for music. Instead, she stood in a quiet corner, reading a copy of
NEW ENGLAND RUNNER—bought most likely at the sport store across the street. It
was clear from her body language that she was utterly lost in what she was
reading: there was no page-flipping; her
eyes stayed on the page; a focused intensity was visible on her face. Somehow,
I knew exactly which article she was reading. Gloucester,
I helped some customers. A few minutes later I walked past the young woman, who was still reading quietly. Of course--and I will admit that it felt invasive to do so-- I could not stop myself from taking a very quick glance at the page open in her hands. Yes, she was reading the
article. I felt a little chill as I went on to greet another customer.
It might be that famous authors get used to seeing their words read by strangers in public places. But for me it felt like I had received something sacred--experiencing through outward signs that my words could be read deeply. Though part of me still needs to make peace with my actions in sneaking that glance, the larger part remains grateful for what I received that day.
Now, with plans to delve into a new first draft on the horizon, along with final edits on a novel that will be out in the spring, it is almost time to sit down again with the screen and page before me. Also before me will be windows that look into the woods, toward those mysterious, welcoming readers in there, out there, and beyond.