The Out Post No. 1

Unless otherwise noted, Copyright James C. Hess 2010. All Rights Reserved. Published by Thinking Rock Press, with written permission from the author.

The rainstorm that lasted a week, a day, and a night began with a single rain drop succumbing to gravity's embrace, splattering on the outstretched palm of a Cottonwood leaf desperate for moisture in the wake of a month-long heat wave.

Momentarily, a second rain drop fell, then a third, a fourth. In quick succession, a fifth, a sixth, seventh, and eighth drop, followed by an exponential progression, manifesting in a torrential downpour championed by a ferocious wind; the deluge that persisted for so long.

While the storm raged outside inside relative calm. Inside calm is the norm. A calm accentuated by music - order from chaos, within a chromatic structure. A calm that is characterized by peace and tranquility, achieved by the presence of original art: Pen and ink, watercolors, oils and photographs - each unique and individual. It is a calm framed by thousands of books, each revered and respected. It is a calm divine. Within this calm is where the end of my work occurs before it goes out into the world to be received or rejected, and my attention turns once more to my desk, to the work that always waits.

My desk looks out onto a view of the Colorado Rockies unequaled. Sometimes it is a view so invigorating and enthralling I am obliged to close the curtain in order to meet deadlines and fulfill commitments and contracts, and focus on the task before me.

I am not only fortunate to have this view, connected to the calm and peace I know, I am blessed. No one else I know sees the world as I see it, and no one else experiences it as I do.

A fact that goes to superficially explain the superlative recently attached to my name; an addendum to my vocation: Nature Writer.

The honor, although appreciated, encourages confusion: Beyond the segregation it imposes, the prejudicial categorization it inflicts, the restrictions demanded - what does it mean? Why not just "Writer"?

A critic of my work once correctly noted I don't accept praise readily or easily. I don't, especially when it is apparent there exists an ulterior motive within the accolade: Pigeonhole me and ultimately deny me opportunity as a Writer because of a misguided sense of duty to honor me and my work; or perhaps, more likely, to realize the true intention: Limit me in my pursuits and my potential.

In today's world, where writing has been eroded by technology that makes it a populist pursuit, the overall value is greatly diminished and hindered by such proclamations, and burdens it instead of elevating it to success otherwise merited and deserved; and relegates the Writer to a ghetto of sorts - a ghetto far worse, incidentally, than the one some Writers find themselves in because they chose to write genre fiction - specifically fantasy, science fiction, and horror.

Regardless, I appreciate the fact people read my writing and find it in characteristics and attributes they recognize and can relate to, resulting in a connection that transcends distance and space, and aids in the bettering of the world, albeit in a small, modest and humble way.

Which brings me to my point: I write because I can, because I want to, and because I demonstrate competency for it. I don't do it to seek greatness as a Writer or through the writing itself. Such assumptions and erroneous pronouncements are best left to those who would insist on the aforementioned term: "Nature Writer", and who don't understand what they are actually doing to me with such utterances.

I admit I write about Nature. I do so because those things within this categorization matter to me. Because doing so allows me the opportunity to realize and fulfill myself. From this, when it is achieved some day, comes stature deserved, and by relation, respect.

The concepts of stature and respect are increasingly rare things, owing much to the willful ignorance on the part of those who do not understand them; those given to indignation and puffery, self-importance and ego, whose existence is not about the writing, be it The Craft or Art or both, but about making the rounds in which a form of prostitution is justified: Monday it is The Late Show, Tuesday brings an appearance on Oprah, Wednesday a local show (to demonstrate how you remain just one of the guys, despite your success), Thursday is a high profile and much lauded affair such as Larry King Live, and Friday is network news with Brian Williams or Diane Sawyer or whoever reads the news for CBS these days, because this is what is demanded nowadays of the literary types, reduced by multi-national corporations that own publishing interests to the status of commodity, or worse, chattel.

You achieve stature and you earn respect only if and when you deserve them. They come, simply, by way of what once was called The Puritan Work Ethic: The reward the work earns being more important than the accolades bestowed upon you by sycophants.

But I digress. I write because I can, because I want to, because I demonstrate a measure of skill and talent for it. I write what I write, and be damned the modifiers preceding "Writer", and if my attitude - as one or two critics have called it - costs me a reader or two, and a dollar or two, so be it.

I don't write to satisfy you.

There it is: The storm outside reaches its crescendo in the form of howling winds and rain violently striking the window screens, leaves ripped from branches and trees falling down, while inside the truth, the real truth, the ugly truth of ugly truths comes out, among the books written by Writers who came before, who believed this truth as well.

Every Writer admits, publically or privately, that at some point in their writing career they tried to write for the reader, and failed miserably, learning in the process a hard lesson: You won't satisfy the critics and you can't please the ever fickle reader consistently.

For example, several years ago I began a written correspondence with a Writer whose work I admire and respect. I said as much in my introductory letter to him - which, incidentally, was intended to be a one-time thing - and I thanked him for the substantial body of work he had produced to date.

His reply, on the back of an inexpensive postcard, was: Thank you.

Given the short reply I decided it best I not contact him further, and was surprised when I received a rather long letter from him a few weeks later, in which he apologized for the curt response, and in which he went on a great length about writing, publishing, and Writers in general. All of which acted as preface to a question demanding an answer: I suppose you want to be a Writer?

I wrote back: No. I don't want to be a Writer. I am a Writer. I know this because when a Writer says you are a Writer you know you are a Writer, and several have done just that.

It was almost three months before another letter came from him. This one was as long as the previous one, and in it he wanted to know what I had written, what I had published, where my interests in writing lay, etc.

I provided him with a short list of my published writing, answered the other inquiries, and waited.

A few days after mailing the letter I received an e-mail from him, which began: I hope you are the person I am looking for. I have read some of the writings credited to you (I think), and must express my opinion on them.

Simply, he likes some of my writings and hates some of it - as expected. But he gave explanation for his responses in an incredibly detailed e-mail.

I was, admittedly, dumbfounded by the fact he had tracked me down, had read the writings I had provided, and had taken the time to provide substantial response to my work. (Aside: Usually I get notes from readers who don't like something I wrote and published that read simply: You suck.) But I was honored and pleased. Here was a Writer whose works far exceed mine, who has received honor and accolade unequaled, and yet he was compelled to consider mine, and provide opinion on it.

We have continued this correspondence, by way of e-mail, and one odd telephone call during the wee hours of the morning - the details of which I won't repeat because it was, well, odd. Recently, though, the correspondence may have hit a snag. He sent me an e-mail wanting to know why it is I write so many different things when it is apparent - to him, at least - I am a "Nature Writer". (Yes, he's the one who added that modifier to "Writer".)

I politely responded that I am a Writer. Nothing else, nothing more, and I write what I write because that is how it happens. The pigeon-holing I leave to those who concern themselves with such things.

His response was superficially blunt, but understandable: With an attitude like that you'll never get anywhere.

This opinion, incidentally, from a man whose writing ranges across the literary landscape, whose works marvel, thrill, and amaze in their ability to transcend the convenience of genre and form. This, I must point out, from a writing talent who frustrates critics and confounds armchair experts by his unwillingness to submit to categorization, all the while revolutionizing them.

After I received his first reply to my initial note, I had to wonder what his motive was for doing so. Now I know: We share the same spirit, the same commonality, the same path through Life: Our respective existences are antithetical to the times we live in. Neither seeks nor desires the sensational. We choose to be thorough, judicious, and objective in our work. We pursue humility and humbleness instead of vices that include self-importance and egotism. We ignore the news media because it first ignores us, by way of what is perceived to be our unwillingness to embrace inherently superficial and shallowness, wrapped in the latest fad or trend.

We don't go for a specific audience. We let it find us, and come to us through our work that is never the same from one effort to the next.

But to suggest we are overlooked is to lie and commit disservice to ourselves and what we do. There is praise, and awards and accolades from the audiences we call our own - as stubborn in their support of us as we are in our refusal to submit to expectation, convention and status quo.

Because at the end of the day, when the lights are turned off, the door is closed, and we say good night, the only thing that matters is what remains, in the form of two words:

Thank you.

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