The Known World

Writers are said to need a thick skin. It’s a tough world out there, after all. First there are all the rejections, and then, once your work is getting published, the reviews. You can’t please all the people, and those unpleased people will be sure to let you know, in the New York Times, on Amazon, maybe even in an email. A writer’s thick skin protects him from these arrows of opinion, defending a vulnerable interior that must continue to write and share his work with a world that seems partly determined to silence him. I never wanted a thick skin. I had felt plenty wounded by the arrows of opinion and rejection, but to build a layer between myself and that world I believed could harm me would be to retreat from life, the very thing I wished to celebrate in my work. And so I suffered on, a wounded bird of a writer, skin as papery as a chick’s.

Until I ceased to find my own suffering noble. This is how all change seems to come to my life: I fatigue of some constant discomfort and so begin to question what I had been calling reality. I saw that I had two options: either I could give myself an alligator’s hide—and with it, no doubt, his teeth and temper—or admit that the arrows weren’t real. The first option seemed easier than the second. The first option seemed to grow out of the known world, a land of disease and wounds and death, of wars and enemies and governments and races and religions. That was the world I had lived in.

Or was it? I chose the second, and the world itself changed with that choice. The arrows weren’t real, because what I actually was needed neither protection nor repair. The arrows were all as harmless and transparent as thoughts. As long, that is, as I remember to see myself thus. When I forget, which I frequently do, the sky grows black with arrows, and I stand ready to take my last breath, impaled by a world I invented, or saved by a world I remembered.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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