This article originally appeared in Volume I, Issue III of StoryBoard Memphis Quarterly in July 2022.
Authors of books get all the glory. I understand why. There’s something so wonderfully tangible about that hardback cover. The insides are made up of thoughts and ideas strung together to make a story or a lesson or perhaps a pontification. But that cover on the outside, that’s what pins down the words and makes them less cloud and more classroom, less ethereal and more earthy. There’s even a price on the front, suggesting the writer’s thoughts are worth something—a real amount of real money. As real as something like food or a house or a pair of cowboy boots.
Book writers are most certainly the first-borns of the writing world. As one who has almost entirely written for magazines, newspapers, and online publications, I feel a bit like I’m playing second fiddle to them. What I write is here today, gone tomorrow. I don’t need an agent to represent my work. No space is given to it on a library shelf. Nobody brings it up in high school English classes or Lit. 101. It’s just a flourish, spinning brightly for a spell, and as quickly as it bursts onto the scene, it’s gone.
Just like that.
Maybe because I’m a little burned out and maybe because somewhere deep in my soul, I’m contemplating Ecclesiastical questions about vanity and meaninglessness, I’ve given up writing for a bit. I’m letting the fresh summer breeze blow through my over-analytical brain so I can become a normal human again—somebody who simply drives to the grocery store, buys the food, and comes home without cataloging twelves ideas about which I might write later. I’m giving my husband a break from hearing about all my inspirations—bless that man—and I’m letting my writing brain lie dormant so it might rest sabbatical-like, and hopefully find itself rejuvenated later.
Yesterday, I was out for a walk with my dog. I talk to God best when I walk. Something about the step-step-step keeps my mind focused. We were walking, and I was talking about my inferiority complex when it comes to writing things that will line wastebaskets 24-hours later. “What is the point?!” I asked us both aloud. Why write something that costs my time, thoughts, and sometimes tears only to watch it evaporate before my very eyes the next morning? Are we writers not charged with more than that?
I want to write something that leaves a mark on other souls. I want a cottage in Oxford (England or Mississippi—either will suffice) with exposed beams and big windows, floors that squeak and a fireplace to inspire creative thinking. I want to write deep into the night (even though, truthfully, all my inspiration arrives midmorning and evaporates just after my ham sandwich at lunch), and I want people to read my work and feel as though we are comrades in this life, walking lockstep through our days as we live from similar vantage points. I want them to buy my book and put it on their shelves so their children and their children’s children will read it and love it and pass it on. I want a circle of writers who discuss thoughts and ideas like Jo March had. I’m a three on the Enneagram and I just can’t help it—I want people to read what I write, and I want it to become a part of who they are.
But what I write has a paperback cover—at best. Sometimes, for online publications, there’s no cover at all. We walked, and I prayed all these frustrations out loud. Rookie barked at something to the left, and I glanced in that direction. There, down the gravel alley where everybody’s big green, smelly trash cans live, someone had planted the most beautiful wildflower garden I had ever seen. The late afternoon sun was cutting through the petals, painting each hue like a watercolor artist would. The rainbow of flowers was set against an otherwise dull stone wall, but as the backdrop of such a floral symphony, that wall looked like a trusted guard watching over these delicate flourishes of delight. Reds, purples, yellows—they were all there in soft and long and round and square. Every felicity nature has ever produced seemed to be found in that fifteen-by-three-foot spot, all working together to push back the dark of that gravel trash can alleyway. And it hit me.
Even God makes things that line wastebaskets the next day.
Flowers like these come and—just like that—they go. I could hardly believe the beauty I had stumbled upon in this whole swollen moment. Had anyone else seen this alleyway alight with holiness? I glanced around searching for someone—anyone—to share this moment with and my eyes fell on a tree across the street. Not just any tree, this was an old, safe, grandfatherly tree that protected the homes nearby with its limbs and offered a listening ear to every man blessed to be in its company. Much like one of those old hardbacks, this tree had a space in the neighborhood that was solely its own, and it would be around longer than any of the mere humans who cooled themselves in its shade.
God made that old wise tree, and he made the youthful cheerfulness of the flowers. God has written the book and the periodical. The tree with all its green and brown and sage wisdom couldn’t compare to the beauty of the spirited rainbow that danced through the garden, but the exquisitely fragile flowers were mere dust set against the strength of that ancient, rugged trunk. Both had purpose. Both were made by God. Both brought him glory. Neither one could fully represent the one who calls himself The Word. All words have the chance to bring him glory. Those that are here today, gone tomorrow are no less valuable than those that live on the shelf for years, hugged tightly by that hardback cover. Similarly, the tree and the flower dwelt in tandem, using their peculiar beauties to point humanity to our Maker, that we might follow their lead and give him glory as they do.
And—just like that—my calling as a writer of paperback flourishes became real to me—more real even than cowboy boots.
Candace Echols is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the Quarantine, and now writes a column for The Daily Memphian.