Welcome to DePaul Blue Book’s blog!
While our team anxiously waits for your submissions, we thought we could help spark creativity for your writing, in and out of school. Every other week professors at DePaul University (and perhaps, other scholars across Chicago) will be posting snippets of their expertise free of charge! Follow along for tips and tricks that will take your writing to the next level.
Steven Ramirez teaches creative writing classes at DePaul University. His short fiction has appeared in Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, PANK, Lumina, Blue Mesa Review, Puerto Del Sol, Huizache, and The North American Review, among other publications. Steven is so close to finishing his first novel, Night Stalkers. He shows up on weekdays from five to seven AM.
I have this friend.
Let’s call him Mario, because that’s his name.
I’ve known Mario most of my life, and though we no longer live in the same city, we’ll see each other two, maybe three times a year. Pretty good for a couple of friends living in different places, leading different lives.
Anyway, whenever I visit Mario, and we’re out—dinner, drinks, whatever—this thing happens. People, lots and lots of people, will go out of their ways to say hello to him. Hugs, kisses, fist bumps, you name it. I joke that if any of these dopes were carrying babies, they might ask Mario to hold the squirmy little things.
Pope Mario! I laugh. Mayor of the bottomless mimosa!
But that’s not even the strange part. (People know people. So what?) No, the strange part, the thing that’s got me all thinky brainy, is that Mario, Mr. Popularity, has got to be the quietest, most passive, most poker-faced, most blink-and-you’ll-miss-him dude I know. Seriously. The guy doesn’t talk. I mean yeah, he talks—Hey how’s it going, Mario? Good. Hey what’s new, Mario? Not much. Hey how’s work, Mario? Work’s work.—but like Mario doesn’t talk talk, you know? Hold court, crack jokes, regale his audience with tales of heroics and heartbreak, or any of those things you expect from the guy who can’t walk ten paces without somebody leaping across traffic just to plant a fat one on those silent cheeks.
Don’t ask why it took me so long.
I really don’t know.
But one night at a restaurant or a bar or a barebecue or something, after the usual dozen or so fans had stopped by to pay their respects, I asked him about it.
Hey Mario, I said. How do you know all these people? How do all these people know you?
Maybe he picked up on what I was implying. Or maybe he didn’t so much as give it a second thought. But his answer is something I’ll never forget. It’s what brings me here.
I dunno, Mario shrugged. I guess I just show up.
Mario shows up?
I turned the words over in my head, once, maybe two times, and soon understood exactly what he was talking about. Mario shows up. Yes he does. However last minute, however large or small or excruciating the event (my Catholic mother once gushed about having coffee with Mario at a church potluck—yikes!), it seemed that while the rest of us busied ourselves with finding new reasons to postpone, cancel, or just flake out altogether, Mario was there each time. No words. No punchlines. No tales of conquest and glory. Just present. Only present.
Mario shows up.
So what am I saying?
Is writing, then, a popularity contest?
No. Thank God. Writing is not.
But when I think of writers—beginner writers especially, my classrooms full of journal keepers, dream transcribers, jotter downers of life’s biggest (but mostly tiny) questions—I can’t help but notice how we all too often go about this thing backwards. We put ourselves at the fancy pants table, drumming our fingers, bouncing our feet, wondering where everybody is, why nobody is lining up to say hello.
Mario will tell you why.
We don’t show up.
We must show up.
As writers, it’s the only non-negotiable.
Forget brilliance. Forget daring. Forget experience, world travel, or even having the slightest thing to say.
Show up to your sunken couch at five AM—no, not the sexiest hour (hello, bedhead! what’s new, eye crust!)—but the only time you have to devote to your writing before the emails ding and the texts dong.
Show up at ten, eleven, midnight, to the chipped end of that second-hand coffee table, the one with the sticky soda rings, but your kids are asleep, and the neighbors are done playing music, and you’ve tucked your phone away for just these next thirty minutes.
Show up on that city bus, squeezed between grumpy passengers sharing this cold morning commute, but hey, a pen and notepad don’t require too much space, certainly no outlets, so here you go, chapter one, the first stanza, pot holes and all.
And maybe you write a page. Maybe you write ten. But be warned, dear writer, most times you’ll write nothing at all. Which is fine. No words, remember? No punchlines. No great tales of whatchamacallit. You’re there. Present. You showed up. And tomorrow, when your head aches, and the coffee’s weak, and your boss sucks, and Jennifer and Ben have called it quits, you’re gonna do it again. And again. And again.
And one day I’m going to find the nerve to ask you, Hey how do you write that? Where do you find these ideas? Or better yet, how do these ideas find you?
And maybe you’ll pick up on what it is I’m implying. Or maybe you won’t so much as give it a second thought. It doesn’t matter. Because you don’t know. You really don’t.
You just show up.
– Steven Ramirez