This often quoted line from Death of a Salesman breaks the passive tense rule and leaves us to question who pays a bill of attention. In context, of course, it’s Willie Loman’s sons. But for those of a writerly persuasion attention comes from friends, families, readers, editors (if we are good and lucky) and strangers. Do I deserve this attention? Do I really want it? Depends on which day you ask me.
As a kid I was good at blending in with the wallpaper, attracting as little attention as possible. Left alone with my books and my imagination, I was both safe and happy. Then I got too big to hide under grandma’s desk. I was, and still am, expected to be sociable and to talk to people. But asking for attention still gives me a shiver now and then. Writing here in my little office space, no one sees me, just my words as they creep across the screen. If a reader disagrees with me, I rarely know it.
There are times, though, when a writer has to seek attention. We have to promote/market/sell ourselves in order to sell our books. Tough truth, eh? Now, I don’t stand on the corner in fishnet tights because at my age that technique won’t work. Selling body and soul doesn’t sell books. What works is branding and marketing. This means asking people to book me for readings, to buy the books I tote around, to go to Amazon and punch the one-click button. But too often I stop myself from asking for attention because doing so feels like begging. Ah, the death of a saleswoman. A real salesman/woman believes in the product on offer. This reluctance reveals a flaw in my thinking, in my very being. What I write is worth something to my readers.
How do I know this? Well, my friend Elizabeth got so engrossed in reading my blog entries that she bit into a too-hot pirogi and burned her mouth. Scott Owens, editor of Wild Goose Review, nominated me for a Pushcart Prize, and this week my poetry critique group cheered my latest effort. That’s the kind of attention that comes from hard work, craft, and the courage to step out of the dark corner where that shy kid lived and stand tall. Still, it’s hard, hard, hard. Sometimes the dark corner feels safer.