People used to pat me on the head and say, “Yes, dear. You want to be a writer. Isn’t that sweet. But you know that it’s almost impossible to get published these days.” I’ve heard that same song since I began submitting work in the 1990s. For a while, my novice deficiencies as a writer joined the wet blanket warnings to suppress my writing ambitions.
Then I spent a month with Guy in Harare, Zimbabwe. He was a white businessman who had defied every prediction and started a business there. The government was pushing out what remained of the white population, claiming farms and businesses for President Mugabe and his acolytes. The economy was collapsing; there were fears the water system would collapse, inflation was skyrocketing, unemployed men milled around under the spreading Machibi tree on the corner every day. Guy’s cottage was behind ten-foot walls, and the housecleaner warned me to close the windows against burglars.
Guy planned each day while he lolled in a hot morning bath, then suited up and went to work. When an employee called from the middle of nowhere with a flat tire, he took him a tire. When there was an unexpected expense, he went to the safe and took out the money. He didn’t snuffle and complain or take out his frustration on others. He chugged ahead, always coming back to his mission. If the day’s plan wasn’t accomplished in full, it was added to the next day’s.
I watched him beat the odds. It was a lot in his attitude. He listened quietly to doomsayers, took from them what could benefit him, then moved forward.
I fell into his rhythm. If Guy could start a successful business in Zimbabwe, then I could be a writer America. Being an artist or a writer isn’t any harder than being a restaurateur or opening a dress shop. Most of them fail, at least at first.
I’m many years past my visit to Zimbabwe, but what I learned from Guy lives on. My first book was published in 2014, many short stories have been published, and one of them has been nominated for the 2022 Pushcart Prize. My next book is ready to go, and there are two more in the works.
The hardest part is defining the mission. After that, two steps forward every day.