The Big Question arises in all kinds of contexts. At five a.m. when I crawl out of bed to make my way to the Baylor Tom Landry Pool (and I try very hard not to think about it very much, because if I thought about it I'd never do it). At four o'clock on a Friday when I'm sorting all the junk I've been dealing with during the week for the purpose of, eventually, filing it. When I'm churning out query e-mails (queermails?) to agents, a lone snowflake in the blizzard being swept across the Internet in hopes I won't melt before I land in the right agent's snow shovel. Well, there must be a good reason. I must, on some level, expect some kind of reward. The answer, then, is what kind.
At this point I could sniff somewhat self-righteously and announce that virtue is its own reward, but my bullshit detector is way too sensitive to put up with this for even two seconds. In the case of getting up before dawn to get mostly naked and throw myself into cold water, it's pretty much gotten to the point where I can't not do it, at least for very long. Two or three days away from the pool and I start getting all twitchy. I seem to have a minimum chlorine requirement. I suppose there's that whole post-exercise glow and that warm satisfaction of knowing I've done something good for my body, too, but for sheer unadulterated rewards it's hard to beat the jaccuzi and the heated towels afterward.
In the case of filing stuff, I get the reward of a clean desk, at least for a few nanoseconds. We office workers take our moments of clean deskitude where we can get them. Currently I have at least five different piles of papers, in priority order, taking up space on my admittedly huge desk. Just seeing formica once in a while is its own little miracle.
And in the case of the query emails--well, here the analogy just falls apart like a badly strung necklace.
Okay, I admit it: It's been over a month since I sent any out. I don't know why I stopped and I don't know how to get started again. It just started seeming like a complete waste of time all of a sudden. I usually didn't get a response, or if I did it was one of those "Sorry, but buzz off" replies. No "Sure, kid, send me a couple of chapters" or "Hey, can't use it, but nice use of the word 'the' in the second paragraph." In short, no reward. If there's no reward, is there any point in doing it?
Yes, I know; I'm never going to get the silly thing published unless I write a lot more letters. I haven't written nearly enough to give up or even slow down. The Help was rejected by over sixty agents -- over sixty! Be impressed immediately!--before it was accepted and became a runaway best-seller (that I still, for the record, have no desire to read). Wait, hold it, let me channel Linus of Peanuts here: "Just think, Charlie Brown, (Mrs. Tolstoy) wrote ('War and Peace') seven times with a dip pen! And you're telling me you can't read it once?"
Still, same problem. No reward. No pats on the head for getting query letters out. No one says "Good job!" or gives me an extra smooch. I'm just supposed to keep plodding along, churning them out like a highly sophisticated riveting machine on an automobile assembly line someplace. But honestly, most of the time I feel more like Mrs. Tolstoy with a dip pen.