• Richard Lutman

MY JOURNEY: The Empty Years

MY JOURNEY: The Empty Years

While living in Rhode Island during the eighties and nineties I was a regular submitter to journals and competitions. I had five fiction pieces published, two nonfiction pieces, five Writer’s Digest awards for fiction and nonfiction, two fellowships and one finalist award for my work from the RI State Council of the Arts.


I expected the success to continue. It didn’t. From 1998-2006 none of the dozens of pieces I sent out were published or awarded. This was the hardest challenge I had ever faced as a writer. Did I stop writing and keep sending pieces out or not? I spent many a night stoned as I figured out what I was to do. I had an MFA how could this have happened?


I felt panic, guilt, but most of all empty. Had I peaked? Emptiness became the symbol for my self-doubt. Take a big kitchen bowl the kind used for cookie dough at Christmas. The bowl waits to be filled with brown sugar, flour, a well of dark molasses, cinnamon and ginger. When the dough is mixed and taken from it, the bowl is empty again, shining clean, warm from soapsuds and hot water. Or a more precious bowl taken from a high shelf where it waited all winter for spring and its first flowers, will the beach roses float on its surface or will it be filled with daffodils?


Then there are cups, empty or filled. A cup filled with kindness can be emptied of bitterness, or gall. A cup of tea is a symbol of warmth and comfort, an empty cup of loneliness and the end of the day, or the end of a time of togetherness.


Vaster are the empty skies over Montana’s wide stretches, or the blue behind the marvelous piling clouds of February. But are the night skies empty, so filled with stars, with the Milky Way a scarf of brilliance above our heads? How to speak of an empty sea, when so much life teams just below its shifting gleaming surfaces.


An empty space at a family table is some specific person missing, an empty chair at school, a classmate has moved away, gone from our friendship or caring. There is an empty area where once a house stood, or a whole block of stores, cleaners, drugstore, convenience, with a sweep of a bulldozer, gone with the wind, and emptiness left.


I wondered if I could ever again fill a bowl, a cup, or an empty chair with my words.

In 2006 the words began to fill the empty spaces. The short story from my field journal I had been sending out for months was finally published. To this day I don’t know what happened. The stories hadn’t changed. From then on I had at least one piece of writing published up to 2019. Yet I still worry whether the emptiness will come again.


Above my work station was a card I received from Paxton Davis, a faculty member I met at the 1981 University of Rhode Island Writers Conference. After the conference ended he sent wrote me a postcard with these words I read every day.


“This will be but a brief note in great haste, and too long afterward,

To say how much I liked your work at the conference, how enthusiastically

I wish you good luck with it….You clearly have both the talent and

Commitment to make go of it…”


He was right. Don’t ever give up.

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