Quiet Desire (Or: Who’s June Gervais?)

Quiet Desire (Or: Who’s June Gervais?)

Have you ever wanted to do something for years,
but never quite had the courage?

Sally & Henry Gervais, early 1950s

Maybe it’s something that would seem trivial to other people, especially in a year as weighty as 2020, but for whatever reason, doing this thing would hold significance for you. I don’t mean something that depends on luck or the consent of others, like winning an award or getting married; I mean a small but meaningful action that you could theoretically plan and do.

Getting a tattoo.
Running a 5k.
Visiting a certain city.
Saving up to buy a piece of furniture new,
instead of secondhand.

This particular action holds specific symbolic meaning for you, and doing it would mark a shift. It would honor something in you that’s been lying dormant. Let’s call it

The Quiet Desire. 

Did you ever get to a watershed moment,
and suddenly the courage arrived
to act on that Quiet Desire?

I did and I did, and this is the story of June Gervais.

℘℘℘

For some people, writing itself is the Quiet Desire—choosing, finally, to jot down the first paragraph of a story that’s been lying dormant in their minds for years.

For me, though, writing never really went dormant. It was my childhood obsession, and then it became my way of working out the world, a prism to split the blinding white light of being alive. Even when I don’t have the energy or time to write fiction and essays, I still journal, because writing, for me, is a Loud Desire.

My Quiet Desire is related to writing, though, and it feels so trivial that I’m a little embarrassed to share it. (I suspect this is not uncommon for Quiet Desires.)

From the time I was twenty, I’ve wanted to find (and use) a really good pen name.

Sounds so trivial, right? But it holds meaning for me.

It’s not that I want to hide my identity; it started mainly as a practical matter. My birth name is the single most popular girls’ name of the 1980s and 90s plus one of the most common surnames in the U.S. I share this name with thousands of women, including a prominent journalist and writers who have already published books.

1 tealight= 3 hours of early morning novel revision, spring 2020

That particular problem was solved a couple of years later, when I got married and tacked on a hyphenation, but a certain restless feeling remained: my name just never felt like meI like my guy very much, but his name felt like his, not mine. I wanted to use a different name professionally—one that I liked, one that I chose. 

Floating this idea with my family, however, led to much good-natured mockery. They thought it was weird. I began to fear it was ridiculous, or even worse, pretentious. So I let fifteen years go by and didn’t do it.

℘℘℘

You know what, though? 2020.

It’s been a year of loss and laying-bare and injustice and collapse. But oddly enough, amidst all this grief, this was also the year that two decades of work came to fruition for me. I finished a major revision (possibly the 20th revision? I wish I was exaggerating 😆) of my novel, Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair. It sold to Pamela Dorman Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House) and will be published in 2022.

My son cradles baby parakeets born during quarantine

This made the question of whether or not to use a pen name rather timely. Meanwhile, my list of reasons had grown. When I started writing, I didn’t have children. Now I do, and my experiences 1) answering hate mail and 2) doing public speaking over the past several years have led me to think more carefully about my kids’ privacy. I’m not presuming my quirky novel will garner hordes of readers, but however many copies it sells, any little space I can give my kids is a welcome benefit. I’m not trying for Witness Protection Program-level, erase-my-identity privacy—just a notch more than having their surname on a book cover.

I could share another half-dozen reasons why I’m adopting this new name for my writing life, but I’ll end with this one: It just feels right. Alongside everything else, I turned forty this year—the same week my book went out on submission. Add that to the overall crucible of 2020, and never has a birthday felt like such a clear demarcation between one chapter ending and a new one beginning.

℘℘℘

I posed a question at the beginning of this post: whether you had your own Quiet Desire, and if the moment ever came when you found the courage. If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

I’m drawing courage from the fact that this name springs from my roots,
and carries the energy of people and places that mean a lot to me.

June Gervais

Grandma and Grandpa Gervais (and me)

Gervais: my mom’s maiden name. Grandpa Gervais was a mischievous storyteller; Grandma Gervais was a feisty character; they survived profound suffering and came out on the other side.

June: Close to my birth name—a vowel sound away. My favorite month of the year, the time of summer solstice, and a month that has long nourished my writing life. (Shout out to all Bennington writers, who know well that June residencies are magic.) 

So hello. I’m June Gervais. I write and make art. How about you?

And by the way—if 2020 has battered you—
could this year also become your crucible for courage?
In the laying-bare and no-more-time-for-nonsense,
could you revisit your Quiet Desire?

Tell me your story and we’ll raise a glass to courage.

Cheers and love,

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