End of the Story
Long before graduate school, and well before I'd even heard of an MFA program...before i joined writer's groups or went to conferences or wore the turban of writer proudly around my head, I just wrote. Stories mostly. Lots of crazy journal entries and bad poetry (a sign of what a love my husband is, is that he let me read each one to him while we were courting and told me that they were all great). But mostly I wrote short stories about struggling, damaged people and their funny little lives. They flowed to me out of the ether. I couldn't not write them and sometimes I couldn't write them fast enough. I can remember spending six hours writing as a whole story came like a coil of ribbon unspooling all in one piece, like a perfectly pared apple peel. Some of these stories went on to be published and even win me some minor awards (the kind nobody has ever heard of). These stories got me into graduate school, where I then went to work on them with hacksaw and bulldozer.
And then I stopped writing them.
I wrote a few minor pieces of "flash" fiction after grad school ended ('05) but since then it is literally as if that vine just stopped producing fruit. The stories don't come anymore like they once did. Now what comes does so in chunks, like something sweetened condensed that I must add ingredients to and bake and parse and fluff and broil into novels. I don't know if I'd recognize a story anymore if it came to me. I'd probably call up one of my story writing friends and hand it over.
Though I feel as though I should miss them, the truth is, I don't. Oh I miss the fervor that would come with writing them, and the high I'd get from completing them, but that's about it. I definitely don't miss the submitting game. The hours spent priting pages and licking envelopes and spending scads of money on postage, and then waiting, waiting, hungry for approval that rarely came.
You might accuse me of having given up in the face of rejection, but you'd only be half right. Yes, I was rejected a lot. Hundreds of times, which made those few acceptances so very, very sweet. But I also recognized something. As a writer, when something stops compelling you, you're better off turning away and focusing on what does. You're also lucky if you have one form that you can do decently well. Because it takes all your reserves to persevere in the face of all that rejection.
My other great epiphany, one that I am shy to admit, is that I have no longings for literary fame or recognition. I realize that what gives me joy is the telling of and writing of tales. I hope someday to be paid to do this, to entertain and help people travel down a road of inquiry. But I don't aspire to be Virginia Woolf or Toni Morrison. I just want to have fun doing what I do, and live a life that is deep and balanced.
Somehow this feels like I am cutting myself free from something that I have tethered myself to for a long time. Like I might be escorted to the door of that elite club and told "my kind" isn't welcome there anymore. But if that's what it takes to be myself and do what I love, then I guess that's how it goes.
That's my story now.