And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah
-Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah
I could give you a list of excuses: I work a lot. I just started my own business. I’m a tutor and a freelance writer, and I have a day job. I went to Italy; I went to Vegas; I went to Giants games (and then cried), I spent the weekend at my best friend’s. I have a boyfriend and a family and a life that keeps me really busy.
And all of it is true. I have been too busy to write.
I have also been rejected.
I suppose it’s nothing to be particularly ashamed of: getting rejected by the New York Times. Twice. And losing several writing contests. And being asked for a revision from a fairly prestigious literary magazine before its editors ultimately said, “It didn’t really work for us.” Then being denied by The Rumpus editors. It’s not exactly like I’ve been aiming low. And I get it: being a writer/human means getting rejected sometimes. But it still feels awful.
So I quit.
It wasn’t a conscious decision. I didn’t stomp off to my room after the last rejection and say, “Well that’s it, I’m done. No more writing for me—it’s too hard.” It was more insidious than that: I just no longer seemed to have the time to write. Ever. It was the kind of decision you don’t realize you’ve made until you start to feel the effects of it. And in this case, the effects were subtle (until they weren’t); they were gradual (until they were all at once). I started to feel this low-level, amorphous anxiety that swam underneath everything I did. I felt, in the most general sense, off. And sometimes the nonspecific kind of melancholy is the worst kind—because what can you do about it if you’re not even sure what it is?
But then, slowly, it began to dawn on me: “oh right–y’know that thing that you feel like is kind of your calling in life? You’re not doing it.” So there’s that. Continue reading
To write about anything right now other than the election and its aftermath seems small and irrelevant to me. It’s felt that way for a while, so I let the blog go dark. Sure, I have some thoughts about the current state of the union, but mine wouldn’t be anything other than another voice bouncing around in the echo chamber. I am profoundly sad and very scared. Nothing original.
Since the election I haven’t written a thing.
But this morning I got up and had a thought: the only way to move on is to move on. Which for me is to write. That’s what I do. I tell stories. I believe in the power of storytelling—in its ability to take you from one place to another—and that remains true, even in a world that’s been turned upside-down.
There’s a story that I’ve been wanting to tell—a small one, that doesn’t involve any apocalyptic predictions or course-correcting diagnoses for the world. It’s just about this one perfect day I had last month, and it won’t unwind the clock or make me any less scared about where this country is headed.
But I’m going to tell it anyway because it’s all I know how to do. Continue reading
Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.
-Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
“I think you really really need to surrender to the fact that an essay requires a conclusion that is neat in a way that life is not,” my writing teacher said to me last year. I’ve been working with her for a while and she knows—I really really hate neat conclusions. To me, they seem like copouts. It’s taken me a long time to accept the true complexity of life and I desperately want my writing to reflect that. And when it doesn’t, I feel like I’ve failed as a writer.
A few months ago I submitted a piece about an old friendship of mine that seemed to have run its course. The editor accepted my first draft but wanted me to tighten up the ending. It was too vague, she said—which made perfect sense considering the fact that I was still ambivalent about the friendship and unsure of where we stood. I knew the general story arc: that we were best friends when we were young, that we had drifted as we grew up, and that time and thousands of miles between us had shifted things for us in a way that might not be reconcilable. I ended the rough draft on a vague note about how sometimes being an adult means not taking action, but rather letting relationships turn into whatever they’re supposed to be, and then bearing the uncertainty that comes with that. I believe that with all my heart.
Except that uncertainty is not usually what people want from their reading. Admittedly some people (and publications) are more comfortable than others with ambiguity, but generally speaking, readers (and thus editors) want some degree of resolution at the end of a piece of writing. If they wanted haziness they could just return to their own lives.
The fact is, storytelling is about making choices—it’s about choosing what to include and what to leave out. It’s about arranging the included events and facts in a particular sequence so that their meaning is accessible to the reader. Which means sometimes, telling a story is about providing a conclusion that might over-simplify a complicated issue fraught with doubt and confusion and conflict. Continue reading