who the heck knows anything, anyway

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Working Weekend

I have a website! Woooo, isn't that fancy? I spent about five or six hours putting it together yesterday. It's free, so it's got one of those subdomains attached to the address, but I am not one to complain. Go look at it! Ooooh, pretty.

Now I would like to talk about endings.*

I kvetch about them a lot. All the time. It's incessant. When I'm not audibly complaining about them, I'm visualizing my hatred for them (often this mental imagery involves yelling loudly and lighting magazines/my computer on fire). Generally compared to the landing of an airplane, ending a story is the single most difficult part about writing (short stories, in particular). They often come out sounding rushed, trite, or shocking-for-the-sake-of-being-shocking. If you're me, this leads to a few days of erasing everything and feeling depressed. Plenty of people seem to settle for the bumpy landing and publish their stories, regardless. This deepens my depression.

If I were a casual reader, I might hardly notice. But I am not a casual reader. I am a hawk-eyed reader searching specifically for a good example. This is not me being picky and pretentious; this is me being desperate for a role model**. Tell me that a good ending exists, so that I know what it looks like. TELL ME.

Ok, and this may be extra picky of me, but can I narrow my parameters (I did say this was extra picky) to "the good endings of good stories that are not guaranteed to make a person cry from sadness"? Because a few stories are coming back to me--truly amazing stories--that had endings that were incredibly solid, but all of them involved dead children or spouses dying from cancer that hate each other. Though I read these stories, and admire them, I am not one to write about--well, those things. There were a few nights of Advanced Fiction reading assignments that had me both crying and hugging the toilet, fairly concerned that I might need to throw up. If I have to throw up every time I end a story, people will start to think I have an eating disorder. I have enough disorders already.

If all this ranting had to have a point, I think it would be that I spend a lot of time combating doubt. There are lists of things I would love to study (comics would be such an awesome art/writing hybrid, and then there's the M.A. in Folk Lore, or I could do a 180 and go into marine biology or neurology...), so how do I know that I am making the right choice? Of course, I know that writing is one of my truest true loves, and that I have the skill to pursue it, so there isn't any real doubt that I'm making a wrong choice--but I'm still such a novice at the whole Authorial Hoobly-ha. I have friends that write for eight hours a day. Eight hours a day. I write for, like, three. On a good day. How the heck to they do it?? My brain just gets so tired.

This sounds very negative now, and maybe I'll get flack for being so glum-tee-tum, but I think voicing this will be good for two reasons:

1. I can look back on this in the future when I am (fingers crossed) successful but still encountering these same frustrations, and I will remember that these feelings are not new, and that if they didn't make me give up then (i.e. now), they sure as heck won't make me give up now (i.e. in the future).

And 2. If anyone else feels like this, they'll know they're not alone. There's a lot to be said for camaraderie. I like to be supportive of my fellows. Plus, I sure as heck wish I knew some people in my profession who could commiserate. Is that bad? (I'm guessing the answer is "no"? Anxieties about what it means to be a good, responsible person invade my every thought. It is totally ok to complain every once in a while as long as you're proactive and not just wallowing in it, right? Gaaaaaah, wracked by guilt.)

...Also. I admit, for the sake of being entirely honest, that I remember one story that was not sob-inducing and that I thought was excellent. It's called "Field Events" by Rick Bass. You can definitely find it in The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories. So go on ahead and read it. (It may be worth noting that the class I read it in was split right down the middle after reading Bass' story, one half Super Loving It and the other half Super Hating It.)  Although he did win the PEN/Nelsen Algren award and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. So he's not a newbie.

Now I'm going to work on my mystery and not be such a stick in the mud.

*I apologize in advance for the tirade that is about to take place.
**one without a big, shiny Nobel/Pulitzer/Man Booker prize (etc), preferably. Because if prize-winners are the only authors capable of ending a story well, then I...um, I have no idea what then. Then I shed lots of tears? Read nothing but Nobel Laureate lit? All the options seem very limiting. Granted I should probably aspire to write endings like Award Winners, but it's just a little discouraging that none of the contemporary fiction I have read outside of Granta seems to have anyone who is good, beginning to end (and I've been reading a lot of publications). Where are the newbies who can bring me hope? Or is there really just a great rift, hardly a spot of middle ground, between the people who are acceptable and those who are amazing?