November 30, 2009

Competition, Shame, and Rage

Every writer’s dream (to assert a vast generalization) is a secluded cottage with internet access, a cozy fire, comfy log furniture, and nice morning light. Three times a day, a picnic basket appears at the door with muffins and a latte or thickly sliced ham sandwiches or piping hot lasagna with garlic toast and a nice Chianti. Your agent calls at noon to tell you your book is on the best-seller lists, as well as a critical success. Oh, and they’re making it into a movie. In the evening, after a busy day clicking away at the keyboard, Ernest Hemingway and Alice Munro and Truman Capote wait in the main house next to a roaring fire to drink mojitos and wine and to discuss your work and tell you how your stuff rocks. There are others there who flirt with you and then go back to your cabin to have wild sex, before you drift off to a contented sleep, looking forward to more of the same the next day.

What this dream doesn’t account for is the urgency of competition and the cold steely nerve brought about by indifference. Better yet, the angry impetus of active hostility. We need the dark side. We need to see our friends and our enemies doing better than we are so we push ourselves to improve, to do more, to apply the seat of our pants to the seat of the chair. We need our skeletons and our shame to give us the gift of our best work. We need family to give us life and we need life to intervene and give us the whetstone against which we hone our art.

If only it weren’t so.

Very important side note: My friend Leslie Maslow won the 2009 Open City / Rrofihe Trophy for her story “Mum.” I got the honor of reading it in workshop last summer. Make sure to pick up Open City #28 to read this great story!

What I’m Reading Today: Some lovely and tormented Kent Meyers. And Zombies!

No comments: