Thursday, November 28, 2013

Being Thankful for Strange Things

This is a continuation of my entry from yesterday.  
Today is Thanksgiving.  Every year on this day I try to answer the questions, "What am I thankful for?"  
There are lots of overlapping answers.  Answers that make an appearance each year.  
I'm thankful that I'm employed.  That I'm not sleeping out in the cold in some cardboard box, wondering where I can go to get something to eat tomorrow.  
I'm thankful for my family.  I'm especially thankful that I got to travel to visit a large number of them this year (using plane tickets and hotel reservations paid for by that aforementioned job that I'm thankful for).  
And writing about my family, I'm thankful that I was raised by stubborn parents, who infused me with a mixture of both of their slightly different brands of stubbornness.  
How does this square with me deciding to give up my dream of publishing my novel, along with dozens of short stories, and one day being able to stay at home and make shit up for a living?  Like I said in the previous blog entry, it started with this email I received.  
After I made my decision to abandon my efforts to write anything, I immediately put it into practice.  I know from experience that the decision to change life habits need to be followed up on immediately.  It took me a while to get used to waking up at a time when ninety percent of civilized society was still unconscious.  It was going to take time to undo that.  
It wasn't easy in the beginning.  My body is used to waking up just before my alarm rang at 4:30 AM.  So on that first day of being a non-writer, I found myself staring at the alarm clock waiting three minutes for the alarm to ring.  Being already awake, I went to my desk and started going through my paperwork, looking for the birth certificate and social security card I'd need to get my driver's license reinstated.  
The second day, I set my alarm for an hour and a half later, using the time previously set aside for writing for sleep.  I still woke up right about four-thirty in the morning, but I turned over and took an hour and a half nap before getting up and going to work.  
I have to admit that during what I this transition period, which was how I was thinking about it, I wasn't happy.  
Let me take another stab at that because I'm not by nature a happy person.  I'm not one of those people who can just "Be Happy."  This isn't to say that I'm unhappy.  When greeted by my peers and colleagues during the day, when they say, "How're you doing?" or "How's it going?" my typical reply is "I'm breathing" or more generally, "I'm Oh-kay."  And that's usually true.  Most of the time I'm OK.  That's because for me the state I refer to as "Happiness" is the result of something.  When my department makes the daily goal, I'm mildly happy.  Just beyond the border of satisfied.  The very few times I sold a story or comic book script for publication, I would be quite happy.  An emotion that would repeat itself when I finally got to see the work in print.  So not being happy wasn't that big of a deal.  
What was more difficult to deal with was the uncertainty of who I was now.  Being a writer was a big part of my self-identity.  I knew I needed something to replace it.  But even before that, I knew I had to move away from it.  
At a working lunch, where I joined some other managers meeting some new members of our sales staff, I had to correct the colleague doing the introductions when she referred to me as a writer.  I "was" a writer, I told her.  In private, I asked to refrain from referring to that part of my past again.  
It was strange and awkward.  But if I was going to do this, I needed to do it right, right?  I couldn't let other people think of me in a way that I was trying to not think of myself.  
In my mind, I figured if I could get through the first week, the second week would be better.  Seven days in a row with no effort to write anything but a production report at work or an email to my staff giving them the day's assignments.  That's what it would take.  
On the sixth day, the same day the Bible says God created man, I got an email.  
I recognized it immediately.  It was a reply to a story I'd sent to Analog magazine back in August.  I knew it was going to be a rejection letter.  It would be too much of a Hollywood moment for it to be an acceptance, and too far out of step with the normal results of these efforts.  It was the reason I had decided to quit, I told myself before opening it.  This would be the nail in the coffin, so to speak.  The last form letter rejection I would have to bear.  
After squaring my thoughts, I opened it.  This is is what it said: 

Hi Erick,

Thanks for letting me see "Robot Watch." It's a good story, but I'm afraid it didn’t strike me quite strongly enough to take it for ANALOG. Best of luck in placing it elsewhere; I’ll look forward to your next.


Yup.  Just as I thought.  Another response telling me I wasn't good enough.  I closed the email and continued my search online for the forms I needed to find to get my driver's license squared away.  I followed this up with a shave and a shower, breakfast, making lunch, and heading to the office.  

It was somewhere between the 70 South and the 134/101 interchange, stuck in the typically glacial Los Angeles freeway traffic, that my mind started going over the email in my head.  I kept going over one phrase, over and over and over again...

"It's a good story..."  

Yeah, yeah.  I know that.  If I hadn't thought it a good story, I wouldn't have sent it to you, Trevor.  It just wasn't good enough, was it.  You said that yourself.  It didn't...  How did he phrase it...?  Oh!  Got to change lanes, get over before I go north.  

"It's a good story..."  

But not good enough.  Remember that.  It's the same as all the other rejections, right.  

"I'll look forward to your next." 

You'll have to keep waiting, Trevor, because there'll be no next.  I'm done with you guys.  I'm not playing pretend any more.  Besides, I don't have anything else to send out...

Then my mind reminded me that I did.  I had another finished story that Trevor hadn't seen.  It had been rejected by someone else.  But maybe Trevor might...?

No.  No, no, no.  No.  NO!  

Throughout the day, whenever my mind had a moment to break free from the leash I was trying to put it on, it would do this to me.  

"It's a good story..."  "I look forward to your next."  Remember, Sheila Williams, the editor at Asimov's, once told us that she didn't have to encourage anyway to get submissions, so when she did she was serious.  Trevor works in the same building as Sheila.  What goes for her must go for him, huh?  Huh?  

By the time I was driving home, I found myself thinking about sending off the ready story to Trevor.  And about how I might fix the short story that had been frustrating me for the past month and half that I'd been trying to finish.  Or about making writing "just" a hobby.  Yeah.  Like a functioning alcoholic, I'd be able to write now and then and still walk away whenever I wanted.  

The next morning, on the seventh day, when I was supposed to be resting from my two decades long labors of getting strings of words published, I got up at my normal time and pulled out my journal.  I wrote about all the things I had been thinking over the previous six days.  I then started reading the last chapter of a novel I had been working on, but had set aside last year to rewrite my most recent one.  

It was a good story, I decided.  The chapter needed some rewrites.  Here and there.  A scene or two.  I wrote 148 words that day.  
I skipped the next day because I had to go into the office early.  Besides, I wasn't a writer any more.  It was...  Just a hobby.  I did write the day after that, though.  Seven hundred ninety-five words.  I got sick and missed the next three days, but wrote 545 words the next day.  

I've been like an albatross, flapping his wings, feet running along, struggling to get off the ground.  Yesterday's blog entry was the first thing I've finished in about two weeks.  Today's entry is the second.  

And I sent Trevor the other story.  And I sent the story Trevor said was "a good story," to someone else.  

So...  Here I am.  I feel like I should stand up and say, "Hi, my name is Erick and I'm a writer," the way they do at AA meetings.  It's not a happy feeling.  But it seems to be what I am.  

Happy Thanksgiving, for all the things I am thankful for, such as slow Los Angeles traffic, parents that made me too stubborn for my own good and timely emails that are just encouraging enough to get me to struggle on.  



Blogger slcard said...

So proud of you, buddy! Big hugs!!! Keep those words coming!

November 29, 2013 at 11:05 AM  
Anonymous Ann said...


November 29, 2013 at 3:24 PM  
Blogger Erick Melton said...

Or... "NOOOOOO!"

December 8, 2013 at 12:31 PM  
Blogger Erick Melton said...

I don't seem to have much choice in the matter, so I will comply with your request for now, Sara.

December 8, 2013 at 12:32 PM  

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