Sunday, October 30, 2011

Too-Tender Hearts Upon Our Sleeves, Or Skin As Thick As Thieves

I recently read, I think in an e-mail from Indianapolis Monthly, that there was a new local food magazine called Edible Indy; and I thought I saw some people walking around with copies at the Irvington Fall Festival this afternoon, so I was on the lookout for whichever booth had sample copies that they were giving away. This was after we had been there for a little bit and eaten already and done one pass around all of the booths. Amy and Jackson were waiting in line for one of several bounce houses, and I was doing yet another pass to see if I could find the place where they were giving out that magazine*, and at one point I found myself looking at a dude wearing sunglasses and pushing a stroller…and sort of looking at me liked he recognized me, the way I was sort of looking at him like I recognized him.

For a second, I thought that he looked vaguely like Ana’s husband, Damien; but they are in Australia, so there’s no way that I would run into either one of them randomly like that at the Irvington Fall Festival. I almost kept walking, but then decided that there was no way that the person could have made me think of Damien, and been looking at me like he recognized me, and not actually be Damien. So I turned around and stopped and took another look, and sure enough, there was Ana, and in the stroller was their little girl, Nara Elgin; and of course, it was Damien. How I recognized him behind sunglasses on a street full of people when it had been years since I had seen him? No idea. No idea whatsoever. But there you go.

And I couldn’t think of anything interesting to say, despite the fact that I am super fired up about National Novel Writing Month starting here in a couple of days and the fact that I have just recently submitted three different stories—one of which I think is quite good—to three different writing contests, which constitutes as much real effort put into getting my work out there and published (and maybe paid for) as I have ever done. That didn’t come out right. What I meant to say was that I’ve only ever sent stories to about three other contests before, in all of the years that I have been writing and that I should have been sending things in to contests.

(And of course, I had to go back and figure out exactly how many contests I had entered since I started writing. I wouldn’t be moderately OCD if I could mention something like that, not be 100% sure of the exact number, and then let the thing pass. No…that would be semi-normal—none of that nonsense for me. And the answer, if you’re interested, is that I had previously entered four contests—two in late 2002, one in late 2003, and one in late 2009. I did not win any of them, but got subscriptions to [or prize issues of] the journals in question, and received a form rejection letter from two of them. I never read the copies of the journals that I got from the first three contests—until I cracked open the copy of Mississippi Review mostly by accident earlier this fall—but I did read most of the two issues that constituted the subscription to the journal for the contest I entered in 2009. I don’t have any record, near to hand anyway, of entering a fifth contest, but I have a copy of the Missouri Review on my shelf, and I can’t imagine that I would have just come across that at a bokstore and picked it up—especially since the date on it places it within the time frame when I was entering contests the first time. And of course, being moderately OCD [though undiagnosed], I will have to go back through some of my writing folders later tonight to see if I can turn up any record of having submitted a story to the Missouri Review.)

But boy, do I digress. The point was that I could not think of anything interesting to say to these two friends of mine—at least I hope that’s what they are—whom I had not seen in years, even though there were at least a few interesting—if minor—things going on in my life at the moment. I’m proud of those things, even if they’re not much, and I talk about them ad nasueum in this blog space—so why am I reluctant to talk about them out loud, to actual in-the-flesh human beings?

That, friends and neighbors, is a hell of a good question; and I don’t know that I have a good answer for it. It’s possible that I am not as proud of these little half-accomplishments as it feels like I am when I write about them at home, alone, in front of the computer. If it were not for the Stats that you can check on Google, I would not even be sure that anyone reads this blog anymore; and while that is fine—I have long maintained that what I am up to here is now mostly writing exercises for my own edification, and that if others find such material to be interesting, then that’s cool, but it’s not what motivates me to write or to post these musings—it may be creating some kind of false bravado, an artificial sense that I am doing anything more than writing in a vacuum.

I might also be blowing it way out of proportion, too. I hadn’t any coffee at that point, and I was heading in the direction of the coffee shop when I ran into them. Yes, I was keeping an eye out for that magazine, but I was also heading for coffee. It’s a dodgy business getting coffee at Lazy Daze on the day of the Fall Festival. I don’t know for sure if it’s their busiest day of the year or not, but I would be willing to bet that it is—and that means you can lose a lot of your day waiting in line. There is a Starbucks in Irvington, but I have no idea if it is their busiest day of the year, too. I have literally never set foot inside that store. I can’t really think of a valid to go into Starbucks at all, given how many great indie coffee shops we have in Indianapolis; and I certainly can’t of a valid reason to go into a Starbucks when one of those great indie coffee shops—maybe the greatest of them—is literally two blocks away.

The truth of the matter, though, is probably that I am just socially awkward—or that I have become socially awkward over the years. I tend to avoid that kind of social interaction, but once I realized that it was, in fact, Damien I had seen, I wanted to turn around and say hi to those guys. In fact, it felt like I wheeled around so fast that there might have been a collision if someone had been walking too close behind me. And then when I got turned around and said hi, I didn’t know what else to say, nor how to say it. Looking back on it now, with the benefit of a few hours, I probably looked and sounded like an idiot.

I have trained myself to avoid running into people like that, because I am not proud of the fact that I am still doing the same stupid shit I was doing thirteen years ago when I got out of college. I’m still working at a movie theatre (and even if it’s a little bit better than the movie theatres I have worked at in the past, and even if I spend more time now thinking about cost of goods and payroll dollars than I do popping popcorn and sweeping floors, it’s still a movie theatre, one that, I’m sorry to say, is getting more and more like the ones it used to be better than as each day goes by); and I still haven’t published any writing. I haven’t really even written anything for anyone to reject, other than those aforementioned stories—and the ones from those first few contests were not very good. It’s so rare for me to want to see anyone from back before I hadn’t done anything with my life that I literally have no idea what to do or what to say when that does happen. My brain cannot compute what is going on in front of its thin candy shell.

But oddly enough, for all of that looking and sounding like an idiot, if that was indeed how I came off, and with the benefit of being able to think about it in the hours since—I have figured out something important about myself; and that is that, though I have over the last couple of years made progress with my writing and am proud of that, I still experience the reflexive emotion of not being proud of what I have done with my life since college. (And that lack of pride has nothing to do with Amy and Jackson. They’re awesome. I’m talking about work here. Things I have done—or in this case, not done.) I am extremely happy with and proud of what I have accomplished over the last couple of years, including two very short stories published in Ichabod’s Sketchbook, winning National Novel Writing Month last year, submitting three stories to contests this year, mostly completing a draft of a novel within the time frame I set for myself earlier this year, writing in my journal every day, and focusing the things I write in this blog in a way that I hope is helping me to always improve and sharpen my writing. It’s not enough just to have done those things that I feel good about, and to feel good about having done them. I also have to feel good about sharing the things I have done and how having done those things makes me feel with the people that I care about.

* Yes, I know that that seems like a lot of work to go to for a magazine. I could easily afford to subscribe to the magazine, which is $32 a year for four issues; but that’s not the point. The point is that it would be foolish to throw down any amount of money on an unknown when you can get a sample for nothing. I can hope for something that is as good as Lucky Peach, but I probably won’t be that…ahem…lucky. (And yes, given my occasionally vocal disdain of Dave Eggers, I’m a little bit surprised to hear myself express appreciation for Lucky Peach—but you have to give credit where credit is due, and Lucky Peach, or the first issue anyway, is a great magazine.)

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