I have been on the outs with my writing since October. My writing thinks I should be giving it more attention and I think it would be easier to learn Korean through watching dramas on DramaFever than to write anything someone else would find worth reading. I’ve written maybe 1,000 words in the last three months. Those 1,000 words were part of an attempt to jump start my writing via a short short story competition. The deadline was ten days ago. I still haven’t finished the story. The annoying truth is that my writing is right. The only way to get out of a writing slump is to write but lately I have had little to no motivation to overcome my writing inertia. As a means of inspiring me to get back in the writing game, a fellow writer-in-quills gave me a book for Christmas, 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories edited by Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor. It’s a thick, hardcover book packed to the seams with meaty short stories but it isn’t heavy. I still marvel at the weight of thick books these days. They are frighteningly light. What do they do to the paper to make it so light? I want to say they bewitch it so that I can envision Endora from Bewitched, floating above massive reams of paper, with her bright red hair and in a purple and green gown, making the soon-to-be book pages nearly weightless with a snap of her fingers. Darren would be there, of course, to give his classic slack-jawed, bug-eyed reaction to which Endora would respond, “Derwood, make yourself useful and catch a fly while you’re at it.”
But I suspect the folks down at the paper mill may be using more of a bird bone type of technique. If I looked at it under a microscope would the paper not be simply flattened pulp but a fine lattice work of pulp threads? Lace pulp? In any case, my point is that the book is a literary and technological wonder and it’s size is a bit intimidating and not made for bedtime reading. I know I can’t be the only person to have ever dropped a book on my face while reading in bed and no matter how light those pages are it would certainly make my eyes water if it hit the bridge of my nose.
I didn’t begin reading the book right away. It sat on my nightstand for a few days before I moved it to the kitchen table where I do most of my writing. I made a cup of tea and sat down to it using a book weight to hold down the hundreds of pages so that I might sip and read with ease. I often debate whether or not to read the introductions to books. At times it makes sense to read an introduction to put the text within a larger context, especially with non-fiction. With fiction I’m not always convinced that it’s necessary but this introduction was written by Lorrie Moore so I decided it deserved a read. It was reading the first few sentences of this introduction that convinced me that any attempt I make to write is like the Delta Quadrant resisting the Borg–futile. Yes, yes, Lorrie Moore has been honing her craft for decades and I’ve been half-assin’ it for one but still, I’m pretty darn sure my chances of making it into her league are slim to zilch. If we were at a track meet, Lorrie Moore would be on the American or Jamaican team with Toni Morrison and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I would be the on the Latvian team–as an alternate, if there is such a thing. She crafts sentences while I string some words together and hope they make sense. Her introduction was gorgeous, at least what I read of it. I couldn’t finish reading it. I felt like a phony before her words–dogcatcher Herman Smith from Atlantic City, New Jersey caught out by Dorothy and the gang, pretending to be the great and powerful Oz. Actually, I’m not quite that delusional but I love The Wiz and Richard Pryor as Herman Smith is my go-to apologetic fraud.
Not that it makes much sense within my own logic, but I did go on to begin reading the short stories and didn’t feel at all like Herman Smith behind a silver Oz mask. The stories are in chronological order each with a brief biography of the writer so the authors in first half of the book are mostly on the other side of existence. Lorrie Moore is the successful mentor I want to impress and emulate and the dead writers are like grandparents patting me on the head and smiling at my clumsy efforts. If I were to proudly bring them my latest creation, they would chuckle and say, “Well, would you look at that.” I read their stories free of self-judgment, in awe and admiration. If I ever want to read that introduction without feeling completely embarrassed, I will have to get back into writing training, taking time everyday to sit in front of a blank page, string some words together and rewrite and rewrite and edit and rewrite some more. This is going to take a lot of tea.