Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lost and Found

I want to tell you about something that happened yesterday – or rather, something that didn’t happen, which was finding my college diploma. I took a notion to look for it late yesterday morning and wound up spending the entire day ferreting through every drawer, box and file folder in the house, with no success. Around 3 o’clock I ran out of reasonable places to look, but that didn’t stop me. I hunted through a few unreasonable places before revisiting every possibility I’d already tried. Twice. No diploma.

I did, however, find lots of other things. I found a few ancient Polaroid snapshots of my teenage self, and some incredibly bad pictures I took during a high school trip to Europe. (Venice has never looked so homely.) There were scads of letters, some from people I can’t even remember knowing, and a surprising number of sweet little love notes from my former husband. (Children picking up our bones...)

What really surprised me, though, were the number of stray notebooks and sheets of paper scribbled with bits of my writing. I don’t mean my freelance writing, the stuff I do for hire. I almost never hang onto drafts of articles and reviews once they’ve been published. The things I found were scraps of fiction I’ve written over the years; most of it (judging from the surrounding flotsam) produced during stretches of time when, if asked, I would have denied doing any such writing at all.

Even some of you who have known me since POL days may not know I write fiction. I’ve never had a lot to say about it on the blog. Mostly, that’s because I think there are few things more tedious than a writer of meager accomplishment blathering on about her process, her ideas, her multitude of unfinished projects. Blech. I’d rather be forced to read a thousand bland mommy blogs, and I assume you would, too. So I’ll just say that there have been periods in my life when I worked hard at writing fiction (like now), and periods when I didn’t work at all.

Or so I thought. The bits of work I found yesterday mostly date from the first few years after I moved back to Tennessee from Chicago, and I could have sworn I hadn’t been writing anything then except for a few early freelancing efforts. But there was the evidence, tucked away in one folder or box after another, revealing that I was actually scribbling down little scenes and monologues for stories, or for a long-gestating novel that was first conceived more than 20 years ago. Apparently, I was only half-aware I was doing this even at the time, which is why the scraps wound up hidden in so many unlikely places.

I have to admit that didn’t find any work that was very exciting. The vast majority of it is useless crap. What does kind of thrill me, though, is the knowledge that those thoughts and ideas kept rolling even when I was doing absolutely nothing to push them. The urge to make art was just there, seeking an outlet, without any recognition or encouragement at all. That’s a comforting thought – to me, at least, and I suppose it would be to any writer, because there is always that kernel of doubt about the decision to write. There’s always a part of you that wonders if you are just an attention whore with intellectual pretensions, as opposed to someone with a gift for making stories. (Yes, it is possible to be both, but I’m choosing to look on the bright side here.)

Of course, I am not at all certain that I have a real gift for making stories, but I can’t get around the fact that I have a visceral desire to make them, and that’s good to know. It’s a happy thing to find out what manner of beast you are. Now, if I could just find that diploma...

The Letter Writer Surprised, Gabriel Metsu, 1662


Olfacta said...

You are a wonderful writer, Maria. And I think those "attention whore" doubts come with the artists' territory.

p.s. Good luck finding the diploma. I'm moving my studio offsite and cleaning out ten years' worth of crap. Amazing what turns up -- I found a journal I'd been keeping during the year after my mother's death. I would have hated to have lost that.

BitterGrace said...

Thanks, P. My writing teacher last fall says the same thing about the doubts, though we've never really discussed the attention whore issue :-)

That's wonderful about your journal -- so much more precious a relic than a diploma. I think I should go back to moving every couple of years. It's the only way I ever declutter.

Lucy said...

Always a treat and a pleasure to read an extended posting of your thoughts. Perhaps you'll give us a scrap or two of your finds at some point, with a little back story. A fragment can be as good as a poem sometimes, containing the energy of the idea.

Get Nice said...
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