Several weeks ago, we took the family up to visit my mom, to help her clear out the old house. As we were throwing away my father’s seemingly lifelong accumulation of magazines (among which we did find some vintage Playboys which, sadly, were not as groovy as we’d hoped upon flipping through them), I started to ruminate on how many stories were in those old National Geographics, Air and Spaces, and even the Playboys, and how many unknown moments had been spent reading them. And here we were, just throwing them into a dumpster like so much trash. So it was during a rest break that I asked my husband:
“Do you think it’s foolish of me to keep things like my stories, when I’m the only one who cherishes them? I mean, nobody’s going to care about them when I’m dead.”
He replied, “Well, since you’ll be dead, you won’t care, either.” That didn’t help my mood any, until he added, “But, they bring you joy here, now, while you work on them and when they’re finished. And, everybody needs that joy in their lives. That’s what art is for: to make people feel things. Even if you’re the only person your work affects, they still give you something greater than the mundane in your life.” He patted my knee and smiled, and pushed himself up again as he added something else: “Besides, most artists don’t get recognized until after they’re dead, so, if that happens, at least you’re in good company.”
“Thanks,” I said, half-snarling at him. But, he was right, in articulating a perspective I’ve often had of my own work: that I need to love my stories. Because nobody else will, but, more than that, because those stories are a source of such great joy for me. Without them, even with so many blessings I already have, my life wouldn’t feel half so full of beauty.
Pictured above is a 2″ binder holding my printed collection of “Finding Mister Wright” short stories, 21 in all. Each red sheet indicates where a new story starts; my (fuzzy) thumb is added here for size reference. Now, my favorite authors of late have been crime novelists Craig Johnson, Henning Mankell, and not at all least or last, the gifted Ross Macdonald (whose graceful and insightful flair for repeatable descriptions I’ve tried and failed on more than one occasion to emulate in my own fiction), because I believe wholeheartedly in reading other – better – authors not only to enjoy a ripping story but also to make me a better writer in return. But, there are days when I like to go back and read the stories I’ve made, too. To see how far I’ve come, and to remember what conflicts and passions pushed me to write each one, yes…but also because I just plain love those characters. I love finding their stories with them; I love giving them lives that are beautiful and sad and worth every fighting moment. It’s exciting and fulfilling to look at those stories and know I made these. They may have started in my head as floating words, phrases, and ideas, but I made them stories. Nobody could have done that for those characters except me.
Someday, when I’m dead, someone will just throw my stories into a dumpster. I won’t care then. But for today, these stories give me joy. They make me feel greater than the mundane. And shouldn’t that make them worth it?
We all have stories we’ve read that we love. What are the stories you’ve written that you love?