Lovely Little Things
Brideshead Revisited and writing life
In her newsletter, my friend Jenny mentioned the platitude, “look to the small.”
I get most of my meaning out of little things; a clean kitchen, a perfect cup of tea, a flower poking through a crack in the sidewalk.
So, here I am, thinking about the little things.
We watched the miniseries Brideshead Revisited from 1981. It took us a couple of weeks because it’s very long and also very, very slow. I like the slowness of it, though. They stop to meditate on every conflict in the story. Most of the entertainment is in the atmosphere.
If you get the atmosphere right, you’ll always get me.
Yesterday, I got the best response I’ve ever gotten from an editor about a piece I’ve submitted. It was another rejection, but it included phrases like, “well-done,” “excellent,” and “very good.”
Was this guy just trying to make me feel good? I’m a total stranger, but he might just be a really nice guy. It was so kindly worded that it was almost like he was doing me a favor by rejecting me.
He’s at a magazine that has a 3% acceptance rate, which sounds crazy, but it’s not unusual. It’s nice to think that an editor that picky took the time to let me know he liked my piece.
He rejected it because it’s too long and some parts of it are too slow. In other words, it was too Bridesheady (1981). Even though I wrote it before I saw Brideshead Revisited, I wanted that same meditative, atmospheric quality you find in older stories.
I will try to make it shorter, though, because it’s easier to find a place for a shorter piece. Not that many magazines are willing to print something more than 5,000 words long.
I’m now taking weeks to put out The Intentional Hulk. It stressed me out so much to publish a weekly article that I was completely burned out within 3 months.
This is because I always have a certain vision about what I want to write for each issue, but I’m physically incapable of achieving that vision within a week. I’m a slow writer. I need frequent long walks to think over what I want to say.
I also have other things that I want to work on. For example, pieces that I want to submit to magazines.
The older I get, the more I find that I’m naturally a slow person. I used to always push, push, push because I thought hustle was how one avoided being a loser.
Now, whether something makes me a “loser” factors less and less into my decision-making. This isn’t because I’ve magically lost my ego about this. I still worry about what other people think. It’s just that it’s not sustainable for me, anymore. It’s too hard. I’m too tired.
Another small thing is that I want to work on my website. I usually do this by modifying an already existing WordPress theme, but now I want to learn how to code my own from the ground up. Why? It’s just something I want to do. I enjoy it.
A couple of weeks ago, I installed an emulator so I could have a locally installed version of WordPress… and that’s as far as I got.
I haven’t had a website 100% coded by me in 15 years, maybe more.
I wrote the above yesterday, and now it’s the next day.
I try to do yoga most mornings, but this morning I spent my yoga time crying uncontrollably because I was so sure I was a failure as a writer. I thought I was uniquely bad at it and every compliment I’ve ever gotten was because someone was just trying to be nice.
Years ago, when I decided to get serious about writing, I joined a writer’s group. My writing was so bad that I actually drove two people out of the group. They had multiple massive arguments and almost came to blows because they couldn’t agree on exactly why my writing was so bad.
One left. A couple of months later, the other one left. She said something like the quality of writing from the other members wasn’t where she’d hoped it would be. At the time, I was the only other regular member.
When I gave my first short story to a friend, she told me she couldn’t read it because she’d spontaneously gone blind. She’d let me know when she got her vision back. That was about 8 years ago, I think, and I’m still waiting for her vision to come back.
Even when my writing was so bad that it drove people out of writer’s groups and made people go blind, I was still confident that I had the potential to be a good writer. I was sure that I had it in me to be really good.
I’ve lost that now.
I won’t go into detail about my long journey between my first few pieces and my last few pieces, but now I find that compliments don’t last long, like from that editor I mentioned above.
It’s like eating a cookie. It feels good in the moment, but then it disappears. It’s almost as if it never existed in the first place.
I’ve been reading all your writing. Now, I’m not going to compliment it, because you’ve just told me you’ll discount that anyway. But I’ll say this: I still have my vision :)