Greater Than the Mundane

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.

Binder

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?

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10 thoughts on “Greater Than the Mundane

  1. This is a wonderful reminder of why we write: because we love our stories. It’s something I’ve kept in the back of my mind, especially when I start wandering away from original stories just for the practice and sheer enjoyment. I think it’s wonderful that you took a moment to write this piece, as it could help others (including me) remember why we still write, why we still dream, and why it’s worth it.

    Actually, what your husband said reminded me of a conversation during one of my classes, where maths and sciences are being prioritized in schools over the arts. Maths and sciences do have “better” jobs and there are always openings, but we have determined that the arts are our reason for living, or something to that effect. Or else, why would we spend so much on movies, shows, video games, and the like?

    As for stories that I’ve written, I guess I enjoyed my P3 fic too much if I wrote it twice with number of tweaks here and there. Sometimes, when i look back at my other pieces of fan fiction, I sometimes am surprised that some of them sound pretty good, while other moments leave me cringing. However, I told my brother that if I die, he needs to burn all my notebooks full of stories. They’re all first drafts, so it’s no great loss, but I never told him to delete my files from my computer or my flash drives. πŸ˜‰

    I wish WordPress would let me like this post, but something keeps glitching and won’t let me. It’s a wonderful thought and you offer encouragement with it! Thank you for bringing it up!

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    • Thanks, spooney! I’m glad this resonated with you, too. πŸ™‚

      There are so many reasons to write stories, our human need for art is only one of them. I believe art creates a human (humane?) interaction between people. Maths and sciences help us understand the universe, while art helps us understand ourselves.

      I think if anyone tried to burn all of my notebooks, it would light up the night sky! πŸ˜€

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  2. Thank you for sharing your insight on the subject. I know when I write, I find a satisfaction that can’t really be explained. Do I want others to share in that joy? Yes. But I know that my writing is not going to resonate with everyone. Not even my family, as sad and upset as that might make me. But that’s art. Not everyone is going to understand what you do or why you do it. And that’s fine. I had to come to that understanding with my writing.

    I haven’t written a lot of stories, and most I don’t have anymore. I wish I kept them in a binder like you did in your photo. But out of the stories I wrote, my favorite is called “Blossom.” It was the first short story that got published in a college magazine. It’s about this high school graduate who visits his cousin and they go on this “crazy” adventure. I look back on it and wonder what I was thinking writing it the way I did. At the same time, I get a joy reading it every time because it was something I wrote. I feel like my writing has come a long way since then, and I have that story to thank.

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    • Thanks, George. Yes, it does take time to realize that not everyone will be touched by our art the way we are. That fact still gets to me, sometimes, because I deeply want other people to understand me, but, without reading what I write, they will probably only ever know a fraction of the real Me.

      Our styles change over time, of course. But, maybe you wrote that story the way you did because it needed to come out from you, that way. For example, I don’t usually like writing in first person, but every once in a while, it’s the only way that works for a story stuck in my head.

      Glad to hear you still appreciate even the older stories for what they’re worth. πŸ™‚

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  3. I’m so glad you kept your stories, and I’m so wigged out by this post and the timing of it. For my next post I planned to write about why we should never throw our stuff away. I’m going to link to your post if that’s okay with you!

    Anyway, I am the bad girl who threw away her stories during a time when I thought I’d never amount to anything as a writer. Looking back, I believe the reason I’m struggling now is because I “bought into” that non-belief, that lack of self-confidence all those years ago. By throwing my stories away I stopped giving myself a chance.

    And I’m not referring to getting published necessarily, although that is an undeniable part of it — in the end, it’s about feeling good about what you love to do, regardless of what anyone else thinks of it.

    I would be willing to bet that if I had hung on to those stories they would have shown me how much I’d grown and learned over the years. That in turn would encourage me to keep with my quest during the low points. Not the quest to be published, but the quest to enjoy the thing that I love to do most.

    Hang onto those stories, Mayumi, no matter what your ultimate hope for them is. Throwing them away is the same as denying your gift of storytelling. πŸ™‚

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    • I would be honored if you linked to this post, Kate! ❀

      I'm sorry to hear about those stories that were lost. At least you made that decision, though; they weren't taken away from you. That takes just as much courage as squirreling them away! In some ways, it allows us to start with a clean slate. I'm so guilty of reworking old stories or plagiarizing myself for good ideas, sometimes I feel like I'm in a bit of a Moebius loop. πŸ™‚

      It may sound corny, but I think I learned the most about my writing, and matured the most as a writer so far, when I started reading about other writers' journeys, like yours. Even the poems you'd share with the Limebirds would make me think more critically about my own writing. They also helped me to look back on my older writing with a more gracious eye, knowing that, while I still had lots to learn (I always have more to learn!), I'd also already learned so much. πŸ™‚

      Thanks so much for taking the time and effort to stop by! I always feel blessed when you do. πŸ™‚

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  4. Well, I don’t know about others, but I’ve certainly got a spot for some of your work on my shelf πŸ™‚

    I personally like to think that, while I “love” each of my stories, sometimes they may not return the affection. Sometimes they just don’t get beyond the draft, or leave me stuck in a rut trying to sort out what should be obvious. And I’m okay with that, if for no other reason than every dead end at least teaches me why this story wouldn’t work, or where I REALLY wanted it to go.
    On the other hand, sometimes I look back on what I’ve written and am amazed at the change in style or subject matter. My longest and most favorited story over on FF.net is one I’d never write now. It isn’t me anymore, but it was at one point, so I can’t just throw it away. Even now, five years later, it still makes people happy, so in that it’s earned a place of remembrance.

    Sure, the other 99.99% of the internet will never read anything I write, or may even despise it if they do. To each their own. But those of us in our little groups and shared experiences who pass notes, edit each others grammar and help shape what inspires us, I think that’s where the real memories lie. And that’s what we’ll pass on.

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  5. I think of my stories as my legacy. I will leave them behind as the only real tangible proof that I was here. So I write them hoping that they will be around in 50 or 100 years. That someone will read one and for a moment it will bring me back to life or at least my name πŸ™‚

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    • I think we’re all hoping that our stories will offer us some legacy, Kourtney. πŸ™‚ I know that I hope someone will someday read something I’ve written and be touched by it, like has happened to me when I’ve read a great story by another author. It connects us at a more aetherial level – like a collection of not-so-lost souls. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. Pingback: What do you do with your stories when you’re not feeling it? | 4am Writer

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