On submission

I submitted my master's thesis on Friday, all 140+ pages of short stories and flash fiction. Hence the radio silence.

Note, too, the word "submit." As if handing it over were akin to bowing in submission, prostrating with your manuscript beneath you, making yourself smaller than it. I made the mistake of celebrating before it was time, running down the hall as soon as I'd slid those crisp bound pages into my three readers' mailboxes, chanting, "I turned it in! I turned it in!" To which our program administrator said, not unkindly, "Ah, yes, but they haven't read it yet, have they?"

There probably isn't a better way to describe what it's like, trying to write. The obsession with new characters, new stories, new projects - the precision of revision, the frenzy of rethinking, rewriting, the careful, plodding way that stories develop over time - and then, once you submit it, letting the documents loose into that vacuous wide open ether, who's to say that what it is you've sweat over, labored over, alternately loved and hated, is anything of substance?

I suppose, I guess, one's thesis committee.

Not that I'm nervous or anything. Or anxious or terrified or secretly suspecting that, in one week's time, they'll gather me and my friends and my family all in one little stuffy room, then ask me to drop the sheets one by one out of a third story window, underscoring, yet again, the fruitlessness of it all, this prodding, obsessive need to play with words.

But then there are nights like last Friday, when I was lucky enough to see one of my pieces (from the dratted thesis) performed by a wonderful actor, Benjamin Ismail, at Stories on Stage in Sacramento. I was especially encouraged to hear the amazing "The Art of Fiction" by Lindsey Crittenden, a successful writer who graduated from this very same program a while back. I was so nervous, thinking and rethinking and obsessing over all the edits I should have made before this thing made the light of day, all the scenes that should have been shorter, all the lines that could have done more, earned more. And then a funny thing happened. He started reading and he found things in the story that I didn't know were there. He found voices where I wasn't sure there were any, and little moments of poignancy or humor that I didn't necessarily plant or plan.

So maybe we get both kinds of moments - those ever-present occasions to kneel, to submit, to let all our work vaporize into the atmosphere, and those rare times when someone reads our work back to us and we get to stop, breathe, and think, hey, maybe there is value in all this.

Maybe there is and maybe there isn't - until then I'll just have to keep submitting.