Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Bird Poop

I’ve only ever once been, literally, shat upon.

This past fall I finished the creative thesis for my MA program, in the form of a collection of short stories. The thesis process for the program sounds pretty simple on paper, and I imagine that for a handful of folks it is.

I turned in my four best stories of the last four years.

The draft my advisor returned to me was littered with comments. A few of them complimentary. A few of them encouraging. The vast majority ripping apart my prose, questioning my structure, and in one case calling into question the very foundation of the story.

I had hoped for criticism. Going through the thesis process without revision would be a wasted semester. I wouldn’t learn anything and wouldn’t be any closer to the substantial publications I had been working toward.

Still, all those comments were a little discouraging.

So, I slept on it.

I didn’t write much of anything for about three or four days. Then I woke up with the idea.

Third person to first person. Past tense to present tense.

And everything changed.

It’s easy to look at point of view and tense changes as superficial. Replace the protagonist’s name with “I.” Change said to “say.” But when done purposefully, done right, the story fundamentally changes.

I let the ideas bloom for another day. Heard the narrator’s voice in my head. Practically had conversations with him.

I went to work that Friday, 8:30 to 5:00. And when the workday was up, I picked up a legal pad and pen and went outside--not to the parking garage, but to one of the picnic tables where I’ll eat lunch with friends when the weather cooperates.

I set up shop beneath a tree branch and started writing. Not typing. Writing. My best self. 16 again. Letting the words flow in penmanship only I can discern.

I was about a hundred words in when the shit hit the fan.

Or rather my hand. And my legal pad.

From up above me, a bird pooped.

My first reaction was revulsion. A sense of the fates conspiring against me. Why, when I was just starting to get some momentum, would an animal choose to defecate upon me?

But then it read like poetry.

The world will shit all over you. If you’re a writer, the world will shit on your work, too.

I could have gone inside, thrown away the legal pad, scrubbed my hand clean and headed home. I could have taken it as sign from the universe that this new draft wasn’t meant to be.

Sometimes, the world shits on you. And you just have to work through it.

I moved out from under the tree and tore loose a few pages from the legal pad—the top page and the ones the droppings had seeped through moisten. I used a dry segment of those pages to wipe off my hand.

And I kept going.

I wrote until it was too dark to see the lines on the paper anymore. Well over two hours.

I drove home and typed it all up. 2,500-plus words.

Then I kept going.

I finished the draft of the story three days later and sent the new version to my advisor. She called it the best story in the collection and followed up by sending me links to all of the contests she thought I should enter it in.

The story hasn’t won any prizes to date, and has been turned down by each of the major journals I’ve tried thus far.

I could give up.

I’d rather keep writing.

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