The bubble and I have a love-hate relationship. It keeps me feeling safe, insulated, and even hopeful. Outside the bubble, there are too many people who make no sense to me, and too many bad things to count. There are so many horrific events, really, that I am often left somewhere between wanting to rail against an ugly world, or wanting to curl up inside the shelter of idealism.
I waver, I struggle, I rage, I hide, I justify — I have what musician Daniela Nardi calls “white hot moments” — where I collide against myself, and that tiny piece of the universe around me. I want acceptance / I don’t care if I’m accepted. I want understanding / It doesn’t matter if other people understand. I want success / Success isn’t that meaningful.
Writers, particularly those who write fiction, hear no a lot more than they hear yes. Rejection is far more common than acceptance, which imbues the rare acceptance letter with a joy that has no grounding whatsoever in common sense. You mean you’ll print the story I spent weeks sweating over, and pay me absolutely nothing but a copy of the book? Yay! It’s hard for non-writers to understand that kind of thrill, but it exists, and it has less to do with seeing one’s work in print than it does with knowing that someone thought you wrote a story worth telling.
Like me, most of the women writers I know have a deeply hermitic side — their own version of the bubble. They thrive in solitude, and carve as many free hours out of a day as they can in order to be alone with their stories. When the work is done though, the mood shifts and the desire changes. A finished story isn’t meant to stay pristine and isolated — it’s meant to get dog-eared, creased, bookmarked, and highlighted. It’s meant to get dirtied by critiques, loved by some readers, hated by others, passed around, or given away. A story is meant to have a life of its own, quite apart from its creator.
When a story is stillborn — when it never knows life outside the bubble, or dies upon its first gasp of outside air — there’s sadness and a sense of loss. Some writers are too cool to admit this, but I’m not. I am not cool enough to be indifferent. I’m not, as Jewel once sang, fashionably sensitive and too cool to care. I get nervous when I submit my work to publishers, and even when I post a new story on my blog. I get a huge rush of joy when I get an acceptance letter or feedback, and feel somewhat crushed when my work is rejected or met with silence.
So yes, I pulled a story from this site. Eleven hours, 473 readers, and zero comments later, the silence was too sad for me. Some wonderful women* wrote me letters afterward saying some really beautiful things, all of which were deeply appreciated but still….those eleven hours filled me with doubt. I think I could have done better — I know I could have written something that was not as elusive or enigmatic.
I also wondered if it was too gay. I know most of my readers are straight, but I really don’t think about my sexuality or other people’s when I write. Being a lesbian is as natural for me as other people’s heterosexuality, so I tend not to explain it or qualify it in my stories. I don’t think I’ve even used the words lesbian or gay in any story I’ve written. Straight writers don’t mention they’re straight, they just write what comes naturally, and so do I. Readers here know me though, and the ones who’ve stayed aren’t the homophobic kind.
I wanted to give the story another chance for life, so I submitted it to a gay literary site that on first glance seemed to be a good match for me. Still Blue: More Writing By (For or About) Working Class Queers. It was rejected less than 24 hours later. The author’s bios are considerably more impressive than mine — MFA’s, lawyers, award and fellowship winners — a different kind of working class than where I come from, but the stories, as might be expected, are good. There’s no expectation that working class equals poor language, or an inability to speak of anything outside of the slum. I appreciate that. Wendell Ricketts has an eye for stories. I can’t hold it against him that mine wasn’t one of them. Instead, it just confirmed for me that the story needed work. It confirmed that there was silence for a reason.
A white hot moment can last for days, and they are almost always unexpected. On some days, our bubbles just aren’t insulated enough — or we feel a need to challenge ourselves by bursting them open and seeing what happens. Of course we never know what we’ll feel about the outcome until we’re facing the consequences — and the dichotomous, sometimes fractured, parts of ourselves that are more strongly felt in a crowd than in solitude.
*With special thanks to the wonderful women I feel so privileged to know. Along with Daniela, you helped turn my white hot moment into a manageable glow.