Thursday, August 12, 2010

Writer's Hot Tub Time Machine

Before we joined Netflix, we watched predictable T.V. shows. Now we watch predictable movies--but at least we have no commercials, and we have a different bunch of actors. Some days, I almost prefer the predictable, especially when I'm just vegging out. The other night we watched Hot Tub Time Machine, which spoke to me in ways I didn't expect.

I have loved John Cusack for many years now, so it's always a treat to see him in a movie. I especially like to see him in movies where he's dealing with midlife issues, as opposed to seeing him in an older movie, which takes me back to adolescent angst, which happily, I don't suffer from often anymore. Hot Tub Time Machine dealt with some midlife issues in surprising ways, or at least surprising for a movie that marketed itself the way that it did.

I was intrigued by the regrets that the characters had, the regrets about people who were left behind on the way to midlife, regrets about the career choices made, regrets about past and present behavior.

I started thinking about my own regrets. I don't live in the same town as I did when I was in high school, so my plot line would be different from that of those characters. I've left people behind when I went to school, when I moved to Florida--but happily e-mail, and more lately Facebook, has made it easier to stay in touch. I have some regrets about career paths not taken, but overall, I'm happy. And plus, I'm not convinced that those career paths were ever as open to me as I once believed--larger societal forces were at work. I seem to have the talent for graduating during times of economic distress.

I do have some writerly regrets, which I was reminded of as I read Kelli's latest post about the different writerly submission processes demonstrated by males and females. She says:

"If an editor of our press rejects work from a male writer, but writes something like, 'This came close. We'd like to see more of your work in the future, please resubmit' - we will usually receive another submission from the male writer within a month (though sometimes two) after he receives his rejection.

When we send this same note to a woman writer, she will resubmit maybe in 3-6 months (if that) but more likely it will be later than 6 months and sometimes a year (or the next submission season later). Sometimes she will not resubmit at all."

I notice this pattern in myself. Kelli speculates as to why women exhibit this behavior: "When we ask a woman to resubmit she thinks, 'When would be the best time to resubmit? I don't want to seem pushy, but I do want to get them my work. Maybe I should wait a few months so I don't seem desperate or so I don't irritate them by submitting so fast. Do they really want to see more work, or were they just being nice? I'm sure they want to see more work, but I should probably wait a couple months, I wouldn't want to be an imposition and it would be better manners and more respectful to wait a bit. Or should I? Yes, I'll play it cool and wait a few months. I wouldn't want to impose.'"

Yes, a familiar thought pattern indeed. Some years, I've been better at promoting my work than others. Some years I've been more on track with my submission process than others. Most years, I'm pleased with what I actually get written, but there are other years or half years that were just lost.

When I watched Who Does She Think She Is?, I was struck by the amount of work those visual artists have produced. In some ways, I'm grateful that paper takes up less room (although I have almost a closet's worth of work, since graduate school trained me to keep all my rough drafts--with rough drafts, I might have 2 closets' worth). In other ways, though, it becomes hard to remember how much I have actually written.

No matter how much I write, though, I'm always battling with my feeling that it's not enough. I always remember the novels, short stories, and poems that didn't get written. Perhaps they will get written--I'm not dead yet. But each year brings more ideas than I'll live long enough to write. So these regrets will always be with me.

If I could go back in time but retain the knowledge that I have now, would I really act differently? Maybe in some ways, but they're small. I don't regret any of the people I have known. I don't regret the degrees that I've earned in school. I don't look at career roads not taken and wish I had gone down this road or that road. I do regret that I've had to wrestle with balancing my creative career with my teaching career. I haven't been in jobs where I could go on a multi-month, multi-city book tour without losing my job--so I haven't always aggressive in following through with getting my novels published, since I couldn't go out and promote them, should I be lucky enough to find an agent and a publisher. What would break my heart more than having unpublished novels in my drawer would be to have a published novel that dies a quick death because of my job constraints.

But I don't spend much time on those regrets. The last 10 years have showed me that technology is likely to open up all sorts of possibilities for my writing than I can even conceive of now. The last 15 years have showed me that the important thing is to keep writing. More on that in my next post.


Sherry O'Keefe said...

i started reading your current post (8-17) and have read backwards. each time wanting to post a comment because i find myself responding to what you are sharing.

this is my comment to all that i've read today...i learn from what you share. (book with a spine)



Kristin said...

Thanks so much for your kind words!