For the longest time one of the crowning achievements of my life was that I had won the Nimrod International Journal’s Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Short Fiction. I didn’t talk about it much, because it is hard to say all those words in a row in the correct order without stammering or sounding like you are making new things up that the world has never before seen. But they liked my story, and gave me a certificate and a trip to Tulsa to read it in front of a room full of people (where an old man stood up and yelled at me for not reading loudly enough, securing for all time my genuine fondness for and comfort with public speaking) and I got some money and I got to meet and hang out with the amazing Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner and that was pretty much a highlight of my life and the whole thing was really pretty nice.
So I’ve carried that around as a Good Thing inside me, and with it came the idea that I had written a good story and I could rest on my laurels. I could sleep on my laurels like the dead, because it was so totally awesome a story, because why else with the badly named award and the visit to Tulsa, right? I am a writer, and I might even be some kind of unrecognized genius! And it was cool if I didn’t work to get recognized, because that was plenty of recognition for me! Also I’m lazy. Really regrettably so.
You will not be surprised, at this point of the story, to learn that I found this award-winning short piece (languishing among my drafts in a folder I had even forgotten existed since it’s been a really remarkable amount of time that I’ve even tried to write a short story), and I read it with great excitement, waiting for the secret self-admiration to come washing over me, and I realized that it is kind of lame.
Oh, sad trombone.
My first inclination was to collapse in embarrassed despair and wail about my whole life being a lie, as you do. And that was an impulse that stuck with me for quite awhile. But perspective is a beautiful thing, and it gives you perspective on perspective—on the possibility of change over time, and the chance for growth, and the probability, even, that this story was good then and maybe I’m a different writer now. Maybe even a better writer. Certainly an older writer. Definitely a writer who feels like she understands things more clearly, even when she will always feel like she’s fighting forward through the muck of inevitable brainfog to express as crystally-clear and full of clarity the things she knows are true. Even when she knows she will always fall short.