Posting that snippet of The Guru for Sunday’s WeWriWa made me think and made me smile. That’s one of the pieces in Lost in the Shadows that has caused me mass amounts of frustration over the years. Not writing it, mind you. Writing it was easy, possibly one of the easiest hours in my life. The words poured out, birthed from frustration at things that were going on at the time, feelings of being pulled apart by too many obligations and necessary commitments and the necessary and unnecessary emotions they brought up. The ending was effortless, and my only concern was that it was a little too typical…but I found myself smiling as I wrote it. I had started off writing hunched in a ball, sweating with the mad flashes of my silver Sharpie (when it’s late and an idea flashes like lightning, I’ve been known to write with anything. I’ve even used up tubes of lipstick on this quirk, only to discover later that the color isn’t being made anymore). I was pissed to hell, sad and drawn-out as purgatory (or something), and tied in knots. By time I got to the end, I realized that while people would probably have a very different reaction to the conclusion (that may or may not be typical – my opinion changes by the day), it actually made me smile and laugh out loud. It’s probably one of those you had to be there at the time things, but this story cracks me up to this day in a way that it will probably do to no other human on the planet. That’s right – while this story still touches my heart and still makes me empathize, it also completely cracks me up in a way that probably proves I’m a terrible human being.
I empathize with the main character. I don’t feel wise at all, and I’m by no means heralded as someone in a position of his importance, but I do know how it feels to have a lot of people looking to you for answers or help or a shoulder to lean on. While I like to be helpful and I try to give of myself, I only have so many shoulders, and at some point some of my time has to be my own. I can’t help but think that this character put me on the path to discovering that (I tend to deny myself at times, though I’ve gotten better), and I’m grateful to him for it. Hopefully he’s grateful that he could give me something without me having to ask it from him.
My frustration didn’t come from the story, itself, but the joy of submitting it. By joy I mean complete, utter frustration of getting it rejected nine thousand times (Okay, maybe like twelve or fifteen, but still…). Literary magazines and I are kind of hit and miss – I don’t quite always have the style they’re looking for (though I’ve been in some), and I think this was probably a little too…maybe not cliché, but a little too much of a moment in time, a little too…something compared to current styles, even though I feel like it’s similar to a lot of the things I was
forced encouraged to read in high school.
At any rate, I believed in the old man that wandered the mountains in my mind, so I kept trying to find him a home. At one point, I did get feedback from a place, and while I usually keep those interactions to myself, this one kind of left me gobsmacked and hornswaggled (two of my most very favorite words ever). It was pointed out to me that a reader couldn’t know all about this guru, this little old man, by the little bit I had written. Where did he come from? What exactly was his status in the village (apparently guru isn’t enough in these modern times of multitasking)? What had made him take this job? Why couldn’t he just leave? Had he ever had adventures? Had he trained for the job? Was there anyone else to take over? Where was this village? Did they elect this guy? What was going on with all these people? What about this? What about that?
First, my ego bristled (I’m human, so it usually does, though I’m working on this). Then, however, I began to wonder if maybe the person had a point. For a split second, I considered lengthening the story and taking the suggestions. Maybe I’d even go way different directions with it…I could do subplots, or other stuff…I’d kind of have to make it work, but maybe it was for the best…
And then my sense of story returned and I had a good laugh.
Here’s the thing: that story is all about questions. Half of the story involves the questions that are shot at the guru, the knowing “parent” figure of the village populated by wondering souls of all ages. Let’s face it: we all want to know things. Questions eat at us our entire lives, and if we were given the chance to commune with someone who had insight and the ability to think and give us instant answers…would we take it? I’m sure a lot of us would. And we’d come back, day after day, thinking of more and more – the more we received, the more we’d want. The answers wouldn’t necessarily satisfy, but urge us on. We’d want the answers hungrily, desperately, until the questions just kept tumbling, consuming us, filling us more than the information we’d just received.
No wonder the character gets so frustrated. Hell, I’m nowhere near a guru, but I was frustrated to the point of writing this story because I felt the same way, that tugging, tugging, tugging of demands and questions and asking for just a little help when all I really wanted was a few days to myself (and I include myself in the problem. If some people have monkey mind, I have labrador retriever mind, so calming down and being Zen is a little bit of a task at the best of times. I’m also very demanding on myself, so some days it feels like I’m split in two – the part of me attempting to be a calm center, and the other part of me that is a deranged, demanding, questioning lunatic that has to figure things out RIGHT NOW OR LIFE WILL FALL APART AND WHAT WILL I DO IN THE NEXT FIVE SECONDS IF I DON’T FIGURE THIS OUT OH MY GAWD.)
Anywho, the whole piece is about questions. It’s meant to get people thinking, wondering, talking. Are they necessary? Are we meant to get answers easily, or are we meant to figure some things out for ourselves. Can answers change with time? Are there some answers that are different for everyone?
Therefore, it was just a little ironic that the feedback I received was that same, frantic type of list of question that fills a lot of the story and bombards the poor guru. It was almost like getting advice from one of the villagers in the actual story. It never occurred to me that anyone would read it and not come up with a look for the area, a look for the people, a purpose for them being there, even if it was something that didn’t quite exist anywhere. Like I’ve said before, I like my readers to do a little work. I want you engaged. I want you there with me, to the point that maybe, just maybe, you have to make up your mind about a few things for yourself. There are some stories that aren’t meant to answer every single question you may have. As much as you may wonder, there are some answers you just don’t need, or if you do, it will mean more to you to think of them, yourself.
You know what? Here’s a secret…come close, because I may only admit this once…
I may not always agree with the conclusions or answers you come up with, or the way you fill in the blanks about my worlds or my stories. But if they make sense to you, then that is perfectly all right. I trust you to come up with your own conclusions that work for you. If you are taking a chance on me and reading my work, then I’ll take a chance on you and let you fill in some blanks with your own wonderful mind and imagination. Keep in mind, your conclusions may not be the same ones I had while writing the piece, but that’s okay. A story can mean different things to different people. You know what else? you may read one of my stories again in a few years and come up with another conclusion entirely.
It’s okay to have answers. It’s okay to not have answers. It’s okay to wonder, to come up with conclusions that may change.
It’s okay to ask questions.
All in all, I obviously didn’t get the story in that magazine, but it’s where it belongs: tucked in a volume of a lot of other stories meant to make people think and feel and wonder. I also finally realized something (once I’d gotten my ego in check and rolled my eyes and had a good laugh). I may not have gotten an acceptance, but if they were asking me that many questions and wondering that much about a little world and a moment I’d created on paper…
Well, I obviously did my job then, didn’t I?