Has it been a month already? Has it only been a month? I've encountered a number of paradoxes here, some of them regarding time. The most notable of these is the paradox that, in my opinion, the weeks seem to move very quickly here, and yet it feels like I have been here forever. Those two points appear to be contradictory. Wouldn't you agree? I am quite glad for this paradox, though. If the days pass quickly, then they are not passing by slowly, which would be much worse, as it would result in a sort of horrible monotony. Furthermore, I am lucky that I have grown so accustomed to my life here, because it means that I am less homesick. My friendships here already seem like close, lasting ones, and I am very fortunate to have met the people with whom I choose to surround myself. Many of these people are my fellow writers. After all, that is what I came here to do: to write, to learn how to improve my writing, and to earn a degree for having written.
This semester, I am taking an Introduction to Fiction class, which I am always very happy to attend. The professor is a rather cheerful, down to earth man with the sort of southern accent that carries wisdom. But it's the kind of wisdom that makes him just the right man for the job. It's not any sort of divine, holier than thou wisdom. Instead, it's the wisdom of a pickup truck load of experience, coming from a man willing to work with us hands on toward a goal that is his life's passion. His words are extremely motivating. My first experience having a story up for discussion in a workshop, however, did not inspire me the same way he does. I am grateful for the criticisms of my peers, but they are not what has shaken me. It's the possibilities for the second draft that perplex me.
I've got to choose just one important direction for this story to follow, and I must make it more plausible. Since I haven't found this single direction right away, I've been tempted to turn away from the story. This frustration seems to result in another paradox. If I keep reshaping this story, I may tire of it or lose everything about it. Eventually, I could deconstruct the story so many times that it is simply reduced to the absurd. But if I start something new, then I just open a brand new Pandora's Box of possibilities, doubts, directions, second drafts, third drafts, and a myriad of drafts to follow. The short story, as an art form, ought to have no rules, because such a wide variety of creations may qualify for the title of "short story." It may happen on a page or on dozens of them. The story may happen in an hour or over the course of a lifetime. The possibilities are apparently endless. What could be easier than the task of creating something when there are no rules or boundaries for its creation? That might explain how God was able to create in only six days, if you buy that sort of thing.
But the task is not easy, because there are certain goals that the writer hopes to achieve. First, fiction deepens feeling. That is the most important lesson that I have learned so far. My second point is the one that I am struggling with so restlessly. Presently, my understanding is that everything in a short story ought to be the means to a single end, i.e. what the story is really about. Don't miss my meaning here. I'm not referring to theme or something of that sort. Every short story is about something that can be articulated by anyone with a rudimentary understanding of it. For example, "Bullet in the Brain" by Tobias Wolff (if you haven't read it, please do so immediately) is about Anders' lost potential to become a sympathetic person with some appreciation for anything rather than the cynical jerk that he is at his death. As a child, Anders hears those words "they is" and appreciates them, as I often do, and the reader knows what could have been, and suddenly we are mourning the loss of a man we earlier knew to be really closed-minded, self-absorbed, and rude.
I have a protagonist. I have supporting characters. I have a setting that may be subject to change. I have much in the way of plot that must undergo some reconstruction. But what is this story about? It started as just a two page scene, our first assignment for the class. The professor wanted to know more about my protagonist, especially what his background and home life are like. I came up with the idea that his father left years ago, but not before passing down a guitar to him. I have a habit of writing characters with problems concerning fathers. I do not understand why that is true. My father is still around, and I have nothing against the guy. Moreover, I have read very little of Freud. It seems so strange to me that this theme of father issues should come up in a number of my works to date. That phrase, "my works," seems so pretentious. It makes me sound like I think I'm a professional, when I feel that that couldn't be farther from the truth right now. I thought that the story was about this character's decisions in the absence of his father, but I haven't been too sure of anything since the workshop.
My classmates and I have been told that we must have an individual conference with the professor before we even attempt to write the second draft for our stories. I sincerely hope that, after I have talked this over with my professor, I will have a concrete direction and I will know once and for all what this story is about, what ought to lie just underneath the surface like a shark revealing itself to the reader by its fin. No matter how many drafts I go through, I can always make changes to the story, and so it seems impossible that I will ever write it to the point where I can actually call it finished. This is no reason to quit, though. I have to keep writing. I must keep my butt in the chair. I am allowed to suck. These are important lessons as well. I will press on, even though the task seems impossible. But isn't that self-contradictory? It sounds to me like a paradox. If that is the case, then it must be downright absurd. Then again, so are many other truths.