Looking Back: “Erosion” (1999)

In 2005, I hadn’t published much of anything, in any sense approaching a professional one. I mean, I’d gotten poems and short pieces into chapbooks, had published a couple of poems and a a small think piece in the university magazine were I did grad school, and a few short student articles in my undergrad campus newspaper; I’d even had a short piece of fiction included in a refugee awareness training program, though that was because my sister asked me to write something for the handbook she was compiling. But I had submitted a story to precisely one market in my life by that point: the Canadian SF anthology Tesseracts. I think it was Tesseracts 2 or Tesseracts 3, back in 1996 or 1997, maybe, and I got a lovely rejection letter urging me to send my story on to another place, which I, foolishly, did not do. I was too crushed by the rejection.

So I spent years writing and writing and not sending anything out. I didn’t really know how that whole process worked, and wasn’t submitting stories anywhere. I’d written a thesis made up of short stories for my Master’s Degree (a Creative Writing degree), but we’d learned nothing at all about publication there, beyond the lesson we learned through the in-house magazinerun by a prof in our department: that sometimes, having a personal connection helps. It was only once I got to Clarion West that I learned that normal people did just send stories out and sometimes publish them… that this was something I ought to be doing.

But that happened in 2006. Back in 2005, I was still rewriting old stories, instead of writing news ones. I was, unfortunately, looking back on my writing from the years leading up to 2000 or so, with an eye to revising that work, and so I printed off a bunch of old pieces and plunked them into folders, intending to edit them carefully, producing brand new gems that could be sent out into the world.

With the exception of one story, that never happened. (And the one story that did get rewritten, was so radically different it’s almost unrecognizable. So much underbrush got cleared out, and so much changed.)

The result is that when Mrs. Jiwaku and I were packing up our stuff, I found a huge pile of printed-out manuscripts sitting on a shelf in the living room, and began to look through it. Trash’em? Bring ’em along? I opted for the latter, in case I had some time to give them a look in Suwon, prior to our departure from Korea, figuring I could always scan the marked-up pages and use them for a rewrite when I feel I need a break from novel-drafting. Having given them a look, though, all I can say is that I’m glad I never bothered, at least with some of them.

The worst example is a story called “Erosion” which I’m pretty sure I drafted in 1999 or maybe 2000. It was one of the stories my thesis supervisor took one look at before telling me I shouldn’t include it in my thesis… so it got left out.  He didn’t tell me much about why it should be left out, though, and I feel that he should have–though maybe he felt, as I do looking at it now, like it’s hard to begin to explain how much is wrong with the piece.

No, wait: he was my instructor. It was his job to tell me what was wrong with it, and he should have at least told me something like what I scribbled on the back of the first page, in fact:

A horrible story, but it could be gutted for the core concept… ie. the idea of a character that may or may not be human or alien, but believes it is alien, and is trying to get by in the human world, taking medications that shift it slowly back and forth between its human state and its other mental state. Perhaps in a world where other people are also in that state… maybe some kind of disease outbreak causes these symptoms?

Okay, I’m being generous. In terms of its execution, the story is garbage, and not just because of the concepts or the execution. It’s bad because writing was primarily a form of therapy for me in dealing with things that were troubling me at the time. It’s bad because it’s sloppy and uncommitted to telling a story. It’s bad because it’s not really a story at all, but a rant dressed in the clothes of story.

But looking back on it, I can’t help but feel happy, because right now, I can see all of that. The problems are crystal clear, in a way they weren’t even seven years ago, let when I first wrote the thing. Even as recently as 2005, I looked at this story as something that maybe, possibly, could be revised into shape, rather than just gutted for the one passably interesting conceit, and junked.

Hell, even looking at a story from just a few years ago, I find that things are clearer to me than they were. Not just in the way that a little distance gives one in terms of one’s own writing, either: I mean I’m processing what I’m reading in a way that feels qualitatively different now.

Is this just a honeymoon phase connected with being (relatively) free of other obligations? It really feels as if some of the clutter has been cleared out of my mind, in part from clearing out the clutter of my life, and the clutter associating with living in a place I should have left years before. I feel more clear-headed than I have in a long time, and though I desperately need to hit a gym soon — I can feel that in my muscles and bones — I have a sense that this months-long writing break I’m taking is going to be productive. I also feel like this is a positive change I’ve made in my life… like moving toward something.

We have about two weeks left in Korea, but I don’t know how productive I can be until then. To be honest, everyone always wants to say goodbye when someone leaves a country, and there’s all kinds of logistical stuff to get sorted out too. But we’re well on the way now… and that’s a good feeling.

Oh, and our plans have changed yet again, in a very good way!

But I’ll have more to say about that in a bit.

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