Density of the Dense

I’ve been considering giving up writing again today. I do that from time to time though it’s been some time since the last time I did it. The problem usually arises when I begin reading a piece of writing that I find uncommonly compelling. On this occasion the piece is question is the first novel of Christopher Rice, (the son of Anne) titled A Density of Souls. I have it on loan from Jimmy and I’ve been reading it this week as I try to get myself back into a literary mindframe. The trouble is that it’s just too good and it’s written by someone even younger than me. I read his work and then I go back and look at mine and I feel startlingly inadequate.

Of course, as we all know from reading the past weeks’ entries, it hasn’t taken much to bring forth these feelings of inadequacy lately. The difference with these particular pangs of frustration is that I know them so well because I have felt them before. You see, despite all the praise I have received over the years from peers and professors alike, I have never felt my writing was on par with anyone else. I felt that others were honoring me for doing the best I could do, not for being good.

I have friends who have put out books, colleagues who have been published, and here I am reading the work of someone younger than me who has made the New York Times Bestseller list once, and is probably well on his way with this second novel. How can I look at my own, yet unpublished body of work, and not feel at least a little bit inferior?

When I get this way I try to look back at some of the nice things people have said to me, or about me over the years. An old fiction professor of mine, David, wrote in a reccomendation letter for me:

“The quality of his latest writing is extremely high, and the characters in his most recent fiction are complex and carefully wrought, his details sharp and filled with nuance. His choice of subject matter is varied and interesting, and his approach to the subject often pleasantly surprising. There is a searching quality to his work; one gets the sense, reading a story by Chris, that the piece is partially an attempt to understand something foreign to his experience or values.”

That meant a lot when I read it and it means a lot now, but David hasn’t had the chance to read anything I’ve read in nearly three years. Is anything I’ve written since he last read my work any good? The publications I’ve been submitting to certainly don’t seem to think so. Though I have to consider something else David wrote to me recently:

“Sound like everything is clicking—except in the publishing area, which believe me, is best to look at as a completely random and unfathomable process. I’ve had good years and bad years in the publishing business, and a good amount of it seems to come down to luck and perseverance.”

I don’t know. Up through about noon today I was feeling good about my day. I read a little, wrote a little, and got outside for a change (thanks to a dead car battery I had to walk to the post office to return my severance letter signed, via priority mail). After I did my reading in the afternoon though and then took a look at my own writing, that’s when things went a little silly.

I’m willing to just chalk it up to a bad afternoon though. We’ll see how I feel about all of this tomorrow when I meet with my career counselor again to discuss my future.

I must leave you for now though, as I have to get up early to jump-start my car and get to class.