Last Friday, I did a post about Stephen King’s stories in The New Yorker. You can read that by clicking on this link. I’ve been thinking a lot about that post today. I’ve been thinking a lot about those stories.
In my writing world, as summer gets closer, I’ve been thinking more and more about getting back to revising the novel that’s been sitting in my desk drawer for too long now.
I think about it and I start to get excited again. The book feels important to me, like it is a story worth telling.
But then there are moments–and they’ve become more frequent–where I recognize the dark parts of that novel. Then, I jump far, far ahead of myself. I start to think what if-– what if someone reads this novel someday? What will people think about those dark parts? Those dark scenes?
More importantly, what will they think of me? Of the one who wrote those scenes?
A local newspaper published an article recently about the teacher’s contract agreed upon by the union and the school board at the high school where I work. Given the financial realities, the contract is fair and the newspaper article celebrated the ‘amicability’ of the agreement, which was good. However, the paper reported that teachers will get a 2% raise in the 3rd and 4th year of the contract but it did not mention that the teachers also agreed to teach another class in year three and four.
I was bothered by that. What will the community think, I wondered, knowing that, in these rough financial times that the teachers got a raise without knowing that we also agreed to more work? How many more times will I hear from all those people about how pampered teachers are? How can we take a raise when everything else is crumbling?
What, I wondered, will those people think of me?
I called pitches at my daughter’s softball tournament this weekend. I’ve done this only a handful of times and my experience with softball in general is limited and I never even played baseball in high school. In short, I’m learning on the fly.
I called a terrible game against a really good team and our pitcher got shelled.
I felt terrible, because I know I didn’t put the pitcher in a position to succeed. I felt like I hung her out to dry. I felt bad, because she felt bad and I blamed myself.
Later, when it was all said and done, I found myself wondering again–what must people think? What must the parents think?
There’s a pattern here. One I don’t like.
A pattern that I’m too old to be falling into.
And then I think about Stephen King and those stories he published in The New Yorker.
It didn’t matter that he was publishing stories in what people consider a ‘high brow’ magazine, Stephen King remained Stephen King. He wrote the way he always wrote. He wrote about a man who collected bathroom graffiti such as “poopie doopie you’re so loopy” and ‘Here I sit, cheeks a-flexin’, giving birth to another Texan.” In “A Death” the central revelation revolves around a guy shitting in a bucket at the back of his prison cell.
It didn’t seem to bother King a bit what those readers of The New Yorker would think. Or if it did, it didn’t stop him cold or paralyze him like those fears sometimes do to me.
He wrote those stories because those were the stories he had to tell. All that he could offer were the stories that were his. Some people like them. Some people don’t.
Perhaps some could argue that King’s success bred this confidence. Maybe to an extent that’s true. I think about the story wherein his wife Tabitha saved the manuscript for Carey from the garbage.
But I also think the self-belief and self-acceptance King has had to always be there on some level. I would argue that his success wouldn’t have been possible without his lack of concern for what people thought of him.
I’ll take that as a lesson here.
Because it was one that I needed to hear today.