If I Gave Up

The thought occurred to me yesterday morning, just after I finished reading a magical, thought-provoking story about a gang of young girls (“The Sisterhood of Night” by Steven Millhauser). I haven’t been a young girl in a long time, but I connected to the girls’ desire to disappear in the night. The girls in the story were ages 12, 13, 14, 15—ages I remember better than what I am now. This story settled into me quietly, which if you’ve read the story you’d know was fitting. I had a silent moment—there, at a corner table in the coffee shop, where it felt like no one could see me. My mind paused. Then I asked myself the big question:

What would happen if I gave up?

Just… decided I wasn’t going to try any longer. What would that be like?

On Friday I had been at work, where a pathetic cloud of doom had descended upon me, where I realized how unhappy I was and also that it didn’t matter, I should just do my job and keep doing my job and this is what had become of my existence: the doing of my job until it was time to go home and not do my job for a few hours. I don’t want to be so negative. For days all I’ve wanted to do is nap, which is very unlike me. I haven’t even wanted to read. You know there is a problem when you have no desire to read a book.

Truth is, I haven’t felt this down about myself for a long time, since, well… sometime around age 13 or 15. Still, back then, I had been so sure of where my future would take me. My writing future was my escape route, that’s how I made it through. I don’t begrudge my young self those fantasies—I love the idea of living for a fantasy—but enough time has passed that I can say with certainty that the fantasy did not come true. I mean, I’m not living in a cardboard box addicted to heroin, I’m not in prison, I’m not dead, so it didn’t fall to shreds either. It just… didn’t exactly happen the way I wanted it to.

So, I thought about what it would be like to not have this dream anymore. To not want to be a published author. To do something else—something more satisfying—with my life.

And at that I shrugged. The answer came easy: I’d still write.

I’d write short stories. I wouldn’t have to think about sending them out. I wouldn’t have to think about agents or books deals or writing a more marketable novel or making my characters more accessible or my voice less voicey or trying to write something to sell or selling anything at all or what people thought of me or, really, anything. I’d just write stories for myself because I like to. That’s it.

It sounds nice to think of it that way, giving up. There’s no longer any pressure—just art for art’s sake. In a way, it would be the most beautiful failure I could imagine for myself. And if I think of it that way, it couldn’t be called failure at all.

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