So I live in Washington, DC. And it's tourist season. For people the world over, it's a time to descend on DC to stroll the national mall, take in an IMAX movie at the Natural History Museum, watch the cherry blossoms, uh...blossom. But for us locals, it's a time to dig a twenty foot hole in the ground and hide for the next four months. Suffice it to say that, while there are some lovely tourists who, through their mystified, awe-struck expressions help you remember what a truly beautiful city you live in, most make it their job to gum up escalators and sidewalks and are the most annoying crowd this side of a termite colony.
But something a tourist said yesterday on the subway home has stuck with me (I'm assuming they were tourists, judging by the clothes they were wearing, the uniform of the every-tourist: baggy cargo shorts; XXL-sized matching wolf print shirts; mirrored, tinted-yellow sunglasses). The woman of the couple said: "Did your guy die?" When her beard-bedecked husband said, "Huh?" she repeated, much more loudly: "DID YOUR GUY DIE???" Note to tourists: do not raise your voice above a low hum on the metro - everyone around you has put in at least a 9-hour workday, and that kind of disturbance is enough to start a civil war.
Her comment, however loud in its delivery, is still buzzing around my brain. Had they just been at the Holocaust Museum? I went there once (not for the faint of heart), and years ago, they would assign you an identity card upon entry. Printed on the card was a summary of a person who had been interned at a concentration camp: height, weight, background, reason for internment: all of it was printed on the card. By the end of the harrowing visit, you got to find out if your person survived the camps or not. Thank God, my person survived.
Was that what she was talking about? Or was she referring to a contractor with whom her husband had been working? A man who'd fallen off a roof while re-tiling it? What? WHAT??? I wanted to know the story.
And then it clicked for me. Everything is a story. Every. Thing. And everyone, at all times, either wants to be part of a living story, or they want to be reading one. And this is the greatest all-time boon to the writer: life is tailor-made for us to write about it. Why am I writing this? Probably more to psych myself up than anything. But from what I've read on Twitter, lots of people have shelved stories because life has become too hectic, or they aren't feeling their stories anymore. This is no good. You have to--HAVE TO--get back to work, and don't stop until you've finished writing.
One of the saddest things I ever heard a writer say was during an interview I read with William Monahan. Monahan wrote the screenplay for The Departed, for which he won the Oscar. He's a terrific, terrific writer. I loved that movie. I even read the screenplay and believe me: the screenplay is even better than the movie. There's stuff they left out of the movie that you can't believe. But he didn't start out as a screenwriter. He started as a journalist, and then moved into writing short stories. He published a collection of short stories, and they went nowhere (they were optioned by some movie production house, but then stalled). So he said he wanted to move into a field where he could have an impact, where people would respect him, implying that print was dead.
Ok, sure. Print is going the way of the Allosaurus, but give me a break! You want to stop writing short stories just because short story writers aren't as respected as they once were? Are you kidding me??? Well, Monahan has done just fine. But for all of you out there who are considering hanging up your uniform (and I've been in that camp more often than I care to admit), don't do it. Without having published myself, again, I'm saying this just as much to super-charge my own engines and anyone else's, but here it is: self-publish you work. Get your stuff out into the hands of people who love to read, and do it at a competitive price. Because there will always be a market for good stuff, no matter how it's packaged. Just ask that lady on the subway.