I'm at Powell's right now, sitting in the café and looking through the window across Burnside. This is a view (dream) I've enjoyed many times in my life, especially the three years I lived in Portland, back when my only dreams concerning my writing, was publishing my short stories in great literary journals and someday getting into a legit MFA program. Eleven years since I was here last, I can't help but take a personal inventory of my life, noting the achievements I've fulfilled and those that I'm still trying to achieve. Among other things, I realize that:
1. Contrary to what I assumed in 2003, when I took my first fiction workshop at the age of 28 at Portland State, publishing a short story in an excellent journal, even publishing a bunch of short stories in many respected journals, doesn't mean you've "made it" at all as a literary fiction writer. Or maybe it did once, but then you begin moving the goal posts with each tiny success
2. Getting accepted into a legit MFA program doesn't mean you've "made it" either
3. Ditto with a legit PhD program
4. Ditto studying with famous authors (all of who have tried, each in their own way, to get their agents to pick me up as a client)
5. One of my biggest fears since the day I realized I wanted to be a literary fiction writer, was not publishing my novel, short story, and memoir manuscripts. My second greatest fear was being one of those professors who teaches writing, but who hasn't published his books. Right now, these two fears resonate with me, not because I think I'll never publish my manuscripts (actually, I think I'm incredibly close right now because I have many agents reading my first and second novels and just as many indie presses reading similar and different manuscripts), but because before you're a published author in the book sense of the word, you're nothing. Or at best, you're simply a published author in the literary journal sense of the word, which isn't the same thing.
6. As I was talking to my good friend Leigh, two nights ago, at this vegan trattoria, it hit me that as a fiction writer trying to make a career publishing his novels in hard copy, I'm essentially fighting for a lost world. A world that doesn't even exist anymore to anyone except literary fiction writers
7. I need to find an illustrator and a coder and then finish my electronic novella, Dukkha, My Love, as soon as possible because I can still leave my mark in that medium, regardless of how long it takes me to publish my other work
8. On the flip side, at the cost of sounding smug, I'm happy with life right now. I'm in love, I'm married, we have a bomb loft apartment in DTLA and two small dogs that we absolutely adore. I have an awesome gig teaching hybrid class of lit, creative writing, rhetoric, and comp, at a great school (UC Irvine). Besides that, I'm healthy. I get to travel with my boo at least once every year. And with the exception of this annoying reoccurring red patch on my cheek (that is either eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, or rosacea--and makes me feel like an angry lush clown), I think I look pretty good for my age.
9. I think I'm at a very major threshold here. I'm hopeful, shamefully, possibly even unjustifiably hopeful about my future. My hope is that in a few years, I get to come back here to Powell's not as a customer, but as an author. Until then, I keep fighting, keep submitting, keep improving my manuscripts