I cannot imagine wanting to have children, which must be why I never had them. I wonder if that’s the reason I became a writer, if giving birth to stories instead of babies sublimated my maternal urges. There are indisputable similarities between the two professions: extraordinary effort, scant recognition, nothing to put in the bank.
It’s true that I think of my stories as my progeny. I do my best with them, and then I bundle them up, arm them with my publishing credits (attesting to my fitness as a mother), and launch them into the world. This is always a moment of trepidation—I want so much for these innocents, namely love and acceptance.
I have to admit it: my children aren’t doing so well. Lately they are all returning home, sullen and weary, collapsing on the sofa like broke college graduates. “I told you,” they seem to say. “I told you I wasn’t good enough.” I don’t blame them; it’s a hard world, and as their mother I probably made plenty of mistakes. It used to kill me to see my babies come back. I’d pull out the Kleenex, wind up commiserating. I’d let them stay home and do what they wanted. Which was nothing.
I’m a tougher mother now. “Look,” I tell them, “I get it. Times are rough. There are too many of you. But you can’t spend your life on the sofa.” I don’t even give them time to take off their coats. I march them right to the door.
Occasionally one of these rejects—I don’t like to use that word, but it’s the truth— comes back a suspicious number of times. That’s the point at which I sit down and take a long hard look. Maybe I’ll make a few changes, tuck in the shirttails. I might spruce up my qualifications, tack on a couple more publishing credits, mention the award I was short-listed for. I might even lower my standards, lead my problem child into a borderline neighborhood where editors are known to be more lenient. There is nothing I will not do for my children.
Of course some of my children, the quirky ones, will be with me always. Nobody wants these stories, they just don’t fit in, but I don’t care. I love them. I love them fiercely because no one else does. I keep them in a nice clean folder on my desktop, safe from harm.
Repeated exposure has inured me to rejections; I don’t take them personally anymore. So my stories don’t land in the New Yorker; so they end up off the grid, archived in some small journal; so a few of them stay behind. At least I know I’ve done my best. As with living, the best revenge is writing well.
Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. Nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize, she has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her debut collection of short stories, SURVIVAL SKILLS, was published in April 2013 by Ashland Creek Press and was short-listed for a Lambda Literary Award. Her story “Happy Hour” appeared in Minerva Rising Literary Journal. You can read more about Jean and her writing at http://jean-ryan.com/.