The Uncool Kids’ Table

It’s been a tough week for me as a writer: seeing the nominations for Pushcarts and Best Small Fictions make the rounds on social media, reading the lists of winners and finalists, and knowing that this year, too, I’ve been passed over.

It’s a week that makes all the dormant high school mean girls in my soul come to life, spitting out their judgments on me and my writing. Loser. No-talent. If you haven’t made it by now, you never will. Why don’t you just give it up?

Maybe those girls live in your soul, too, always ready to let you know that no matter what, you are not good enough. You will never be good enough. Never be included in the big-name anthologies. Never be published in the top-tier journals. Never, as a writing friend said recently, be asked to sit at the cool kids’ table.

Should it matter? Is there a reason to keep writing even if you’re not ever going to make it into the canon? (Is there even a canon anymore?) Should I just grow up, give up, find something sensible to do? Something that might even pay the bills?

The only time I don’t ask these questions is when I’m actually writing. When I’m absorbed in the work that is play, the mean-girl voices shut up for a little while.

My writing group and writing friends are my lifeline, and when we write together, sometimes things happen that are a little bit magic. I can start with a few prompt words …

And suddenly, there’s this story taking shape on the page, and I’m not even stopping to worry if it’s bad or good or if it’ll be rejected or accepted. (This one was, at JMWW, and I’m very thankful to them for giving it a place to live.)

There are little victories along the way, but I don’t know if I’ll ever shake those feelings of inadequacy completely, ever stop worrying that I’m not as widely published as X and don’t have as big a Twitter following as Y. But I don’t really know X or Y. I don’t know what Greek chorus of mean girls lives in their own heads, telling them Forget it! You suck. You’re nobody.

I wish I could remember that all the time. Too often, I forget it when I’m listening to the chorus. But I think I know it when I’m writing, like the heroine of my story who confronts her rival, and finds her “only lonely and scared, like everybody else.”

I’m nobody. Who are you?