Those who can'

You know the addage. Those who can, do, those who can't teach free workshops on it at 826 Michigan. Perhaps I'm paraphrasing. I am having, you may be able to tell, a crisis of conscience directly related to just what it is I might want to be when and if I ever decide to grow up. Perhaps the latest tug on this thread of doubt was my rejection from the Breadloaf Writer's Conference. You may see it simply as a lack of acceptance, but I prefer the word "rejection." It's more pathetic; it merits, somehow, more sulking.

I suppose I should have seen it coming. Breadloaf is, after all, a writer's conference of great repute. And I did apply in the genre of fiction (in which I am an infant) and not in the genre of non-fiction (in which I am not.) So why did it hit me so hard that I didn't get in? I knew it the moment the envelope arrived -- a thin #9 envelope. Anyone who's ever applied for college or, well, anything knows that a thick envelope is what you want. Something with housing info, forms to sign, pages on which to write "I'm terrific! I got in," fold neatly and mail back to them in a SASE.

I just wanted to get in, you know? I wanted to be good enough. Sure, I'm going to the Iowa Summer Writing Festival next month for a weeklong short story workshop. And, sure, I come back from there every year feeling pretty invigorated. But let's face it...the only challenge in getting into Iowa for a summer workshop is whether or not your check clears.

So I'm left to conclude that I have a lot to learn about fiction. I can live with that conclusion. It seems reasonable and, perhaps even beyond that, true. What I'm tempted to conclude and am not yet sure about is that I suck at fiction. That I can't write it. This could be true.

Yet here's what's baffling...I just wound up my third six-week session at 826 Michigan teaching a narrative writing workshop to teens, 14-16, along with my good friend and fellow writer, Jason. And I love it. I really do. Sure, there are moments when I want to jump across the table and strangle the participants, but they are nothing compared to the moments when you can see the gratitude and passion in these kids eyes because someone's taking their writing seriously, someone wants to talk to them about their writing.

When I'm in there, I'm confident that I have something to share. Somehow, I know this stuff. Maybe not all the technical stuff -- I'm not an expert on plotting and themes. But I do know a lot about writing fiction and I can help them learn to love writing and to love talking about writing. I can help them become better writers.

So how can I know all this about what good fiction looks like and yet I can't produce it? Is this a case of the old addage? I can't do it, but I can teach it? Does that make me a phony, talking to these kids about how they should be writing when I can't pull it off? It's very strange for me to possess such passion and knowledge about something I can't do.

And I like talking about writing fiction far more than I like doing it. All the writers out there know exactly what I mean when I say it's hard frickin' work. It's torturous. It's painful. It takes years off your life, puts inches on your waist and adds wrinkles to your forehead.

So that's what I've been thinking about lately instead of blogging. Productive, no?