In October, Once Again

A while back, I wrote a piece of flash fiction called “In September”, about a woman whose husband only existed in the few weeks between August and October. It’s a bittersweet story, as you might expect, long lonely stretches of summer and winter and spring. It doesn’t have a happy ending, but it doesn’t have a sad one either. The husband and wife go their own separate ways, without forgetting what they’d once had together.

A year ago, I went to Viable Paradise.

A year? Already?

What’s been real since then? Am I here, in my chair by the window at home; what part of me still exists, outside that one time-frozen week?

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The post-workshop blues are a real thing. For any workshop I’ve ever done, there’s a sense of energy, of power coming out of it afterward–having seen what’s wrong and been empowered to fix it.

But for me, with Viable Paradise more than ever, there’s a competing feeling of: what if I fix it wrong? What if I’ve been given this gift, and I misuse it, or squander it, or hide it under its proverbial bushel basket? Maybe someone else would made better use of it. Maybe I took up space in the workshop that could have benefited someone else more. Not someone teetering on an isolated peak, wondering how to get from there to the higher ranges; or someone who’d already their grip and started to tumble all the way back down. But somebody still climbing upward and who needed a hand on the way. Whose arm did I bat aside to grope for my next handhold?

It’s been a year. What have I changed? What have I done? What do I have to show that I was worthy? I want to be a true knight but I’m afraid I’ve been a false one all along. That if I’m invited to drink from the Grail I’ll choose wrongly, that I’ll spill it or drop it. Or worse yet, leave it somewhere the next person can’t find it.

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Rejections are trophies. I give myself rewards for accumulating them: Pokemon emails, gotta catch ’em all. The Clarkesworld and Asimov’s ones are as common as Rattatas, collect one once a week; you have to be a little more patient to snag one from Uncanny or Strange Horizons. Lightspeed is one of the legendary gets–can’t find one of those on any old street corner, you have to be an elite player to get within arm’s reach.

I used to hear “nice throw”, sometimes, when I tried to score one of those R’s–not so much anymore, and not because I’m trying less. Am I trying too hard, spiking the ball into the ground at my feet every time, aiming for a shot much too far beyond my reach? I hope so, but sometimes I’m not sure I’m not just running out of balls to toss, fumbling around my backpack groping for something, anything, to try. That’s not a ball, it’s a broken pen–throw it anyway and see how fast it comes hurtling back at your face.

You can rack up as many good throws as you want. You just can’t pile them up high enough to count as a catch.

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At the end of “In September”, the wife chooses to stay in May, without her husband but with the season that she needs to be happy and healthy and strong. I have 51 other weeks to choose from, some or any or all. Which one do I belong in? Is there one I could slide into so easily and feel like coming home?

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There is, of course, no finish line to cross on the way to being worthy. You keep earning it every day, by using it, by living it, by lowering the ladder to the next person reaching for it. If there’s no finish line, then there also can’t be any trophy. It would be too heavy to carry, anyway.

There is no “having something to show for it”, either. You can break your heart open to tell the stories inside. You can mine deep and dig up the gems that only you knew were buried there. You can do everything right and you still don’t deserve to have your stories told. Other people’s hearts have geodes inside, not just stained and cracked stone. Others dug up diamonds when all you found were agates. While you were forging chains, they poured hot iron to make keys and they unlocked the right gates at the right time.

You have to be worthy. You always have to be worthy. But you have to be lucky, too, and sometimes you find yourself with broken fingernails and a dry empty mine.

It’s not because you didn’t dig deep enough.

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It’s a cold October and when I call deeper into the cave, I hear echoes. It doesn’t sound like my voice anymore, stretched out and broken by the time it bounces back to me. I think it’s time to walk back out into the sun, for a while, before the winter comes. Deep underground, geological processes are at work, grinding and compressing the stone into something new. I’m not sure if it will be gems. Bedrock would be good, too.

I can’t leave October and I can’t live here either. So I’m walking forward, taking the longest strides I know how toward November. You might not see me much in online-land before then–if you need me or want to say hi, I answer emails fast, and I’m pretty good at typing while I walk and still watching where I’m going. There’s food and family waiting out there in November, friends too; there will be celebrations. The days will be getting shorter, too, and I’ll be watching for the first touch of snow then, if it doesn’t come early.

I’m a Wisconsin girl and if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to deal with the cold.

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