Posts Tagged ‘perfection’

I ran across a draft letter I wrote several years ago, and I’m kicking myself for not sending it. Why? It was a condolence letter to the husband of an old friend of the family, and I realize now that I never felt like it was good enough to send.

L. and her first husband were close to my parents when I was young, and as couples split apart and merged in new formations, L. remained part of our circle. Even when she remarried, moved away and I hadn’t seen her for years, L. occupied a warm place in my heart. Then she got sick and died, and I didn’t know what to say to the new husband I’d never met.

Still, I searched for a card. I bought a stamp. I drafted a letter. I didn’t send it.

Running across the draft, I realize that what I might have said was less important than the impulse to share what L. meant to me. Here’s my draft, names abbreviated:

Dear P.,

I wanted to write to say how sorry I was to hear about L.’s passing. You know my father M. well, of course, and L. was a good friend of our family for years.

L. was many things, an academic, a family friend, wife, mother, upstanding member of the community and snazzy dresser. She was kind enough to invite us to her son’s bar mitzvah. The energy was happy, swirling, bright and compelling, much like L. herself. 

When I think of L., I remember her smile, her warmth, the care she showed for those around her. I think of her dancing.

I am so sorry for her loss.*

Perfect? No, but it was good enough. What lesson do I take from this? What will I tell myself the next time? 

I wanted it to be perfect because it mattered. But I had it backwards. I understand now that because it mattered, it didn’t have to be perfect.

* * *

Reach out.

Share your feelings.

Send the card.

* * *

Photo by Jackson David on Pexels.com

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* Note following a discussion on this with my father: I debated using the more typical “sorry for your loss” but decided that while I was deeply sorry for P., what I meant in the bigger picture was “I’m so sorry she’s gone.” So I used “her loss.” Told you it wasn’t perfect, but that’s ok.

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While this article* might be more appropriately titled “What Makes a Bad Short Story,” it’s still an interesting read from Heidi Pitlor, editor of The Best American Short Stories series and someone with an astonishing exposure to the depth and breadth of short stories.

…”Sometimes, story writers seem to forget to write scenes.” This sort of thing is fine if scenelessness is done intentionally. But too often, we as readers enter a story via a small action (a door opening, a phone ringing) and then are held captive while the author utilizes a disproportionate amount of space introducing a character, his marriage, his children, his divorce, his parents and his emotional limitations before we return to the room he just entered or the phone call that just begun. In a 17-page story, each page matters. Each sentence matters. Pacing matters.

This may be more of an issue in literary fiction than genre fiction, but it can happen anywhere. (I’m currently reading a genre novel where life-and-death chase scenes are regularly interrupted by peaceful jaunts down memory lane. Srsly?) If you want me to rush headlong into a story, don’t put up speedbumps. And while we’re at it, don’t take life so seriously:

Here are some things I wish I saw more frequently: humor, genre-bending, humor, risk-taking, a more direct addressing of real world matters, humor.

Having somewhat goofy tendencies myself, I’m pleased to see her emphasis on humor. Because what’s the point if you can’t laugh, am I right?

* Yes, there’s a typo in the article. No, it’s not a big deal, no matter what she does for a living. Would you rather she’d refused to publish the piece in an obsessive attempt to ensure its perfection, before finally giving up and tossing it in the trash? I would not:) Do the best you can, but keep moving ahead.

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