Normally, I don’t spend too much time looking backward with regret, but this nifty little writing prompt from the Plinky people got me thinking.
Do you remember Elfquest? It was originally a series of comic books and graphic novels launched in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1978 by the husband and wife writer/illustrator team of Wendy and Richard Pini. (WARP Graphics, collectively.) Elfquest stars Cutter, an elf on a mission to unite his fellow-elves, and a forest full of colorful creatures from Sun Folk to trolls to humans (called “High Ones”) to an extremely annoying, tiny, fairy-like creature who speaks in italics with a syntax that would make Yoda proud. (Currently, this gnat-with-a-wand is used as a cursor graphic on their website.)
I started reading Elfquest as a college student and went on to collect most of the original series, because I loved the story and felt a special bond with the couple, since I grew up just a few miles from Poughkeepsie.
Now let’s skip forward a few years. I’ve moved from Syracuse to Boston and have returned to the Hudson Valley. By day I’m a mild-mannered graphic designer. By night I’m working on my first novel, the behemoth I’ve previously written about, the one of the 138 rejections. The underlying theme of the tome is a comic book caper, and I’d even included bits of comic book text I wrote as one of the characters.
I read chapters of this book to my writing group weekly, and get a lot of useful feedback. One Thursday night, our faithful and fearless leader/moderator, Laura Jan Shore, invites a friend to sit in on a session.
It’s Wendi Pini.
I don’t know whether to wet myself or throw up. It’s not enough that one of my comic book heroes is sitting in Laura’s living room when I walk in, I (gulp) will be reading my work in front of her. That is, unless I faint after I wet myself and throw up. Then I realize what I’d brought for that night’s review: a scene from my novel about a comic book writer, most of which is a chapter of comic book writing.
I smile, shake her hand and generally, I hope, act like a normal person. When my time comes to read, there’s a knot in my stomach so big I’m surprised no one can see it through my clothes. I get that damp-palmed, jaw-quivering, one-bead-of-sweat-dripping-down-my-chest feeling. Working my feet against the planks of Laura’s dining room floor, I begin to read. I try not to think about Wendy’s reaction. I try to forget she’s in the room. My voice shakes and my heart’s thumping, but somehow I get through it. She gives me good feedback, including some real-life inside baseball of the comic book industry.
Then she offers me a job.
Holy crap. I think my heart has stopped. Wendy-freakin’-Pini has offered me a…job? Me? Or is she talking to the guy across the room, who is a real writer, while I… well, I am about two thirds of the way through the first draft of my first novel. I am a neophyte. I am a chrysalis. No, I’m the slimy little thing inside the chrysalis…
So I mumble something about not having the experience.
Then I turn her down.
And cry for about a week.
If I had taken her up on her offer, who knows how or even if my life would have changed? Would I have grown into the apprenticeship, gotten a title of my own, maybe won awards? Would I have given up on the novel, given up on novel-writing completely? Would it have changed my personal life in any way?
What if I got into that time machine, took the job, and hated the person I turned into? Although I’ve got my flaws, my quirks and my hypocritical idiosyncrasies, I like who I am. My journey at times has been rough, but I’ve earned those battle scars and they’ve made me stronger.
I still want that time machine, though. I want to revisit the moment I made my decision and kick my mealy-mouthed, floor-scraping ass. Turning down a job is one thing. But turning it down because I was too scared to imagine my inevitable failure?
That’s totally and completely human.
What would you do with your time machine?