I’m turning 50 and still an aspiring writer which is like running around in a string bikini with a belly ring. At 50 even if you’re Madonna, it’s kinda sad.
Last summer, I enter the 3 Day Novel Contest – it’s Canadian. You start and complete a novel over the labor day weekend. On the honor system. Oh Canada.
The winner gets published. The rest of us shmucks are out 50 bucks.
Now it’s late January and I’m awaiting the results as though it were a biopsy, obsessively monitoring contest updates for hints about when they’ll announce, and meanwhile the brain won’t stop thinking about how my life will change if I win, how I’m destined never to win anything, how the producers of Who Wants to Be Millionaire sense my loserliness and I’ll never sit in the hot seat across from Meredith, how I showed early promise once, but let it slip away and ti-i-i-ime is not on my side, and maybe HRT would be worth it, even with the cancer risk…
And so I turn to the internets for distraction. It’s not surfing. It’s driving. It’s aimless driving with free gas on a highway with infinite exits, attractive rest stops and no reason to hurry home. I type my name, I type Pogo (the name of a story I’d written over 20 years ago – my entire published oeuvre) and I type The Quarterly (the name of the literary journal in which it appeared).
I get the usual: find Marion Stein, irrelevant links. Somewhere on the second or third screen there’s something in a language that’s not English. I click. It’s a course description in Danish with enough English words – titles and names of units for me to get the gist. The authors include Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and William Shakespeare. And there in a unit called Man vs Nature: Marion Stein, Pogo, The Quarterly. There’s my story. All grown up and living in Europe.
It’s a secondary school.
I find my way to the school’s website. There’s a thumbnail of the teacher – graying curly hair, forties at least. I close my eyes and see her young, maybe during her gap year. In Chiang Mai, she stays at a backpackers hotel run by a German – don’t talk about the war – and his unstereotypicaly assertive Thai wife. Her friends are out hiking, but she’s getting over the effects of some bad Ecstasy. There’s a rooftop patio with comfy chairs and an astounding mountain view. Books left by fellow travelers mostly English but she majored in English. She picks up a weather beaten copy of The Quarterly, Issue 9. There are a couple of pieces she likes, so she holds onto it. Years later she’s working on the curriculum, has an idea and remembers reading something that would fit. Where was it again? She goes to her shelf and picks through several Grantas, a couple of Paris Reviews and oh there it is! Oh yes, that will do.
I email the teacher. A week later, I hear back. She first read Pogo in a class she took at the Southern Danish University and has been using it for years as an example of a “postmodern” text.
Okay, this isn’t exactly lunch at Balthazar with Scorcese discussing my screenplay. It’s not winning the 3 Day – which I found out today I’m not even shortlisted for . It’s not getting my shot on Millionaire, but somewhere out there, this story was floating like a note in a bottle and it was found, and miraculously, I found out that it was found, and in a moment of everyday despair, of hopelessness, Denmark sent me a lifeline.
God bless the internets.
God save Queen Margarette..