Saturday, February 3, 2007

What is good enough?

More envelopes in the mail, and now it is raining—extra-gray. The deluge of rejection slips makes me wonder, again, how to be good enough to get accepted. If I wanted to be more precise, I would ask how to write well enough. Somehow, it tends to get bundled up together. That's life.

As soon as I start to ask about "good enough," the question multiplies into two: How can I get good enough to be accepted, and how can I be good enough for me, write the best that I think I can write?

The first question deals with external measures. Someone else says, "Nice work, we like it," and sends an acceptance or an award or some other tangible acknowledgment or reassurance. It's easy to say that the outer reassurances are not what matters—that living up to your own idea of your own potential is far more important.

But those external measures are just that: measurable. And tangible. You can count them and say, "This is success" or "This is abject failure." It can be comforting to think that you know where you're at, where your work is at (even when it's dispiriting). Ah, you might say, but you should write for yourself—not for who might choose you. This brings us to the second line of inquiry.

The second question includes two dilemmas. First: How do you measure whether your best is as good as you can do? Second: You can't get there. It isn't possible—at least, not for more than about five minutes at a time. Can you imagine saying, "This is my best work, and it's the best poem I'm ever going to write?" That's more depressing than the rain.

We keep reaching for our best and hoping that we'll measure up to someone else's idea of what is best. (And I'll keep trying to figure out what that is.)

No comments: