I was psyched to finally get a copy of the latest ALR. Once I was done ogling the cover, proofing my story, and inhaling some of the terrific work within (including a fascinating poetic sequence on Dante's Inferno by Mary Jo Bang), I faced one of the ongoing issues with publishing certain pieces: Who should be told that this thing has come into the world?
Specifically, when one has written a story that is so close to autobiography, who can one trust to appreciate the similarities, be amused by moments of recognition, and yet not hold a grudge about the aspects that are fictionalized (and those that aren't)?
This story, "The Umpire," depicts a kid who gets a crush on an umpire at her softball league and is completely obsessed with him until the moment it seems like he might return her fascination. She is 12. He is 33.
The story comes as close to portraying myself at age 12 as anything I've written. Awkward. Eager to please. Not immune to the occasional inappropriate crush, and yet still so much a child that I didn't even recognize such crushes for what they were. And it's set at a Little League--a venue rife with emotional tensions and politics kids are only barely aware of, but where I spent many frustrated and jubilant hours as a softball player, alternately hating myself for not being as good as I dreamed of being and feeling (very occasionally) smug about becoming better than I had been. When I was 12 years old, for example, I caught a line drive that, I'm afraid to say, may stand as the peak moment of my life. I'm still waiting to top it, twenty odd years later.
This story contains not only this fictionalized version of me, but a fictionalized version of my mother, my coach, my father, several amalgams of fellow girl softball players, and a middle school math teacher. And a much-creepified umpire, who in real life was nowhere near as troubling as I made him ... but who, even now, I occasionally wonder about. Where did he end up? What's he doing? And why did he want to talk about Freud's ideas on anal retention to a 12-year old?
Adolescence is full of mysteries that may never be solved. All I know is that I still, on occasion, buy a packet of Big League Chew and dream of being in the outfield, waiting for that perfect long fly. There's little that feels as good as catching one--except, perhaps, knowing you can show your mother a story that contains a fictionalized version of her and she will not freak out.
I'd be curious to hear how others deal with this. Are there stories/poems you won't publish in the name of protecting the innocent? Are there pieces you won't even write? What would have to happen for you to be free to write them?