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Photo Credit: Lisa Beth Anderson

  EUGENE CROSS is the author of the short story collection, Fires of Our Choosing, published in March 2012 by DZANC Books. His stories have appeared in Narrative Magazine (which named him one of "20 Best New Writers" and his story "Harvesters" a "Top Five Story of 2009-2010"), American Short Fiction, Story Quarterly, TriQuarterly, and Callaloo, among other publications. His work was also listed among the 2010 Best American Short Stories' 100 Distinguished Stories. He is the recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Chautauqua Writers' Festival, and the winner of the 2009 Dzanc Prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service. He currently lives in Chicago where he teaches in the Fiction Department at Columbia College Chicago. www.eugenecross.com
 
A Powerful Sort of Doubt Follow glimmertrain on Twitter

Upon entering college, I, like so many of my fellow freshmen, had little idea of what I wanted to do with my life. If I seemed hopelessly lost it's because I was. After some thought and lots of fretting I settled upon pre-med. My mother was a doctor, an internist who had worked in some of the largest hospitals in Chicago and New York before marrying my father and moving to Erie, Pennsylvania where she continued her medical career. Surely those genes must have been passed onto me. They hadn't. The courses meant to "weed out" the pre-med pretenders at my University did just that and once again I was left adrift, floating in a pool of pre-reqs and cheap beer. Then something happened. I took an Intro to Creative Writing course and was introduced to the work of Louise Erdrich and Yusef Komunyakaa, Lewis "Buddy" Nordan and Raymond Carver. I fell in love and I fell hard. I left inspired and signed up for as many more writing and literature courses as I could cram into my schedule. I started writing and workshopping with my peers and when I did, I reached another important discovery. I was no good. My work was crummy. It was nowhere near as moving or beautiful or polished as the published work we were reading which was understandable, but it also felt weak in comparison to my peers' work. And comparing was what I did. Constantly. I was convinced that each class I enrolled in held only two or three "real" writers and that I was never among them. I perpetually worried about whether or not my stories lived up to those of my classmates when what I should have been worrying about was whether or not they lived up to themselves. What they were capable of becoming. I was consumed with doubt. Was it possible that I had found my calling only to discover that I really sucked at it? Could the world be that cruel? I was certain it could. But somehow, whether from sheer stubbornness or a refusal to accept what I believed to be the truth, I stuck with it. It was not until years later that I would understand that doubt is oftentimes a good signifier of talent, that it actually is talent. As the amazing Richard Bausch puts it, doubt is an indicator that you have an ear for the way the work should sound and that you realize it's not yet there. Another teacher explained it to me this way. A show like American Idol inevitably begins with a smattering of tone-deaf singers who screech and shout their way through a sampling of Mariah Carey and Celine Dion. An irritated Simon Cowell then asks, "How do you think you did?" Many of these crooners smile and mouth their approval, assured they've just delivered a moving rendition. "Better than Mariah," they might say to the judges' collective shock. But here's the thing, the judges shouldn't be shocked. That confidence, that complete lack of doubt, shows a lack of talent. Those singers are so confident because they don't have a musical ear. They can't tell that they're tone-deaf, that they don't have the talent for song (or else they're just looking for their fifteen minutes.) They are devoid of doubt and consumed by confidence because they can't hear how the song should be or can be sung. And so when we as writers doubt our own work, it's because we realize that it is not yet where we want it to be. And so we keep trying, keep at it, over and over and over again. We collect our rejection slips. We revise the same sentence dozens of times. We read our work aloud and torture our thesauruses and slam our heads against the wall, until we get it right. Because we know we can. Because we know it can be better. I can't thank Bausch enough for teaching me this, for taking something that keeps so many of us away from the page and explaining it for what it is, a positive sign that the work we have chosen as our life's calling is actually the work we were meant to do.

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