I’ve been working on the same stories for maybe 20 years now. The same damn stories–the ones I tell to anyone who will listen whenever I have a few drinks.

And I’m getting better at working on them for longer periods of time–getting closer to being finished –though every time I pick it up again, it is a challenge to not judge myself too harshly.

It’s that same feeling you get when you hear your voice on tape. Angst and self-doubt.

Recently my mother-in-law showed me a pretty painting she had in her house. It was kind of like a Monet–only in that it was pastel colors and a bunch of brush strokes. It also had finger marks and other streaks and it wasn’t a painting of a scene–but it was kind of nice.

“That looks familiar,” I said when she showed it to me.

“It should!” she said, “You did it!”

“Huh,” I said.

It did look familiar, but definitely better than something I had done. I’m not a painter.

But years ago we bought a big house with blank walls and for six months I filled canvas after canvas with paint and hung them up. We ended up moving–it was too much space for just the two of us–and I had to throw the paintings away but my mother-in-law saved one from the garbage. It was 12 years ago I think.

When I sit down to write I try to remember that painting.