Dear Phoenix, I’m sorry, but I had to go. I called my mother, and told her I was coming home. I slept in the other bed — the dog’s bed — the bed covered in our possessions packed together. If he cared he would’ve gotten in the dog’s bed with me last night, not fall straight away to sleep like he always does. How does anyone fall straight away to sleep, like how do jumbo jets lift off the ground? And if he cared, how could he help me unpack and repack our possessions tossed together: our underwear, the socks, the DVDs, collected papers. I packed the car. I put the cat in the carrier, to lie on his t-shirt. Someone on the internet said to put an item of clothing in the traveling carrier, and she has always loved him more. I said I would go. I had to go. If he cared he would say so. If he cared he would’ve gone, and gotten the letter from the trash. If someone said it would end over a letter, I would’ve said What is this, Jane Austen? I would have said How Tragically Romantic. Really, we were cold. I had to go. The morning was dark as night, and I hadn’t seen outside at 4am in months. I was surprised how, finally, Phoenix had accepted winter. My breath fogged the windshield of my car. It was time to go. This was my fault. No one smiles at an ultimatum. Do this or do that. Do this or I will do that. I had to go. I said I would leave. I said This is Over Unless You Do This, which he didn’t do. So, it was over. Dear Phoenix, I am sorry. I wish I could stop doing things I’ll have to apologize for later. There were times on the 101 in traffic I loved you. Those were the times as sun was leaving the desert, the sky was purple, and, improbably orange, unconditional love seemed possible. Those were the times I felt like I deserved to be forgiven.
They told me, when I entered graduate school, that as much as anything else, as much as learning about or practicing my writing, graduate school was for building my life-long network of writers. That it was in graduate school that I would meet the people who would read and critique my work for the rest of my life.
If this is the prime measure of success of graduate school, then I failed miserably.
I hate asking people to read my work, not least because, despite how much I offer the same favor, it always feels like I’m imposing. And hey, we all know that not everyone is the right type of reader for our work and, conversely, we are not the right reader for everyone else’s work—but when I give feedback that I feel can be better, I really hesitate asking for that exchange again.
That said, there are some people that I both trust and that I’m comfortable asking for the favor of a critique. There aren’t, however, as many as I think there should be. Maybe I had a strange set of circumstances in my two years in school, or maybe I’m just way too shy (I think I spoke twice during my first trimester of workshop, and one of those times I was forced into it). Maybe I just didn’t take the advice all that seriously, thought there’d be time for it later, but here I am, three-and-a-half years out of school with a very small and sad-looking writers network. Read more »
In September, I started working as a publishing assistant at an independent publishing house. Shortly after I started, I was getting drinks with one of my co-workers, and I asked if he was a writer. It’s clear that everyone I work with loves books, but people don’t generally talk about their own writing, so I was curious. He replied that he used to write more often, mostly nonfiction, but said, “at some point, I think you have to choose between being an editor and being a writer.” This took me by surprise, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
My immediate reaction was “Bullshit!” but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered whether his statement might be more true than I’d like to believe. He went on to explain that when working on the substantive editing of a manuscript, he’s deeply immersed in the author’s writing, and it becomes difficult to extract himself and to write without drifting into the style and voice of the writer whose words he’s focused on.
Part of my suspicion of his assertion stems from the fact that I think it’s important that writers learn how to steal from each other. Not plagiarize, obviously, but I find it useful to get out of my own head sometimes and re-remember the weird and new things you can do to language as a writer. I’ll turn to John Berryman or Carl Phillips—poets who write poems much different than my own—when I’m having trouble writing something new. And sometimes, if I’m really stuck, I write imitation poems or I choose the line of a poem I can’t get out of head and use it as the title or first line for one of my own pieces. Of course, this can create its own set of problems. I’ve rolled my eyes at many poems that lean too heavily and too obviously on James Wright’s “A Blessing” or Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo” but another way to look at stealing is to see it as a form of learning. And I think it’s important to steal language anywhere you can—dictionary definitions, street signs, eavesdropped conversations, etc. If you’re a good writer, the language you borrow will be transformed from an imitation to something wholly your own.
On the other hand, my co-worker’s point comes from a place of experience. When I think about it, I have not been in the position he’s in as an editor, elbow-deep in someone else’s words for months at a time. There may not be enough brain-space to do both. My job at the publishing house is mainly on the production side of things, coordinating with our freelance designers and copy-editors, and making sure all of the books go to the printers on time. I do become involved with each book, but I’m not working with an author to shape or clean up a manuscript. I read the finished work, and though that of course can affect me, my job doesn’t force me to get into the writer’s head or to think about the work in the way that a developmental editor does. My past experience as Poetry Editor of Willow Springs also didn’t involve heavy editing. Though I occasionally worked with poets for small rewrites or revisions, the pieces we accepted were more or less in a finished state.
Not to mention that while working on Willow Springs, my main job was to be an MFA student, which is to say that my main job was to write and learn how to improve my own craft. I suppose when your main job becomes that of an editor, it risks feeling selfish to focus on your own writing, particularly if it distracts you from the job you’re being paid to do. So perhaps my defensive reaction to the idea that one can’t be both an editor and a writer comes from the fear that I will someday have to choose a path when what I really want is to be both. Read more »
The Atlantic recently ran a story about Upworthy’s new liaison with the Gates Foundation. The site has, apparently, run paid content before, including a Microsoft ad, so the Atlantic‘s story quickly shifted focus:
“Upworthy has mastered the dark viral arts with a unique blend of A/B technology and lily-white earnestness. The staff scours the Web for “stuff that matters,” writes multiple headlines for a test audience, selects the top-performer, and blasts it out on social media. It’s a deceptively simple plan that’s devouring the Internet, one Facebook Newsfeed at a time. The site nearly surpassed 50 million unique visitors in October, which suggests traffic comparable to giants like Time.com, and Fox News.[...] Upworthy rankles some journalists partly because, even as it innocently coos Web readers with tender headlines, the repetitiveness of its style suggests a rather cynical ploy to lasso cheap attention rather than fully engage an audience hunting anything more than a dopamine rush.”
The click-bait headlines are repetitive, a little gag-inducing, and hugely successful:
Read more »
Even though I’ve come to accept that two spaces after a period is wrong, I can’t stop doing it. I really can’t. My fingers have a life of their own. Every time I hit the “period” key, my thumb goes tap-tap on the spacebar. Even when I literally think to myself at the beginning of the sentence, “Self, only hit the spacebar once at the end of this sentence.” Self is about as good at following directions as certain seven-year-old tennis players on a Friday afternoon.
Franzen once compared getting a new smartphone to upgrading an old girlfriend who you once thought you’d love forever. In my case, I felt like recognizing a good relationship had run it’s course and you’d be better off as friends. After activating my iPhone 5s last night, and putting my 4s and its now obsolete charger away in a desk drawer, I felt sad. I don’t think I’d anthropomorphized my phone before, but despite my excitement over Siri, I’ll admit to a moment of tenderness and reflection that we’d shared a good thing for the past two plus years. 5s, you can trust me, after all, you have my fingerprint.
It turns out that those furry felines who can wreak havoc on the allergy systems of some people can themselves be allergic to humans. I’m a dog person myself, so while I was mildly interested in the ins and outs of cats with human allergies, I was more drawn to the syntax and word choice of the statement. “Some Cats are Allergic to Humans” sounds like it should be the title of a poem. It would probably work as the title of a short story or essay, too, but those six words, in that particular order, strike me as inherently titular.
Like many writers, I collect groups of words from various sources — snippets of conversations I’ve overheard or participated in, interesting phrasing in news stories or craigslist ads, the remaining words left from a flyer pasted to a post and only partially removed. A good number of these fragments are jumping off places for me, meant to trigger a memory or mood, and not phrases I intend to use verbatim. But some of those scraps just beg to be titles.
Yet, I’m not very good at titling my fiction. In fact, I’m very bad at it. Of my (admittedly small) body of work, there is exactly one title that I’m satisfied with. Read more »
It was a Monday night. I was cutting up a steak I had just cooked for myself while waiting the recommended five minutes for my microwaved instant baby red mashed potatoes to fluff and cool down. My younger cat was rubbing against my leg and chirping, presumably because he thought the steak was for him.
This was the moment I realized I was happy.
I immediately panicked.
“Writing is not a profession, but a vocation of unhappiness,” says Georges Simenon and perhaps he was being cheeky. Perhaps not. It’s been my observation that the only thing writers love more than alcohol is the sound of their own suffering. Read more »
This series is coming to an end and I already have regrets. If only I’d used roman numerals (
part 4 part IV)to number my entries…
In seriousness, alas, this exercise appears to have been one in futility. I’ve written two beginnings of a story about a little white dog and have been unable to discover what the story is really “about.” The premise and location and characters were all promising, but nothing developed in the writing process. One could take this as evidence a writer should not talk about work in progress. Instead, I see it as not all potential ideas bear fruit, at least not right way. Perhaps I’ll come back to this project in a few months and see if I hit on something.
I will say, the second version of the story felt stronger to me. I got a voice in my head, somewhat similar to previous stories I’ve written, and switched from third to first person. This change seemed to add something to the story. It also led to more development of the potential love interest for the Male Protagonist.
If you’re curious, you can read the beginnings after the jump.
We were visiting the city because I needed to get through the next six weeks of the semester. I needed to see tall buildings, I needed an art museum. One afternoon we went to the Indianapolis Museum of Art and stared at its collection of Matisse paintings, on loan from Baltimore, until our eyes watered. It felt nourishing and refueling. Filling me up, filling a space.
When I close my eyes, I often see small flashes of light. Sometimes they look like latticework, tiny bluish branches of electricity. I’ve asked my ophthalmologist about it (don’t worry, Mom). It’s one variety of what’s called ectopic phenomena – meaning I’m seeing the weird flotsam and jetsam that actually exist inside my eyeball. Possibly caused by near-sightedness. Not dangerous. Very common. If you stare long enough, you will never just see plain blank black inside your eyelids. There is always something there. Sometimes, faces.
i got forwarded an email earlier this week loaded with images of terrifying-looking pumpkins like the one you see above. you can visit villafane studios for a bunch more of their work. even more frightening, though? some of the stuff being written by grade school kids these days. i highly recommend the stories done by 4th-graders in this wilmette life piece. my favorite is probably the first one, “five fingers,” but “unseen” has a killer intro:
It was a gloomy night. I was locked in my room as usual while my Aunt was doing her secret stuff that she does every night.
After my parents died, I moved into some old cabin in the woods with this freak. “Can I come out now?” I called to my Aunt.
“Not yet” she yelled back up. Suddenly the door unlocked. I decided I should stay in my room. But then the mischief in me got out. I crept out of my room and down the stairs. I peeked into the kitchen. I couldn’t believe what I saw. My Aunt was cooking mice. I sprinted up to my room and screamed in to my pillow.
happy halloween, ya’all.