Sunday, January 30, 2011

These Things Will Make You Moody

Last night I checked my email late, just because. There, waiting, was rejection number 3,435 from a certain online journal. Hyperbole, of course. But it feels that way and every time they tell me no, I spend a few moments sulking. This time, since it was late, I headed to bed gripped by this ugly mood, only to find my daughter awake in her room and looking terribly sad. She’d had a bad dream or wasn’t feeling well – her articulation of the problem was poor – but I picked her up and carried her to my bed and let her sleep on my shoulder.

Then I thought of this. An essay at Big Other where Amber Sparks admits to feeling undo anxiety because she’s constantly reading on Facebook (and elsewhere) about other writer’s publications/readings/general success. She feels behind; she feels pressured to keep up and write more and be noticed more and achieve more. And I’m lying there with my daughter on my shoulder and I’m feeling sorry for myself for this latest rejection, except now I’m wondering why. The story is good. Many of the pieces I’ve sent to this particular journal have been good. And, frankly, despite their prestige, I really only enjoy half of what they publish and tend to find the other half perfect presentations of the emperor’s new clothes. Why do I keep submitting to a journal with an aesthetic that I think tends towards the incomprehensible for incomprehensibility’s sake, that holds up a certain kind of obfuscation as something grand when it is, in my opinion, mostly something meaningless.

This isn’t an attack on certain styles of writing; aesthetics vary and I know I don't have the most experimental of tastes. But, seriously, why the hell am I submitting to (and getting disappointed by) a journal that is clearly operating at an angle different from my own?

The answer is: it’d be really cool to appear there. I mean, it seems like everyone else gets published there. Shouldn’t I want to be published there? Isn’t it imperative for me to keep up with the writing joneses? See me, see me, I’m a talented and prolific writer!

This is silly. This is unhealthy. We’re not a factory; we’re not measured on output. And the quality of our work doesn’t change based on where it appears. A good story is a good story is a good story. The goal, I think, should be to write those good stories and let the rest work itself out. If it takes a long time to craft that story, then it takes a long time. If it takes fifty rejections to find a home for that story, then it takes fifty rejections.

At least these are the thoughts that came to me last night. With my daughter on my shoulder. The purpose of things and such. The point of it all.

"The Abomination" at decomP

The February issue of decomP is live and my story "The Abomination" appears within. It's a monster story. It's part of a little project I'm working on about various beasties and such and I couldn't be more pleased to have it in decomP.

Thanks to Jason Jordan for including me!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Do You Read Booth?

Should. It tends to publish stories and poems that refuse to let you stop reading.

Check out: "Run Time" by Jesse Goolsby. It's one of those stories where the plot is minimal but that doesn't matter. It holds you.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

And Sometimes It's Just About Getting Ecstatic

The purpose of writing? The big story behind what we do? Yeah, I’ve been known to talk about that.

That’s why I was so entranced by M Kitchell’s HTMLGiant post that uses Dan Hoy’s THE PIN-UP STAKES to focus in on what we as writers (or at least what he, as an artist) should want to achieve/do/create. It’s one of those high-speed, wind-whipping-in-your-mouth kind of posts that concludes with the idea – to paraphrase – that we’re either blowing up the order of things or we’re falling into the trap of the already-is. And that already-is – the world as it stands – is a shitty place that we already understand all too well.

Kitchell doesn’t want to be told how the world IS. He wants to “end the world and change life.”

Diversion here (although this all matters to the end I envision for this post): Kitchell spends a chunk of his post chastising those who think the young can’t write about Important Things (he’s in his mid-twenties he says). He’s right, of course. Age and experience/wisdom/artistry do not have to correlate. But what’s cool is: he makes that argument while freely sounding his age. Which is to say: he has the enthusiasm and the fuck-you attitude of a guy in his mid-twenties.

I bring that up because, in his post, he quotes my post over at Hayden’s Ferry Review. And he quotes me as an example of what he DOESN’T want writing to do. Which is to say, he doesn’t want to read/write anything that: “ takes you into the unique life of an “other,” a life that in some way broadens your own understanding of the world, that brings illumination to places previously darkened.”

But the thing is, we’re making similar points. Or so I think we are. I mean, what I want out of fiction –as a reader – is to be shown something new. I want to have my brain reshaped. I’m not particularly interested in reading the kinds of quiet, realist fiction that makes up such a big chunk of American literature. That’s not to say I have anything against “realism” – I just have something against realism that I’ve already experienced, already seen, already spent God knows how much of my reading life rolling around inside the carcass of.

My HFR post was kind of about that – an argument in favor of making fiction new and necessary. And yet, when Kitchell read it, he found something staid in my words. What’s going on? Well, maybe I just think I agree with him but I really don’t (because I’m not getting his point). Or, maybe it is what I think it is: a difference in age and disposition.

Age how? Age as in: I don’t know too many people in their mid-thirties (as I am) who haven’t changed in their opinions and temperaments in the decade since their mid-twenties. Something happens in that decade that causes most people to disconnect from the ecstatic. We lose our excitability and find ourselves sunk into the pragmatic. So we write essays that are “admirable” (Kitchell’s words to describe my piece) rather than “wind-whipping-in-your-mouth.” This isn’t true for everyone, of course, and the degrees of change varies depending on the person. But for me, ten years ago, I’d have wanted to write a piece like Kitchell wrote. Now? Not happening. Or at least it’s not happening without me looking like the guy with the toupee in the dance club.

But I’m glad there’s someone out there writing shit like Kitchell wrote. We need the ecstatic. We need to be reminded that Big Things are possible and that, despite whatever has changed in our lives, we can still be turned on by ideas. Or at least I need that. I trend towards the square. But I still want a world in which people read something like Kitchell’s post and then everyone agrees they need to go out, get drunk, and discuss the damn thing until that place on the corner starts serving breakfast.

Because, really, it probably doesn’t matter HOW we want to approach this writing/art thing (realism, meta, nonsense, whatever). It just matters that we’re still enraptured by its possibilities.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Symbols and Death and All of This

Horrible things happened in Tucson this past weekend. You know this, of course. And you know what followed – the mourning, yes, but also the finger pointing, the political gamesmanship of fixing blame. This wasn’t just the usual human need to find something to repair whenever something so tragically breaks, but a markedly political need to “win” something or to “not lose” something, both “sides” turning tragedy into an opportunity to play politics, to “prove” the veracity of their particular world view, or prove the invalidity of their opponent’s.

I use quotations there. Because there are no sides except those we artificially impose and there is no proof for ideology. We create these concepts because, without them, there appears to be no order . We generate symbols (these right here that I’m using to write with and other symbols like flags and peace signs and entire people and movements) and we manipulate these symbols to force meaning into our world. And this is okay, of course. Necessary. What is writing but the creation of meaning out of abstraction?

But here’s the thing, here’s what I believe: nothing is as simple as our structures often lead us to believe. A human being doesn’t walk into a grocery store and shoot another human being in the head because yet another human being used gun sights in an advertisement. Sure, those gun sights and other symbols may have filtered in to the killer’s paranoid psyche and maybe in some unknowable, unverifiable way those symbols contributed to the act.

It’d be easy to believe this. Because symbols are power, right? Because symbols are the way we organize our reality? But let’s not fool ourselves about what words and symbols really are. It’s all nothing more than artifice. Than construct. What truly exists can never be captured in symbols. Yes – hell yes – we need more civility, more consideration, more compassion in our modern discourse. And, hell yes, hate breeds hate and there's never a wrong moment to condemn those who demonize, who divide, who callously ruin. But in all this conversation about the power of words – of symbols – I think it’s important to remember that all words and all symbols will always fall short of truth.

Some things defy our attempts at order. Some things exist outside categorization. Some things are, by their nature, incomprehensible. And I think it’s okay to admit that.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Guest Post Up at Hayden's Ferry

I've written a contributor's spotlight over at Hayden's Ferry; it's about race and class and gender in the world of literary publishing. It's something I've been thinking about for awhile and something the amazing Roxane Gay brought to the forefront of the conversation last month at HTMLGiant.

Hope you get a chance to check it out here.

Thanks to Beth Staples for working with me on this and giving me the opportunity to post it on Hayden Ferry's blog.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Things

Couple new pieces out there in the world.

My poem-like thing "How to Pronounce Water" is part of Mud Luscious 14; many thanks to Andrew Borgstrom who put this awesome issue together.

And "Stars Like Glass" is up at Necessary Fiction as part of this month's first footing project. Thanks to Steve Himmer for allowing me to be a part of this -- the idea is to take the last line of a story and make it the first line of a new story. Cool stuff.