September 18, 2014 § 2 Comments
We received an e-mail this morning, and are tempted to think it may be a joke, but probably not. Well, Name Redacted, here we are barely two weeks into September and we have upwards of 350 essays to read and respond to in a timely manner. Our [unpaid] editor-in-chief is doing WordPress code for a new issue, starting the NEA grant process so we can pay authors more money, planning a 2015 fundraising month, balancing our meager checkbook, choosing visual artists for the next two issues, tracking down a recent spam attack, coordinating the transfer of 14 back years of issues into the new format, and trying to survive as a writer/teacher himself. No, Name Redacted, we don’t have time to wax philosophic about “the philosophic, social and educational backgrounds of the magazine’s readership.” We are pretty sure our readers are human beings. Beyond that, we love them but have no time to speculate.
September 16, 2014 § 5 Comments
For a while I stopped writing. Words, for me, stopped coming. I didn’t feel so compelled to report or narrate. Was it age? Or exhaustion? Or a revelation?
In my silence, I mused defensively, “Words are just words; stories made of words are just constructions. Are they really so necessary?” I seemed to forget what I had once known about words. So I forced myself to remember:
I believed in Ursula LeGuin’s naming: you just need to name what it is to know it, to own it, to become it. I believed in Biblical narrative as essential metaphor for the ways of all life. In the beginning was the WORD. I saw what words could do – how words could woo love, guide knowledge, calm sorrow. And I saw how words could wound, start a war, kill a marriage.
I remembered too, the intrigue of research, the journeys of drafting, the pleasure of publishing essays and stories about interesting people. And I remembered how, off and on for a whole decade, I felt compelled to give words and voice to my own family story. But, curiously, the words of that story – once so three-dimensional and constant in my mind – now seemed like a long ago movie, images flickering, dialogue faint. Perhaps in the making of that story I fulfilled my own journey of the word. Afterward, it was good, but it was gone, and I felt empty in a pleasing kind of way. As if I had shed a skin.
And now I could rest. Be quiet, inward, peaceful. Every story of my life seemed muted and no longer so pressing – the scenes from a 30-year marriage with the usual contradictions (he said, she said); the scenes of our boys, now grown men, whose lives, I realized now, didn’t look like the stories I imagined for them. (How did I ever presume that my words for them might become their words?).
Recently, I have made peace with my silence: The words of my past are gone, but I can remember them fondly. Once they felt glued to me, held me together, defined my outline and my story. But now they have lifted from me, floated off one by one. I feel like a feather, like air, like I am slowly becoming translucent as I age. I am not unhappy or displeased, just aware of how fertile a silence can be.
Beth Taylor is an essayist, the author of The Plain Language of Love and Loss: A Quaker Memoir, and a co-director of Brown University’s Nonfiction Writing Program.
 Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness
September 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
The always brilliant Lee Martin discusses “The Thing Said: Ten Thoughts on Writing Dialogue in Memoir” on his blog this week. There is not much we can add, except “Thank you, Lee.” Here is his first thought, followed by a link to the entire blog entry:
1. Accept the fact that you’ll never remember exactly what someone said. Trust me. You may think you will, but you won’t. The thing said is lost to time; all that remains is the shape you give it as you do your best to call it back.
Read the entire entry, “Ten Thoughts on Writing Dialogue in Memoir”
September 13, 2014 § 2 Comments
We were hacked, sorry. Under control now.
September 12, 2014 § Leave a comment
Qu: A Literary Journal will be accepting nonfiction submissions (as well as fiction, poetry and script excerpts) from September 15-December 15.
To submit, visit Qu.
September 11, 2014 § 1 Comment
A book review by Claire Eder:
Perhaps I was drawn to Sarah Gorham’s collection, Study in Perfect, because for the past few months my life has been a study in chaos. To make a long story short: bedbugs. Before I knew what I was doing, I had spread them to my parent’s house, my boyfriend’s house, and the new house I’d just moved into. I thought I could depend on professionals to treat the problem, but two companies, and two enormous checks failed to halt the runaway bug train of destruction. The problem ravaged my bank account, possessions, routines, and relationships, and it forced me to confront some inner chaos: my tendencies toward denial and inaction, my addiction to crippling anxiety, my blind reliance on authority figures. Essentially, I feel like I’ve been sentenced to some kind of bedbug therapy.
Gorham’s collection of essays contains many such moments of unraveling: a daughter’s brush with a deadly infection, a husband’s alcoholism, a mother’s passing. So much disruption and suffering might seem out of place in a book on perfection, but when things fall apart, we cling harder to perfect. Out of my chaos, I came to this collection seeking a cool, philosophical meditation, something abstract and safe.
That’s not quite what Study in Perfect offers. It’s true that Gorham’s voice is often philosophical, asking unanswerable questions and proposing theories about how the world works. In the essay “On Lying,” she posits, “We are made of many selves, not just one. Over a lifetime, we float between honesty and fabrication, between conformity—our dependence on others—and the urge to be separate from them. Maybe the natural truth is dependence and the denial of it is necessary for us to accomplish anything beyond basic survival.” To support her elegant conclusions, Gorham draws examples from history, linguistics, pop culture, science, and literature, as in her fascinating exploration of the species of poisonous mushroom, Amanita fulva, featured in the legend of two doomed lovers. But rather than remaining in the distant hypothetical or the realm of history or legend, most of Gorham’s examples of perfection and imperfection are solidly embodied in a particular life: its physical environments, human attachments, and trials and tragedies. Things do fall apart. And when they do, we have the opportunity to see how our idea of perfect may need revision.
The concept of perfection, Gorham writes in the introduction, “by its nature embraces imperfection.” But rather than being two sides of a coin, perfect and imperfect bleed and fuse, as in one essay where Gorham describes two different colored clays being worked into one another in the Japanese ceramic art of neriage. In “Marking Time in Door County,” Gorham sets up the ideal family vacation, which brings with it the pressure to soak up every moment of togetherness and relaxation. We ask, are we doing it right? Have we missed anything? Did we need to go to the movies twice in one week, or would we have had more fun at mini golf? Our addiction to perfect makes perfect impossible.
This is why we need moments to scatter us like blown dandelion seeds, when the possibility of attaining stability—let alone perfection—seems as remote as sleeping with a movie star. The bar gets way lowered, and somehow we stumble upon perfection more often, in smaller things. Gorham’s examples, appearing as short meditations following longer personal essays, include the perfect word, the perfect barn, the perfect sleep, the perfect conversation, and the perfect tea—not as it’s served up in a fancy tea house, but straight from the microwave and sweetened with honey. In “Neriage, or What Is the Secret of a Long Marriage?” Gorham describes the process by which two individuals abandon their hang-ups and recalibrate their hardwired habits to meet in the middle. She likes things tidy and he thrives in disorder, but they come to respect each other’s way of being in the world. Can we find perfection only in compromise? Or does perfection, by definition, exclude any kind of revision of expectations? It’s all about how you define “perfect,” and though Study in Perfect declines to offer a definition, it demonstrates the many gradations and contradictions held in one alluring word.
Claire Eder’s poems and translations have most recently appeared in The Common, Guernica, the Cincinnati Review, Sakura Review, and the Adirondack Review. She received her MFA from the University of Florida and is currently pursuing a PhD in poetry at Ohio University.
September 10, 2014 § 130 Comments
What nobody tells you as an artist is that every project starts at the beginning. Not just the blank page, the empty stage, but that you have to re-establish your credentials and your quality every time. You can coast on reputation a little, but it doesn’t last long if you don’t deliver.
What nobody tells you is that praise—a standing ovation, a good review, your teacher’s approval—makes you feel good for a day, but one line of internet criticism from a stranger reverberates in your skull forever.
Frankly, I don’t see what all the fuss is about.
(I tried to feel bad when that critic killed himself the next year, but I didn’t.)
What nobody tells your boyfriend is that writing 3000 words in a calm, soothing, supportive environment still leaves you too tired to call home at the end of the day. So does doing three twenty-minute shows.
And then feeling guilty about it. But not guilty enough to call.
What nobody tells you, the artist, the writer, is that spending an entire day being paid to do something you love is not the same as fun. It’s often better than fun, but it’s not fun. What nobody tells you is that spending an entire day being paid to do something you love is sometimes a lot less fun than spending an entire day doing something you love for free.
What nobody tells you is that selling out is strangely comforting. That once you’ve decided to package your product and suck a little corporate dick for the chance to show most of what you like to do but structured as a James Bond theme and wearing black and yellow because it goes with the logo, the large check that ensues will feel earned. That paying rent with your art money feels like finally growing up. That you probably can come up with five hundred words about margarine and even feel proud of making it sound like something people would eat. (Please don’t.)
What nobody tells you is that if you believe in yourself and dream big dreams you will still come in second to someone who worked hard. Or to a talentless hack related to the producer. Or to someone sleeping with the editor. Or to your best friend whom you will have to congratulate as sincerely as possible. Or to someone no better than you and there will be no reason at all.
What nobody tells you is that if you believe in yourself and dream big dreams and work hard you can accomplish anything, but if you’re willing to wear a sexy outfit while accomplishing it, or include vampires, you’ll get paid a lot more.
What nobody tells you is that you have to be the kind of person who can hear a hundred no’s before you get to yes, and that if you are not that kind of person, selling your art may not be for you. Here, let’s practice:
No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. I’ll call you back. No. No. No. No. No. We went with someone else. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. My cousin will do it for free. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. This did not fit our needs at this time; we sincerely wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere. No. No. No. No. No. NO. No. No. No. NO. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No response means no. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. NO. Next! No. No. No. No. No. My boss said no. My editor said no. No. No. No. No. No. NO. Sorry. No. No.
Speaking editorially, we should get to ‘yes’ here, but it’s better to experience the dissatisfaction of having our expectations unfulfilled, so we can quit before dissatisfaction crushes us. Or, so we can immunize ourselves.
So we can say, I am blue. My work is blue. The blue of a thousand cerulean seas. The blue of Texas bluebells. The stunning blue of the sky from the top of the mountain. The deep blue of sapphires. The gentle blue of my mother’s eyes. The best blue.
They might want red.
And what nobody tells you is that it’s not up to you to be red, and that whether or not you want to make your blue more of a purple, or draw a crimson border around it, or pass out violet-tinted glasses to all your readers, it is a choice. Your choice. Your choice to change or stay the course, and neither of those are wrong.
It is not a cruel world full of no.
It is a beautiful world in which the one (or many) persons to whom your work–your particular, personal work–speaks are waiting for you. Waiting for you to grow, to revise, to polish, to publicize, to sell, to share. Waiting for you to make art they love and will pay for.
Go and find them.
Allison K Williams is Social Media Editor of Brevity. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor. She is also a freelance editor. She tweets @GuerillaMemoir.