I’d Like to thank the Staff for Inviting Myself to Open Mic
July 10, 2017 § 6 Comments
By Pete Candler
Please, please, do sit.
[Wait for applause to die down.]
I didn’t get here by accident, you know. Get to being a writer, that is. If you thought I meant this place, whatever it’s called, well then, yeah, I did get here by accident. I was looking for the Mothlight.
People think that being a writer is so glamorous, but I want to tell you something: I drove myself here tonight. I parked the car myself. (Do they even have a valet at this place?) And then I walked myself from the parking lot.
Now since the emcee tonight apparently forgot to introduce me, I should probably tell you a little bit about myself. One thing I’ve learned from being a writer is that you can’t assume that people know or care who you are. So: I am a writer. I write fiction and essays and stuff. In the course of my career, my work has been turned down by a wide range of some of the finest and most illustrious journals in the land, including Poetry, The New Yorker, and The Sewanee Review. My occasional pieces can be found on award-winning websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, and I am currently preparing a manuscript for rejection by The Atlantic.
You may think that being a writer is a whole lot of sitting around staring out the window, contemplating the sublime beauty and mystery of the cosmos, hobnobbing with other writers in white linen suits, swilling gin martinis with literary agents and high-powered editors from Knopf and FSG, but let me tell you something: writing is a lot of work. You have to read a lot. And write, too. You have to read stuff that’s already been written, and then try to write new stuff that other people won’t read.
I’ve had to read a lot to get to where I am now, standing before you. I read a lot of articles on how being a writer is the most miserable job anyone could dream of, so horrible that only a writer with a vivid imagination could think it up, and how you only ought to do it if you are really good at it or you have the drive to become so, or you basically enjoy suffering. Well, it’s pretty obvious one of those things applies to me, or I wouldn’t be up here giving a public reading of my work, now would I?
It’s not all fun and games, either. I mean, I’d love to ruminate on the beauty of the yellow-bellied sapsucker or the dung beetle all day, like anyone else, but there is work to be done. There’s a lot of research involved, too. For instance, I googled myself sixty-two times today.
You think googling yourself is easy? It’s hard to see all those nasty things that are not written about the stuff that you’ve never gotten published. People say—and I trust those people, because they say this sort of thing—that you should never read the comments online. Well I’ve learned my lesson the hard way. Once I had a brilliant article that was not published and the comments were so—well, I’ll be honest, they made me feel a little ill. There was no substance to them whatsoever.
I once had a fake twitter account set up in my name, and that was a challenge. Man. There were like four followers, each with a face like an egg, and the fake me didn’t sound anything like I would sound if I had ever published anything.
I read lots of articles too about how writing for a living is only for a select few, how most people who attempt it never make it to the big time and the rest toil away in relative or absolute anonymity, bearing up daily under the weight of soul-crushing despair. Well here I am, living proof.
And what’s more: writing is an exercise in self-knowledge. You learn a lot about yourself when you’re alone in front of a computer screen, staring at your rejections on Duotrope, which, as a bonus, is helpful for understanding the concept of infinity. For example, I learned today that my vocabulary is roughly 21,500 words, which doesn’t sound like a lot until you consider that that number includes words like “dilatory” and “obstreperous.” I also learned that my surname means “Fish Slayer” (or possibly “Weasel,” these things are not 100 percent accurate, you know?). On top of that, I discovered that I could identify 16% of the world’s famous works of art, 0% of the nine greatest opening lines in literary history, 100% of a lineup of Disney characters, and that if I were a mixed breed of dog, I would be a Shit-spaniel. My rapper name is Dead Honky, and I’m not really Nova Scotian at all. I learned that the first word I would read this morning would determine what I had for lunch. And do you know—lo and behold—that word was “rejection?”
But let’s be honest. That’s not why you’re here, is it?
[Do not look at people in the eye as if you actually want them to answer this]
Presumably you’re here to listen to me read some work of brilliance that I am going to lay before you like a votive offering, a sacrificial token of my religious devotion to art. But you’ll have to settle for the turn of phrase “a sacrificial token of my religious devotion to art,” which is kind of like a little work of genius right there, so I’d say you’ve already gotten your money’s worth. Because as for that work-in-progress, it’s complicated. Someone once told me that great works take time, and mine is taking lots and lots of time, so it kind of follows that it’s a truly great work that I’m sure you’ll be willing to wait to pay for. And another person once told me, just days ago—that doubt is an indication of your talent, and let me assure you, by that calculus, I am a fucking genius.
So, wait. Just wait. Come to think of it, I should have waited for the 10:25 slot. That’s a good time. People are just a little bit drunk by then and not falling over, trash-talking drunk. Just tipsy and loosened up enough to laugh or cry when they’re supposed to.
Anyway, thanks for coming out tonight. I have been here all week.
Pete Candler’s scholarly and creative work has been rejected by a wide range of some of the finest and most illustrious journals in the land, including Modern Theology, Poetry, and The New Yorker, which once returned an unsolicited manuscript (circa 1997) submission with no note or letter but with a simple but thorough slash through the pages. Candler lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where he writes fiction and essays. He is currently preparing a manuscript for rejection by The Atlantic. His twitter handle: @tweetcandler