A story is finished when those whitecaps on the horizon are rendered in spectravision

When is a story finished?*

The answer comes after cognitive distance is achieved. A long walk. A ride on the bus. Drunkenness. Sobriety. Adventures in the second person. Misadventures.

The quiet return.

The answer is in the feedback. If the local workshop and circle of trusted writerly readers are not forthcoming, there are other paths. Anyone willing to read a draft, especially an early one, is a harbinger. Harbingers deserve to be lent at least one ear. Rejections that come with feedback are gold.

Collate.

The answer is in the beginning and end: soundness, roundness, polish. The impulse to get a thing out the door can be a false flag. Literary gatekeepers can wait, might prefer it. Fearless itineraries are useful things.

Mirrors, too.

I am no saint. For those stories I have been fortunate enough to publish, I sipped the punch until my Pimm’s cup was empty. When I started to feel it, my vision grew clearer, the Laguna Mountains were sharp on the eastern horizon. Snowcapped, for once. Within a day’s reach.

And even then I wasn’t sure.


This post was inspired by a most welcome suggestion from Trish Harris.

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A brief note to you, second person

Dear Second Person,

I will admit outright that my feelings toward you are ambivalent. While you do have the inherent capacity to stun me–and you have stunned me many times–there are times when your words and ways give life to an opaque mycoplasma that spreads over the surface of my eyeballs. In these moments, your merits are obscured.

You are, however, ubiquitous, a thing of many forms, so I hesitate to cast broad judgments. But just when I remind myself that, like the city of Los Angeles or American literati, it’s unwise to allow unsavory examples, however numerous they might be, to illustrate the whole lot, a voice comes from the television:

Discover all the ways your dogs can show off their winter style!

You must understand my resistance to such imperatives (I’ll save my qualms with the exclamation point for a different letter). I don’t even have dogs, and if I did, I imagine I would hate to be told–by the television, no less–how I’m to dress them up for winter. They’re dogs.

But then EL-P cuts in from the stereo:

There’s nothing they would do for you, differently
They’re not even listening
They don’t even glean what we’re existing in
There’s nothing here but love and you
Groveling, look what they’re accomplishing
The systematic gods have all demolished it
But I’ve never felt so brave
As when I’m looking at your face
They can decimate my body
But my heart will not disgrace
They can torture and interrogate
And shackle to my boot
I will gnaw off my own leg
And hop the fuck right back to you*

Do you see why I felt compelled to write you this note? Your potential is indisputable. Still, I sometimes wonder, because at half it is Liverpool 3, Manchester City 1, and you don’t want to miss the second half of this one.


 

*from “$4 Vic / Nothing but me and you” by El-P

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Publication is an ongoing relationship

That a writer should page through and support a journal that selects his work for publication (at least the issue in which his poem-prose-think-child appears) might seem self-evident. But lo! How the oft-heard chorus of cricket chatter makes me think otherwise. Are we reading the work of our fellow contributors and helping them (and the journal) spread the word? One must wonder sometimes, especially when we see the Grantlands and the PANKs (recently revived!)–the journals we admire and hope to see around forever–close their doors, call it a day.

The invitees are here and the music is playing. How come no one is dancing?

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Why do I read?

Because

if I could put an IV in my arm, start a drip of words into my vein, one that comes from an endless bag, I would;

if I could ride the bus all day, wander airports and train stations, board airplanes and trains, I would never run out of places to invent from;

and because foreplay is important, no matter what anyone says.

And

even though there is no way to read everything, the self-deception that we one day will is sustaining and challenging and fun to torture ourselves with. Pick a country or place; someone wrote something there that we can’t even imagine.

So

thanks–I can’t wait to see what we come up with.

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