My story “Must Believe in Ghost” which appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of The Normal School has arrived on their website. Find out how exactly “human consciousness is a long, sadly ignored, fundamental force in the calculations of quantum mechanics” or see how “even the cobwebs were old, as if the spiders in the house had long run out of insects to eat and had absconded to a more plentiful promised land” and find out what happens when an out-of-work journalist tries not to monetize someone else’s grief.
In a discussion about “selling out” versus “remaining true” in art, I questioned the very idea of selling out. I don’t know what that means. Not really.
Implied in those words is the idea that by monetizing your art, you’re somehow polluting it, diluting it, lessening it somehow.
But this is capitalism! We live in this system. We may not like the game, but as the old joke goes, it’s the only game in town.
So I half-jokingly suggested that there’s no secret society harboring “true” yet commercially unsuccessful works of art. There’s no Knights Templar or Freemasons of writing unpolluted by the poison of marketing.
But what if there is? And what does that writing look like? What is the difference between what people want versus what they’ll pay for?
Is truth any less truthy if it also makes a buck and allows its author to buy food and shelter and smart phones? Is the Venn diagram of true art and commercial art to separate circles or is there an overlap?
I can already see people gearing up their arguments, something about how this is why genre writers make more money than literary writers and so forth. About who the gatekeepers are, who decides what’s good art and what’s commercially viable art. About the Literati and the Illiterati.
These are dumb questions. These are procrastination questions.
I should get back to work.
I did not win the 2014 Missouri Review’s Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. Nope. Lost! DID NOT WIN. But I was so excited about the results I told everyone, jumped around (figuratively), and had such a goddamn big smile on my face, that four more rejections that week did little to scuff my shine because I was a semifinalist. Which means I was in the top 25, that elite 1% of stories that made it to the final rounds. Holy hell.
Early in your writing career, the reward system of your brain gets rewired. We face so much rejection that even the tiniest wins seem monstrous achievements. We might break our legs over and over trying to ascend Everest and almost die of exposure, but you should see us dance when we actually step up a curb without falling on our asses.
We check RejectionWiki for the slightest chance that we got a higher-tier form rejection letter, something our published advisors have said is like trying to read fortunes in tea leaves. We brag to our fellow writers about that Raiders of the Lost Ark golden idol of a personal rejection—sure we lost to some pompous prick and were almost killed by Amazonians, but by golly, someone fucking noticed us.
So sure, I lost the contest and had stories rejected almost 40 times last year, but this time, this time, that Pavlovian response of dopamine is mine and I’m going to savor that son of a bitch.
I had a dream my cohort was driving around in a flood with big fancy cameras trying to take really crazy pictures. The car was 85% underwater but was running perfectly, like a motorized iceberg. We kept showing eachother our photos and asking how they got a particular shot. Oddly, the cameras weren’t waterproof, so if you took an underwater picture, the camera would shake and sizzle.
This dream is in no way a metaphor for writing workshop, no not at all.
I went to the orientation day for my program on Tuesday. They fed us lunch and told us that it’s not okay to isolate yourself, that if you feel alone, you should talk to someone. A certain amount of anxiety is good and can propel one to be productive, but if you’re more anxiety than productivity, then you should talk to someone.
This message was reiterated several times in different ways. It was definitely the theme of the orientation.
Otherwise, it was a little over an hour of hey-welcome-don’t-freak-out-you’re-all-in-the-same-boat.
The director of the program is a 59-year old poet. He sat on the desk and took his shoes off. At that point, I remembered the last initial in the degree I’m seeking. MFA. Art. I’m in an art department.
I’m surrounded by artists. This is no different than making a shitty ashtray out of coiled clay in first grade.
You can put out a cigarette on anything.
I think I’m going to be okay.