Alms

I can’t quite put my finger on whether Chris Haven’s article Why I Must Charge People Fees For Their Own Art about the state of the state of writing is sadly funny or just sad, but I know it’s accurate.

these are like your folks' 8-tracks

I also kind of don’t mind that reading fees are now being charged.

Here’s why:

1. Quality Control: I know for a fact that when I had to shell out money for postage, I spent a lot more time studying the journals my work might fit best.  Never mind that I was never once accepted to one of those journals.  I was choosier.  I didn’t have much money those days, and I still don’t have many discretionary funds. It’s certainly easier to make my hopeful publishing transactions for free.  However, it’s no secret that when writers are choosier about where their work goes, the reading load lessens for the editors on the other side.  This means more interested eyes are available for my work.

With a submishmash account (or basic access to the internet; let’s just be real) and duotrope, I (the unpublished writer) have the ability to just blitz the hell out of fifty journals in one night.  People do.

2.  Possible Pay for Everybody: A small reading fee (not much more than the postage I’d once pay to send a story out), increases the likelihood that if I am accepted, I’ll be paid.  If not, maybe my soon to be published story will be housed comfortably and available to new readership for years to come.  Maybe the editors are to be paid a small stipend for partnering with me for a week or two until we both look good on the screen.

3.  The Future is Now:  Paper is on its way out.  It’s uncomfortable to admit, given my difficulty adjusting to the Kindle, but now when I visit the shelves of any book store, I’m starting to get the same nostalgic feeling previously reserved for the CD collection at Half Price Books (and powerlines).  The books are going to start stopping.  This is the cut-off decade (for CDs, it’s the ’90s), and soon we’ll just be looking at shelves filled with a million used copies of Stephen King and Jodi Picoult and Janet Evanovich – the same way I run smack up against Poi Dog Pondering, Sophie B, Hawkins, and Dave Matthews Band every time I head to Half Price to scratch a cheap music itch.

If paper is disappearing, the traditional ways of paying and getting paid for paper will be changing.  If paying a small reading fee helps the publishing world make the shitty transition from paper to e-reader/screen with a little less damage done to the writer, editor and publisher, then count me in.

The new agenda is no agenda

I have, for years, taught students who write poetry and stories and novels.  I have also, for years, been in classes with students who write poetry and stories and novels, many of whom decry the need to spend any time learning about form, technique, or craft.  Many of whom don’t even spend much time reading poetry, stories, and novels.

Since I now mostly work with beginning writers, this attitude is expected, if not welcomed.  Their solid, steadfast worlds are opening up onto vast seas of cliches (often in the form of status updates on facebook and picture memes with inappropriate apostrophes), and since many of the cliches suddenly ring true, they are forced to examine them without irony or insight. They don’t know what’s already been written or how many times it’s seen print, and they don’t necessarily care right now.

In a boar's eye

In a boar's eye

They claim apolitical stances on everything from health care to student loan debt, and I can hardly blame them: it took my brother foisting Flannery O’Connor on me to coerce me into reconsidering my crazily stringent Catholic predilections. We had to have an actual conversation in which he forced me to choose pro-choice or pro-life and reasonably argue it so that I would not embarrass myself in front of college classmates at UT.  I’d previously ensconced myself in an “apolitical” cocoon when confronted with overtly political arguments.  So, I get it.  It wasn’t until I got angry, really angry, and stumbled across George Orwell’s “Why I Write,” that I understood the relationship between my anger, my politics, and my writing:

“Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.” – George Orwell, “Why I Write”

However, this year in particular, students seem full of strange and impractical information that might well bear light on the present, but doesn’t. They are pregnant with ideas, yet reluctant to make definitive statements about how they have pulled together their assertions.  It’s true that their lives are awash with information, but the fragmentation of seemingly ideological statements is maddening, especially when I am trying to teach them how to argue in academic papers.    The fact that they “just know” some statistic about the number of wild boar shot on private property in Texas over the past year without remembering or caring HOW they know the statistic is both astounding and frustrating.

This, coupled with the all-too-pervasive “everything is relative” sentiment expressed both in discussion and written work, makes for interesting juxtaposition in terms of teaching self expression and academic rhetoric.  When I ask, “is it okay that wild boars are being poached on private property?”  they are loath to examine implications or historical context. I don’t necessarily think that it’s coming from an attitude that fence-sitting is distinctly easier.  Everything is relative and subjective, everything comes from some unknown, all wise, source on the internet, everything is equal in terms of idea and expression. Boars are shot.  They just are.  Claims of open-mindedness abound.  They have the information about boars, and that’s enough.

It brings to mind this short passage from Josh Cook’s Bookslut article:

“Furthermore, America’s particular brand of anti-elitism (sometimes productive, sometimes destructive) quite often comes to mean that nobody can tell anybody else whether an idea is good or not; leaving book reviewers and critics without much to say about idea-centered books. The nature of our critical culture focuses critique and review on techniques and away from ideas. Together, these critical forces congeal in a coherent and dominant aesthetic.”

Is this how beginning writers can claim that reading is unimportant?  Or is this how writing turns a corner?

Deer Season, Polly Bresnick

 

Dead and Dying Deer, 1888 - New York Public Library

“….and the deer seems to be charged with that dangerous energy of wild animals that makes them fascinating, but also terrifying.”

At first I wasn’t going to write about this one, but then I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.  All because of the search for blood, all because of my own neighborhood wilderness childhood and the countless deer strapped to the bed of my grandfather’s truck.

Blood marks the death of both girls and deer here, though all of the blood is hidden until the end.  Much of flash must focus on a clarifying moment that delineates past and present – a short, sharp shock that somehow renders clearly all that has come before, and all that must come after. Polly Bresnick’s “Deer Season” (Monkeybicycle) manages to encapsulate three very particular moments – each happening in quick succession, one leading to the next.  That Bresnick can bring these five minutes to their inevitable conclusion without falling prey to sentimentality is, at heart, why this piece is so unforgettable for me.