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From the pages of The Vas Deferens Review

Sunday 6/11/23

Got up late again. This is not going to work. Then I worked for five hours on "What the Mouse Knew," a story I have now been working on for months, though it's 1500 words long. It takes me so long now--well, not all the time--to sign off on a work. I'm not just signing off on something for now, but so that thing may always exist and its power remain unwavering.


Last night around 11 I read a story which is for Become Your Own Superhero to someone on the phone. I can feel the shock, that awestruck quality, even through the phone. It's palpable. You both know that this isn't some ordinary thing that just happened here. Then you hear the tremulous quality of voice. You hear how someone is physically impacted, in addition to the other ways they're impacted, by what they just experienced. They said it's amazing, they're witnessing history, they had never heard anything like it, all of that, and then asked where I was going to send it, before realizing the pointlessness of that question, which prompted them to clarify by saying that their excitement had gotten away from them and they just want the amazing story to be in the world.


I said, well, there are 500 stories. Where would you want them to go? What would you like to see them in? A place where no one will? If I wasn't banned by whomever banned me, and that person said they'd print anything I had, even still, what is the point? They don't pay or the pay is bad, no one's reading or going to read from those pages, and why would I want that to happen to the masterpiece that's for the world? Would that be good? Because it seems not so good. A waste? So I can be in the table contents next to these writers with their contrived slop? Talk about a false suggested equivalency. They're doing what they're doing ("Did you note how my latest fiction, an aperitif of the short-short form, was symbolically suggestive of foregrounded bedewed petals of the weary rose in late spring, wilting but alive, fleeting but imperishable?") and I'm playing a totally different game. Mixed into the suck-bag? This isn't just some shitty story like all of those shitty stories that aren't meant to be anything that anyone cares about.


Okay, it would be but a temporary stop of a story's journey. It wouldn't have to end there or really even begin there. It can appear somewhere else more favorable later, in terms of venue, place--maybe it's an app that's all about my work, I don't know, or some future, better outlet, some new technology; whatever--and these things are of course for books.


But in that here and now, and that venue, there isn't a lot of reason other than just because, or surplus--that is, you have so many other things anyway--or if you liked and respected someone with that venue, emphasis on the respect part. If a good faith person expressed a good faith desire to have something, that would be different for me.


Then I said there are maybe ten places that it wouldn't be a total waste to have the story in, but it's more like half that. And I have 500 available stories. Obviously those people at those places want me dead, which isn't going to matter in the end save that it's part of my story, or even matter at those places, because things change and these people will only last so long in a system that is also only going to last so long, and those places are going to have to change, but how would you even go about offering something if they didn't want you dead? How would you pick?


You could ask what kind of story they might like, given that you have every kind. You couldn't even explain it to them, that you had all of those stories, because unless they read these pages--and there's actually a decent chance they already do--it's far too hard for someone to allow that that's possible, let alone accept that someone has hundreds of available works and of comparable quality. You know what's a lot of available works for other people? I mean, a real lot? Say, six stories. That's a surprising number to people in this subculture. Do you know how long it takes someone to have six stories? Six stories that suck.


The time just isn't right right now. Things can change fast. And I'll listen to anything and anyone. I'm flexible by nature. But what would you even do with this new one I had just read? Prioritize it over 499 others? With whom? I'm not doing these works to give them away for free or very little in order to be unseen. All of this other stuff? Yeah. I get it. That's a worthy fate for that other stuff. But I'm not writing that shit.


Their system isn't one that allows of greatness. It isn't one that allows of important works of far-extending reach. Nor can it handle anything approaching this kind of volume of great works. It rejects the mere theoretical consideration of that kind of volume of great works, and it has a kind of collective nervous breakdown with the knowledge that someone has the deliverable, physical, existing product, which eradicates deniability, because it is there as what it is, and it's all that good, when even but a fraction of those great works in their range and in that lessened volume, would serve to invalidate so much of the system and the people who need it and cling to it. To say nothing of the idea of new, distinct, autonomous great work being produced every day, which compounds that collective nervous breakdown with a unique, ultimate blast of horror. That someone is really doing that.


That system both automatically rejects the concept of greatness and greatness across a vast store of works, and seeks to suppress that evidence before it can be entered into trial because these people elevate, extol, and award sloth and paucity of output, and mediocrity, within the confines of the dynamic they've erected and have sworn to programmatically uphold, and would castigate one of their own if they somehow molted into someone who shed the old ways. No one does molt, though.


Those anti-qualities provides comfort to them, because they lack for the actual qualities, and their system is built on an ethos of creating very little and certainly not displaying a range and fecundity of imagination. They call it all of these other things--craft, care, workshopping--but that's lies, excuses, and enabling; an attempt to cover up reality, and shun anyone who might be an exception.


This is what happens when you have so many people who just aren't good at something, but want that system to keep going. And also what happens when they've made it so that no one else in the world cares, save themselves.


But it's not really caring. It's the absence of anything else. And a sick need. Power. Petty power. People aren't a willing member of the system for healthy reasons. Or because they're good at writing. Or good at being an editor. Or even because they care about the written word.


It's all just shit for these people in their little netherworld. You have more writers than readers, and those writers aren't even really writers, and then what they write is just for each other. Not for each other to read. To show each other and say, "I was in The Vas Deferens Review."


And? What does that mean? What's that worth? Is it just for your ego? Tenure, okay. I get that. Your job. Job security. But that publication really just boils down to a line on the CV. Is that the endgame of writing?


What does it say about how small you are if it is for your ego? And what does it say about how obtuse you are--or awash in denial--if you don't know how these places and the people who run them work and why they do what they're doing? Why were you in it? I don't just mean the cronyism, which is almost certainly a big part of what it was, if not the sole reason (other factors: boxes checked, the right level of predictability, the plastic, soulless MFA hallmarks, prevailing mediocrity, that person and people looking at your story all write stories exactly like it and it's that confirmation bias rearing it's head again, where people don't opt for what is fresh, new, outstanding, but what they recognize as blah, and what they think, and what they say and do, and write, in this case).


But why? In the existential sense. Or the remunerative sense. Or the reader sense. Why? What was the point? So you could say you were? You can say you nailed your hand to a board. What is the point?


But you know what? I can send something, and if someone takes it--and everyone is going to know exactly how good it is and how it stands apart, no matter how much they might detest me, which is a big part of why they detest me--then okay, whatever, that's fine, there are hundreds of stories left. And if they don't--because of bigotry and envy--you can put them up in these pages. Because you--well, me--will know all about them, how they roll, how they've gotten every thing they've ever gotten, their last brace of very provable favor trades (and, really, all of the favor trades of their career), and why they publish who they publish.


Document that here, and soon that goes to the top of the first page for a Google search of that person's name. There is nothing to be done, because it's all true. So then anyone who looks them up sees that first and then knows what they're really about as an editor, writer, and person. As such.


What are they going to do? Not be that way? Create and mount evidence to the contrary over years? Change who they are, how they write, how they go about things? With all of the time that would take, if it were even possible. And all of the time it'd take for it to show. For the new track record to accumulate.


They are that way. And so it sticks and follows.


The other day I'm looking at Twitter, and there's this woman who is a terrible writer and just one of those wearying frauds, and she's bragging about how the book of Latinx--we're doing the x thing--women poets that she edited has been chosen for a starred review by Kirkus. She goes on to say never in her wildest dreams, etc., and she's so honored, and grateful, and surprised.


Then she provides the stats of how Kirkus reviews thousands and thousands of books each year, and this very small percentage receives the hallowed star (she had all of the data). Swoon. Thank you, thank you, thank you, kisses to all, I'd like to thank X, and I'd like to thank Z, and I cannot forget my mentor, Y.


Lots of stuff about color, too. That's crucial--get in the color.


What color are you? Please tell me your color. That's very important. What's your color?


Personally, all I care about is talent and character; how good the work is when we're talking work, how honorable the person is when we're talking people.


But I also understand why people who possess neither talent nor character have to make it all about other things. What else are they going to do? And there are people like them--in terms of immorality, lack of character, and often without talent themselves--who are looking to reward them for those other things.


She took the victory lap, and then had herself another.


Gee. I wonder why you got the star. I'm sure it's totally merit and brilliant poetry. Or do you think it might be the Latinx and all-women poetry thing, and that you're a connected fraud yourself who is always licking people? Probably that, right?


I figured there was a pretty good chance that she knew the truth as well as I knew the truth. But it's also possible that she believed what she was saying, because people can be so far gone that they can get themselves to believe anything at all.


There's this thing I do that not a lot of people partake of. I give a lot of my time, my energy, my ability, my knowledge. I provide far more value than anyone else with this thing. Which those people know. But then they turn around and give me a giant middle finger, in essence, though they're happy to take what I give, and happier to have that than anything from anyone else, which frankly amounts to very little of value. Each time I do that thing, I have to fight the urge to convey, "Screw every last one of you"--save one person I know about--"I'm done, you ungrateful, hypocritical simpletons."


Other reasons to do things, though, and I try to keep that in mind.


This is a Sunday afternoon text divorced from context but also generally true:


"You mustn't look at it that way. It was an important day in your daughter's life, as your father is important in your life and to her, too. As you and she are to him; that's still in there, even if, as you say, many things are clouded over. You did what your heart told you was right. And usually that's what is."


Not a productive weekend. I'm displeased with myself. I did do my push-ups today and ran 3000 stairs, but this wasn't a good showing across the board. It's not going to get it done, considering all that I'm up against. Tomorrow needs to be much better.


Today marked 2527 days, or 361 weeks, without a drink. I know I've counted wrong and that the seven year anniversary of no drinks almost certainly was in May, but that's my fault for getting it wrong and these are the numbers now.



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