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Lincoln Michel, updated "Dot"

Saturday 10/14/23

Revising "Dot" this morning, which is in There Is No Doubt: Story Girls, which is comprised entirely of stories about women and/or girls, or is told by them.

Want to do a quick prose off?

This is "From the Comfort of Your Own Home"--which is reprinted from One Story--by Lincoln Michel, system person in the extreme and the embodiment of every Brooklyn writer cliche, about whom someone said to me last night, "It's such a fucking fake contrived existence these people have," and about whom more will be said soon, because you can't be worse at writing, and yet, he's hooked up again and again and again, on account of being that bad at writing, and the aforesaid contrived existence.

“I’m requesting a refund for your 'virtual reality writing retreat'”

MindFood Username or Email Address: Stella.O.Writer

Subject (select one): *Problem with Service*

Applications Used (select as many as apply):

* Virtual Room with a View—Literature

* Secret Grove Enhanced Yoga Retreat

Summary of Issue (max 400 characters): I’m requesting a refund for your “virtual-reality writing retreat.” While I was impressed by the tech (goggles were ergonomic, gloves comfortable, haptics responsive) and mechanics (setting was realistic, flora well-rendered), I was harassed, haunted, and had my work destroyed inside your virtual cabin. Plz refund ASAP. I am now novel-less and behind on student-loan payments.

Details of Issue with Service (please be as thorough as possible so we may adequately assist you): Compose in text box below or else attach a .pdf, .doc, or .docx file.

I should start with my apartment. It’s not a peaceful place. It’s a three bedroom apartment with an elevated subway line rattling right past our kitchen window. The walls are cardboard and there’s a roach nest hidden somewhere behind the fridge. So you’ll understand why a virtual-reality writing residency appealed to me.

At the time, I was living with Jared and Amanda. It was Jared who sent me your website. “My mom’s been using it to avoid my dad from the comfort of her own home,” he said. Sorry. I have a tendency to clutter my openings with irrelevant details—“filler and throat clearing” as my creative-writing professor said. “Your prose is too timid to be published” was another of his gems. (Mr. Lucas had published one novel, to minimal acclaim and even more minimal sales. Every few years, I check online to see if he’s managed to publish a second one, and when I don’t see one I smirk.) But I have to get all this down. I’ve been living in your virtual writing retreat for the past few weeks, which means I’ve barely left my bedroom except for basic bodily functions, moisturizer application, a few calls to my parents, etc. I feel like I’ve been driven insane! By the beast. And by your service, which enabled the beast.

How bad is that? Can you imagine voluntarily reading such a story? How painful is it to try and read that? It goes on for 6000 words.

There is no one alive who thinks that's good. There is no one alive--and there never will be--who actually wants to read that. Torture to try and get through. And of course there's shit about creative writing professors.

How do you even compare that garbage to the likes of what is below? You could gather a million people and ask them what they'd rather read, that pretentious, soulless, empty, boring, meaningless slop, or what you see here, and a million out of a million are going to go with this.

And yet, he's one of them--one of the people of the system--so he's handed stuff. So diseased, this publishing operation presently in place.

How is this even real? What is more backwards than the sheer insanity of this incestuous, vomit-inducing system? I mean, come on. That obviously sucks. That's not some opinion, it's not subjective. That is terrible. And anyone who looks at it knows it.

Meanwhile, there's this, which is what they don't want you to see, because it's infinitely better, and it wasn't written by a member of their subculture of broken freaks.


Dot, as I suggested, was very anti-hell. She loved a good brimstone lecture, though, about what hell would be like if you landed there. These were joyless talks. Grammie, meanwhile, was full of vim, explodingly alive. She loved her grandkids and spoiling them. She was big into mischief, forking over a ten dollar bill to you that she couldn’t really afford, with a fast, thrusting action of her hand behind your mother’s back after these payments had been exclusively forbidden by one’s parents. She even had the eye twinkle thing going, such that she possessed some Santa Claus swagger, grandmother-style.

She wouldn’t stop smoking or playing the lottery, which Dot disapproved of, this being a form of gambling, and after she died we discovered piles of notebooks written in these intense numerical ciphers that amounted to my grandmother’s life work of numbers theory, which I think may have cracked open the universe for her like when Wagner got to the end of his Ring cycle. Let’s just say that she won a lot.

She wasn’t especially religious, though she had a scary-looking picture of a saint in her room, but everyone had that back then. She died before the Red Sox won their first World Series in almost a century—you’d think, living as she did into her eighties, she would have seen at least one—and that made me sad, but not as sad as when she fell in the home she loved so much and broke her hip, and had to go into care at one of those establishments that, however well-meaning, smells of perpetual piss.

I’d take the commuter rail out to the closest stop to this house of ostensible recuperation—which was a well-meaning lie, as you knew and the people there surely must have known—and then walk through the wooded town of Milton where my dad’s mother lived, though I wouldn’t visit her.

Initially, my other grandmother referred to me as a bastard due to the circumstances of my birth—and that I had originated from elsewhere, and was not the flesh and blood of any of these people—though she mellowed some in later years, and there was a rumor that aunt Dot sat down with her once, and scared her shitless about the next world. But she tried near the end, and there is a wonderful thing about being human and that is if someone softens towards you, it is in our nature—and I think it still remains there, no matter how hard we try to denature and robotize ourselves—that you will soften, too. Even with my asshole grandmother. Dot, though, was trickier.

I visited Grammie as much as I could at the piss palace, which was a cruel way to think of it, but I had to joke in order to see her that way, and she spoke mostly about returning to her home, how she was looking forward to that, even as she understood, I think, and you understood, and she knew you did—there was a lot of knowing going on—that that probably wasn’t going to happen.

When she died, she did not go easily into that good night. She drifted into a coma, but the official end wouldn’t come, and she lingered and lingered. Then she was taken off the machines, so that she might better slip away, but the waiting continued. Waiting on life to cease, when so much of the rest of life is already spent waiting. I remember thinking that we should try to do less of that, as I sat with her, alone, across the span of several nights, so that she wouldn’t have to die alone. And she did not.

But it was aunt Dot who really knew something about sickness. When Grammie was out living her life, Dot took took care of their oft-cancer-laced parents, who shared an uncanny knack for survival. They had lost their favorite child, whose preferred status seemed to be all but a divinely sanctioned and stamped given, and neither Dot nor Grammy had any issue with their secondary—or tertiary—status.

This was their brother Teddy, and one of the few things that Dot and Grammie agreed upon was that this fellow was the absolute bee’s knees—they hailed from the jazz age—and he could have been a politician, they’d both race to add, trying to beat each other to the punch of the rhetorical flourish, as if nothing could be more incandescent in a person’s life, and then they would nod, in unison, sagaciously.

Teddy loved his drink, and one night in the mid-1930s, when locked out of the family’s house, drunk out of his mind, he scaled the roof to try and find ingress through a window, and fell to his death on the pavement, a political career that was never going to happen crushed before its first filibuster.

But his two sisters, sixty years after the fact, would still theorize—in the tones of someone reading the Gospel at mass—that Teddy would’ve gotten us to the moon faster than anything Kennedy spearheaded, if only his own issues on the gravity-front of the earthly plane had not interceded. Grammie, though, sounded like she was looking back, whereas Dot sounded like she was living within scenes that had long receded from the memory of everyone but these two women.

When they were older in life, and Dot was decades deep into her spinsterhood and Grammie had outlived her unknifed husband, they were roomies at the house the latter loved so much. Dot had the top floor, my grandmother the ground one. When you visited, it was only a matter of time before Dot would make her descent and call you fat. You’d hear her pacing around upstairs, the beast stirring, and Grammie, knowing what was about to come, would say, “Oh dear,” or sometimes, when the footsteps were really heavy—the portentous tread of a soon-to-be-manifested problem in human form—that initial exclamation would be extended into my grandmother’s version of a rhyming couplet with, “Oh, dear, bread and beer,” which also might have been a shout-out to Teddy in the ether.

The cellar of this house was the stuff of nightmares. There was a coal shoot—very old school—and shadows numberless, such that you thought goblins of some kind or other had to have at least a temporary residence here. You were told—warned—even by Grammie, which was especially worrisome, given that you believed she wouldn’t mess with you, not to go down there, save when she or Dot wanted something. Then it was cool.

Only, it was not cool, because aunt Dot had created this character named Willie Winkle whom she said lived in the basement. He didn’t just abduct and murder children, but there was this seducing element as well in her narratives on the subject. It felt a little like he was going to do some other things to you that were less than ideal, even so far as basement goblins went.

Nonetheless, if aunt Dot wanted her cribbage set, she wanted her cribbage set, and why she couldn’t keep such a small thing in her rooms was one of those mysteries behind the veil of life itself, so with your marching orders, down you would go for a prelude to the hell she spoke of so regularly, and aunt Dot would carry herself to Grammie’s sink, where she’d open the the cupboard beneath the basin and take a hammer and bang on the pipes, so that an echo seemingly sourced from the fiery bowels of the earth—from someone who knew fiery bowels—would throb and ring in your brain, as Dot screamed, “Winkle is gonna get you ya! Here he comes!”

It is worth noting that on the occasions when Dot tweaked her wrist—for she was also a hypochondriac and self-sidelined easily so that she could complain about the offending ailment later—Grammie would take her place with the hammer, this being, again, one of the very few things upon which they found accordance. Perhaps Winkle was Teddy’s ghost, for all we knew.


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