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Two anecdotes about "the writing life"

Wednesday 2/21/24

Recently I encountered two telling anecdotes regarding what others might call "the writing life." I don't use this phrase. Publishing people and pretend writers use it. They are talking about something else other than an actual life in writing and spent writing.

One of these anecdotes pertained to a woman on Facebook. She was in publishing and was from New Rochelle. When you are from New Rochelle and you're in publishing, I already know a lot about you. In theory there can be exceptions, but there are virtually no exceptions in publishing.

I was looking at her various reviews of businesses. She did a lot of them, and clearly looked down on people who worked in places like restaurants or "the trades." These people, in their galling classism, actually use that term quite often. I recall a nonfiction piece in The Paris Review that employed it so condescendingly a few years back. I understand that the word "service" has a certain connotation in a restaurant context, but this woman used that word a lot and it meant something else--it meant people who ought to have been waiting on her not just because of their job but who she was. And she wasn't really anyone. Just one of these typical publishing people. A pretend writer who wrote nothing, got hooked up, came from money. The usual.

Her most recent review was about this restaurant she went to as part of a party of eight. Her review said early on that at first the service was "fairly decent"--you see how petty and passive aggressive these people can't help from being? It just comes out of them like oil from a pore. Sounds like someone was doing their job, but this woman wanted to get a shot in early, though I'm sure at the time she had no real problems at all, much as she probably wanted to have them. Then we get to the grave offense of the server. One of the people in the party had their feet up on an unoccupied chair. The member of the wait staff asked them to take their feet off of the chair.

This offended the woman to no ends. She said again that they were a party of eight, and so it would be a big bill. The entitlement of money. And just general entitlement. Don't put your feet on the furniture. Are you a dog? Are you a child? Who raised you? When I'm somewhere--which means Starbucks, probably--and I've seen someone has put their feet on a seat, I don't really want to just go and sit there. Likewise, if they have their ass on the counter I'm less enthusiastic about my drinking being set there.

It could simply be restaurant policy and the owner told this wait staff employee to politely say something. But it shouldn't come to that.

Well. Cue the drama, cue this very review, in which the woman said that the night was now "ruined." Because these people are that fragile, too. Entitled and fragile. They are not people who live in reality. Now, that's most people presently, but these people spend even less time there. You couldn't get over this? You couldn't shake it off? You couldn't accept responsibility?

It's like Michael Griffith, editor at the Cincinnati Review. I've talked about this. I knew he was just hooking up his friends and counting on them to hook him up. He even had a creepy phrase for how he got his work published (relative rarity that that is): The path of least resistance. Nothing is earned. For Michael Griffith, someone has to say, "Do you have something, I can run it for you" or he has to say, "I have something, could you do me a favor and run it?" For example, when Michael Griffith has work in The Southern Review, it's because he's been friends with the editor there, Jessica Faust, for three decades, as he said to me in an email.

After years of watching dozens and dozens of examples of his cronyism play out, with him hooking up people with whom he had a relationship or a shared affiliation, I said something. Basically what I said was, Look, I do know what's going on here, and I really don't want to put that out there publicly, I'm just asking for fairness with my work. And he lost his mind. He said that we would never exchange correspondence again, and he compared me to the Mafia. That's real. That happened. I can put the email up on here.

But you see how disproportionate the reaction was with what was actually said, very politely, after many years of witnessing this and the accumulation of facts? Same idea with this woman at the restaurant.

Something else. Was reading this comment elsewhere about how expensive the writing life is, because you go to a reading and you buy the hardcover book for $25 or $30, then everyone goes out to a bar. This person had automatically conflated writing with having to be in this subculture. Which is really why most people "write." They want to be a part of a group. They don't even need to write. They never write well. They just need to say they're this thing. And they can't do this with anything. They can't join the doctor group or the NBA players group or the plumber group. Because you actually need to do and be things to do that. Then they went on to say how it's all well and good at the bar to say you'll have a ginger ale, but everyone is drinking these expensive drinks, and it's so tempting, and you drink one, and you can't drink just one, then you wake up with a hangover, etc. etc. etc.

No. Don't go. Why would you go to a reading by someone who is no better than the writers we see on here on the losing end of prose off after prose off? Can you imagine going to a J. Robert Lennon reading? Then you're going to pay money for their book? Why? So you can say you're their friend or their yours and you're a writer because you do these things? Don't drink. Go home. Stay home. Read something good. I mean actually good. Learn something. Play an Eric Dolphy album. Put the money you would have spent that night to a year-long museum membership, which would be cheaper and you can go whenever you want. Get up early. Write.


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