“A good query email is one that’s sent directly to the assigning editor for the specific section you’re pitching. The email features a compelling subject line (think of it as a proto-headline) and a tight paragraph explaining the piece you want to write, why it’s timely, and why this outlet is the perfect place to publish it. A second short paragraph in the email explains who you are and why you’re the best writer for the job. It also includes a link to your personal site, which has an easily navigable archive of your work. It ends with a note about when you’ll be following up. Depending on how timely the piece is, that follow-up date can be anywhere from 24 hours to several weeks away. Basically, it’s just to help you set a timeline and enable you to pitch the piece elsewhere before the time hook expires, rather than twiddling your thumbs for weeks waiting for a reply that may never come.”
Sometimes I think that trying to make a home is what I’ve been doing my whole life. I’m tired of it. And it’s September and all I want to do is to crawl inside somebody else who knows how to do this. I want to make a home of another body. I want a story made out of somebody else’s material. I’ve been taking little stabs at writing fiction.
Sometimes I think that if I could really write the truth of my life, it’d turn into a building that I could live in, a finished product that I’d be satisfied with, a moving box taped up and labeled, something I can store in the back of my garage and forget about or visit like a shrine. Something permanent. Right now it’s an ocean, salty and indefinite like bile, rising up, threatening to spill.
No writing is wasted. Did you know that sourdough from San Francisco is leavened partly by a bacteria called lactobacillus sanfrancisensis? It is native to the soil there, and does not do well elsewhere. But any kitchen can become an ecosystem. If you bake a lot, your kitchen will become a happy home to wild yeasts, and all your bread will taste better. Even a failed loaf is not wasted. Likewise, cheese makers wash the dairy floor with whey. Tomato gardeners compost with rotten tomatoes. No writing is wasted: the words you can’t put in your book can wash the floor, live in the soil, lurk around in the air. They will make the next words better.
These were my two first mistakes about honesty: I thought it meant relentless self-flagellation, and I thought it could redeem everything. I believed there was nothing self-awareness couldn’t save. My readers taught me otherwise: They often read my self-awareness as meanness or self-indulgence or delusion. It didn’t endear me to them at all. It didn’t dissolve the flaws it confessed.
I stopped biting my nails six weeks after I moved here, breaking a twenty year habit. There have been other shifts, too, more in two years, I sometimes think, than in the previous twenty-four of them combined, but the one I’m most interested in today is what it’s like to be with someone who can only know the you that you are now, none of the hints or symbols or details that are revealed from years of knowing, from exposure to your real pasts, not just pasts recounted through the filter of narrative, what seems most true or fair in the moment that you say or don’t say it.
For instance, I could say, “I vowed four years ago not to cook a meal again for anyone I’m sleeping with,” but though this is true––the vow, not necessarily that I kept it––it is strange to say that without also saying something about the years I made quesadillas every Thursday night and how a few months after I stopped doing that I tried it again, same ingredients but different kitchen, and it went so terribly there were tears, some texts to China about not being able to go through with it, with any of it, again. This is an anecdote where the sheer volume of back story is tiring and also not terribly interesting, and that it seems that way now means it is no longer a story worth telling, no longer one it’s necessary to know about me, not important anymore at all.
There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.” - JK Rowling
Can we talk about Susan’s fabulous adventures after Narnia? The ones where she wears nylons and elegant blouses when she wants to, and short skirts and bright lipstick when she wants to, and hiking boots and tough jeans and big men’s plaid shirts when she feels like backpacking out into the mountains and remembering what it was to be lost in a world full of terrific beauty— I know her siblings say she stops talking about it, that Susan walks away from the memories of Narnia, but I don’t think she ever really forgot.
I want to read about Susan finishing out boarding school as a grown queen reigning from a teenaged girl’s body. School bullies and peer pressure from children and teachers who treat you like you’re less than sentient wouldn’t have the same impact. C’mon, Susan of the Horn, Susan who bested the DLF at archery, and rode a lion, and won wars, sitting in a school uniform with her eyebrows rising higher and higher as some old goon at the front of the room slams his fist on the lectern.
Susan living through WW2, huddling with her siblings, a young adult (again), a fighting queen and champion marksman kept from the action, until she finally storms out against screaming parents’ wishes and volunteers as a nurse on the front. She keeps a knife or two hidden under her clothes because when it comes down to it, they called her Gentle, but sometimes loving means fighting for what you care for.
There’s no method. There’s no formula. If you really proceed a sentence at a time, if you pay attention to the sentence you just wrote and look to it for the clue for what to do to the next sentence, you can inch your way along to what may be a story. This wouldn’t have occurred to me starting out, for example, when I thought you wrote one sentence, then just looked out to the world trying to snag the next one. That’s not how it works. You look back at what you gave yourself to work with. Sharon Olds said something beautiful about sometimes thinking of her poems as instructions for how to put the world back together if it were destroyed.
I have long suspected that my restlessness is simply a futile wish to escape not this job or that apartment or the other city, but my own circumstances, my own intolerable skin.
I have never thought of your constancy and contentedness as a punchline. I have always found it deeply enviable—no, admirable.
Where did I learn this thing, that all the pieces of myself that are different are the pieces to be hidden or forgiven or escaped, not treasured? It was not my mother, so heartily a snorer. Not my sisters, joyful and beautiful and serene. Maggie said to me the other day, as I ate my second chocolate bar of the day, “I like that you’re always eating chocolate. I think it says something about your personality. Like, it’s indulgent.” Something in there somewhere, if I can unravel it, something about loving yourself just for being yourself, the way you love your friends and family for their exact selves.
limbs move slowly, knowing there’s no other way to move. heavy airs dampen ability to respond, and there is not enough blue when i look outside to calm these aches.
there is not enough blue when i look outside to let the tiredness overtake me, belly where it belongs — pressing against the floor or bed. i want the promise of being taken care of by surrendering to whatever is happening inside me, but —.
now when i see someone with a red nose i feel sad. so, so sad.
it is so hard to rest here. my eyes, they’re dry and sore from all the salt kept secret inside. i don’t know how to get on with things like i’m not waddling through air made of thick jelly.
i blame this arbitrary slowness on my body’s irrational preparation for a winter — cold to wrap me in four layers of clothing before venturing out the door, chill to remind me where all my bones are, grey skies to parallel with the greys inside, the need to cup and touch all the warm things around me, darker nights for easy sleep. i’ve never missed winter as much as i do now.
there is no winter here. this place will never work that way.
before this i could have sworn i was getting used to these hours and monotony, but then i started to think i’m waking up in the wrong bedroom again.
after recalculating the years and events to wear off the shock from waking up today, i thought, how long more will i be jet lagged from the past?
i will always be jet lagged from the past.
and from all the loss and losing that brought me back here.
Art has room for everything, right, so I’m not going to say you shouldn’t do self-reflexive work. But I do think there’s a level on which you have to worry about ethics if you’re doing something that completely folds in on itself and is only accessible to a small group
Why? That’s Chinese poetry. Chinese poetry does nothing if not refer to itself, to it’s own history. Up until you get to the Misty school, it refers back to itself, constantly folding over into its own history.
Because I think we can look at that stuff without knowing that and still get something out of it. There are strains of whatever—painting, performance, comics—that drive that tendency to a point where, if you don’t have a very specific critical lexicon or special knowledge, it becomes opaque to you. And I think that kind of art can be used as a tool to demonstrate how much smarter or better you are than other people.
So you’re saying it’s important not to do that?
Yes, although I think people are often too quick to identify things as doing that. Maybe if they just gave the work a chance, they’d get something out of it.
I agree. I think it’s laziness a lot of the time. Or it’s not just laziness—people don’t want to say to themselves, It’s ok that I don’t know everything right away and just open themselves up to the experience of the work.
To use school as an example, I think it also prepares us to totally buy into the idea of gatekeepers. I remember a friend in the Harvard Divinity School talking about how incredibly frustrating it was that, if you wrote a paper clearly, people looked at that skeptically. Because you should be working so hard to have brilliant ideas that you shouldn’t have time to put them into accessible language. Obviously she was exaggerating, but I think there’s something there, and that is something to be avoided. And whether they’re imagining it or not, I think that kind of attitude is what people are reacting to when they say, Oh, poetry is too rarified.