Post #92: This Will Only Hurt a Lot

Shaking My Head, Writing Advice

I got a very polite rejection yesterday from The Florida Review. They apologized for the delay in responding, contextualized the long wait around some editorial and personal changes, yadda yadda yadda, told me they’d found my story “Unsayable Things” engaging, but that it didn’t meet their editorial needs at this time.

As I do when I get rejections, which I get frequently, I updated my “Short Story Submissions” database, my digital warehouse of failure and ball kicking and invisible bruising that helps me keep track of all the places that are turning down my work, when they’re turning down my work, how long it takes them to turn down my work, and with what tone they’re turning down my work. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, there are a variety of different brands of rejection. Impersonal form rejection? Impersonal polite rejection? Mildly personal encouraging rejection? Re-write suggestion rejection? What’s fucked up is that you get to the point where when the rejection even names your story, or suggests that a human being actually read it and enjoyed it, even if it’s a no, you come to love that no. The polite rejection becomes it’s own form of yes. Welcome to the twisted world of writing for publication.

And when I opened up the “Short Story Submissions” and navigated to the story in question, then to the journal in question, I noted that I’d submitted to my good friends at TFR in March of 2012. Yes, you read that right. March of 2012. A full thirteen months after I’d submitted. When I submitted to them, Obama hadn’t been reelected yet. I was a year younger. As were my children. Of course I’d long ago forgotten about the submission. TFR assured me in their rejection that they have fixed whatever was taking them so long to respond and that they are committed to honoring the 2-3 months time frame they normally take to kick people in the balls wearing blindfolds. I believe them, and in a twisted way, was still glad to hear from them. Unlike agents and publishers, who only respond to you if they’re interested, and let silence stand as the sign of rejection and lack of interest, most literary magazines, eventually, do get back to you. Provide you with that human need for closure.

The adage among writers is that you’re not supposed to take rejection personally. Don’t let it get you down. Build a thick skin. It’s so frequent, rejection I mean, and the odds of sneaking a good, or even perhaps excellent, piece of writing through to a respected journal, are so slim that lit mags spend most of their time saying no. With such terrible odds and so frequently hearing “no,” it’s better to protect your heart, not take it personally, and keep submitting, knowing that they’re saying no to great stories all the time, and that half of it is kismet, luck, or some nepotism that you can’t even control. So, don’t take it personally. And I don’t. I don’t let it hurt me.

Except…that’s bullshit.

It hurts like a motherfucker. Not every time, mind you. But the entirety of it hurts, I mean. A deep aching something that you pretend isn’t there because if you acknowledge it too much, it becomes hard to do good work.

Mostly, I don’t take it personally in the way that traditional people take traditional things personally. Like most writers who want to publish, I’ve gotten pretty good at being rejected. Repetition does help make you numb. I see the brief form response, thanking me for the opportunity to read my work, telling me how many submissions they get and how many worthy stories they pass on, etc. Sometimes they say something nice about the story. Mostly they don’t. Sometimes they tell me to submit again soon. Sometimes they don’t. And, even though it all adds up to the same thing, mostly I believe them. It must be mind numbing to receive so much work, a lot of it shit, but a lot of it totally fine, and even some of it rather fantastic, but to have only so many feet for all those shoes. I update my database like a good soldier, may submit the story to another five or ten places, then begin waiting again. Rinse, wash, repeat. But this idea that it’s not supposed to hurt you to be rejected over and over is hilarious. And totally unrealistic.

Of course it hurts. Last time I checked there was blood pumping through my veins. So…what to do?

Day to day, you play dumb. You don’t let it hurt you. Every no can’t be the end of the world or you’d never have the courage to write another word. That’s no strategy. But pretending you don’t feel is insane too. I’d rather accept the hurt as part of the journey and teach myself how to manage it, rather than to become a robot who doesn’t feel. Robots don’t write very good fiction.

Post #90: Control

Music, Shaking My Head

john-lennon-and-mark-david-chapmanI can’t deny I’ve thought about that moment many times. December 8th, 1980. John Lennon had just come back from the recording studio, had just emerged from his limo and was walking through the arched doorway of the Dakota building, an arm full of cassettes, when Mark David Chapman emerged from the shadows, pulled a Charter Arms .38 Special Revolver, dropped into a firing stance, and began his well planned work. A life long Beatles fanatic, yes, I’ve thought about it. Even researched and read about it. You might have done the same.

“I’m shot, I’m shot!” Lennon is said to have called out, staggering up the stairs in a blind panic. The nearby Dakota doorman shouted to Chapman, “do you know what you’ve done?” To which Chapman calmly replied, “I’ve just shot John Lennon.” By the time they got Lennon to the hospital, he was already dead.

Completing the haunting scene, when the police arrived at the Dakota, Mark David Chapman was sitting on the sidewalk, calm as a Hawaiian Buddha, holding a paperback copy of The Catcher in the Rye, awaiting his arrest.

It’s the suddenness of the whole thing that stays with you. The moment between calm and chaos. The tension between life and death. Between breath and the darkness. Four squeezes of the trigger and one of the all time greats was gone forever. A wife lost a husband. Sons lost a father. The world lost a hero.

I don’t bring this up to bum you out. Okay, I sort of bring it up to bum you out. Why? I feel bummed out and I need some company. Sorry. But I don’t do it randomly or without purpose because what’s on my mind is intriguing stuff and I need you with me. Wednesday morning, Yoko Ono, who’s been trying to draw attention to gun control and the recent debates over guns in America, Tweeted a photo of Lennon’s blood caked glasses. The ones he was wearing when he was shot. She Tweeted the image on what would have been her and John’s 44th wedding anniversary and she did so four times, each Tweet containing a different message about gun control, and the photo, whose caption reads: “Over 1,057,000 people have been killed by guns in the U.S.A. since John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8, 1980.” The stark, wintry New York skyline is hazy in the distance, though, if you look closely, it’s a bit clearer through the lens of Lennon’s bloody glasses.


My first thought was of these glasses themselves and the lonely, dirty life they’ve lived for the past thirty plus years. I wondered where Ono kept them. I wondered about the courage it took to keep them and to leave them in this condition all these years. To leave them in a position to make her most vulnerable, perhaps as a reminder of her love for John, of the moment he was taken from her. Taken by a man and a gun. The say an image speaks a thousand words, but I’ve already written nearly 600 about this one in the last few minutes alone and it’s put so much on my heart and mind that I think I could write about it all night and never come close to exhausting its power and the clarity of its purpose.

For all the apparent complexity of the debate over the 2nd Amendment and gun control in America, I have to say it seems pretty goddamned simple to me. Guns=death. As a Beatles fanatic, I don’t say so lightly, but I’m with Yoko.

Post #87: You See!

Shaking My Head

??????????????????????????????????????????So, you know how last entry I was talking about that new magazine Kindling Quarterly and about perceptions of men and fatherhood and how they’re represented and perpetuated in the culture and how it all kind of pisses me off?

This morning, I took my kids to the dentist. We had  a near flawless experience, thank you for asking. My kids were so good they took a picture of them before we left and hung it on the wall below a plaque that read: BE MORE LIKE THESE BOYS. However, one moment stood out negatively and is the reason I’m sitting here ranting. My 4 1/2 year old got his first x-rays today. He sat there like a champ, chomped down on that razor sharp negative thing they make you bite on that cuts up for gums and everything. You know the one? He didn’t flinch. Just took it and was motionless with that heavy lead jacket on. I was beaming. No joke. As a reward, the hygienist, who was super nice I might add, maybe even the nicest hygienist I’ve ever seen, gave him a sticker for his good effort. She offered to put the sticker in his “goodie” bag, already stuffed with new tooth brush, floss, and toothpaste. He said, no, that he wanted to keep it in his pocket. “Okay,” the hygienist said, “just make sure to tell your mom later so it doesn’t go through the wash.”

Mom. The wash. Get it?

I was so incensed that I temporarily lost control of my body. I tripped her, then laughed as she went sprawling to the carpet, then stood over her Ali over Liston style, shouting “I do laundry too, goddammnit.”

Actually I did what everyone does, ignored it and smiled.

I know what you’re thinking. Shut up entitled white man of privilege. The world is built entirely to honor and protect your dominance so deal with the tiny silly assumption on her part that the kid’s mom is the one who does the laundry. Maybe the men she knows don’t do laundry or something. But still!

Why do these things bother me so much? Am I the only guy out there who notices things like this and gets annoyed?

What’s even more troubling to think about is this: Do I do that to other people? In fact, it’s not even really do I do that to other people? It’s when and how often do I do that to other people? And who do I do it to? Women? Gays? People of color? How often do I let slip a small little pice of bias that irks someone and sends them running back to their computer to blog about it?

While I ponder that, I’m going to go fold laundry. Seriously, I am.

Post #79: If I had Any Feelings Left, I’d Probably Hate Lance Armstrong

Shaking My Head

215549-lance-armstrongBeen puzzling over how to feel about Lance Armstrong. And the only word that’s approaching any kind of accuracy and truth for those feelings is: numb.

That’s all.

I don’t feel much of anything about it. It’s just what’s next. The coverage comes at me like a rogue wave but somehow I remain impervious, my little vessel soundly sailing, unfettered by its size and potential. By next week, the wave will have made so little impression on me, I will have forgotten ever flinching as I glimpsed it over the horizon.

I mean, I’m not a bag of rocks. I feel stuff. Like he’s a lying douchebag. Like, his poor family. Like, I feel bad for what his heart looks like. Like if bullying were water, Lance would be the Indian Ocean. Like, doesn’t Buzz Bissinger feel like a monumental horse’s ass for that Newsweek cover story? Like, wouldn’t it suck to never be able to wear yellow again, ever? Like, this all started over cycling right? Like…cycling? But also like we’re (you and me) kind of to blame for creating a culture where a man has to go to the far edge of dishonestly and barbarism just to win a bike race, dupe us about what he had to do to win because we pushed him beyond reason into an unachievable athletic super-stratosphere that was always more hypothetical than we cared to admit, have us be happily duped about both pushing him that far and it being part of the reason he had to dupe us in the first place, have him publicly flay and take legal action against anyone who would claim that there was duping going on when all parties pretty much knew there was even if they didn’t want to believe it, then, way too late for it to matter, watch in “shock” as he pretends to set himself on fire in front of the big O as a bizarre form of catharsis that, in its mixture of faux and actual sincerity and the impossibility of discerning the two in Lance’s horrible eyes, approaches catastrophic levels of weirdness and toxicity.

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Post #77: Haunted

Shaking My Head, Uncategorized

I was at the post office the other day. The line was painfully long, crawling in fact. All I needed was stamps. I was kicking myself for not having ordered them online ahead of time and saved myself the torture.  It was a week before Christmas and all around me people had holiday packages stacked up to their chins, or resting on the counter before them. We were all miserable waiting.

Standing there, I began to imagine that a gunman was about to walk in and begin shooting at us. And when he did, I wondered, what would I do? There was a frail old woman just to my left, her hair a sculpted frozen wave, a Certs jogging around in her mouth, appearing sporadically between her ruby lips. Would I help her first? Pull her down behind the island? Throw my body in front of hers? Or would I knock her out of the way and hurl myself over the counter to escape the rapid spray of automatic weapon fire as it peppered the plywood and people started screaming?

I wasn’t imagining this is the typical day dreamy way you do, when silly thoughts come into your head. When you see your reflection and pretend you kind of look like Harrison Ford, or wonder if it’s too late to become an astronaut. For a few seconds, I full on expected it to happen. Right there in my local post office, it seemed entirely plausible.

A few nights ago, I took my wife out to dinner and a movie. We ate like royalty, then saw “Silver Linings Playbook,” which is great, by the way. Same thing happened as at the post office. The theater was crowded. Packed nearly to capacity. And as the movie began playing, the thought came to me again: what will happen when one of these people stands up with an automatic weapon and starts shooting at all of us? Will I be able to protect my wife? Myself? What will it sound like? Feel like? Will I ever make it home to see my children? How many of us will die before he either shoots himself or someone takes him down?

This is dark terrain, I know.

But that most recent shooting at Sandy Hook is pinballing around in my subconscious and I can’t seem to make it stop.




Post #75: C’mon!!

Shaking My Head

If you didn’t know, it’s Potentially Irrational Rant Day here at The Almost Right  Words in which I bitch about the following:

Earlier this year, I read, demolished is more like it, Cheryl Strayed’s wildly celebrated and wildly wonderful memoir Wild, about her solo trek up the Pacific Crest Trail. If you haven’t, read it. Immediately. If Oprah’s recommendation scared you away, take mine instead. It’s wow-tastic. But I’m not here to talk about Wild, the book, but Wild the book cover. It looks like this.


Stark and memorable, isn’t it? Love that close up of the mud caked boot. The clean all white background so the writing fires and pops. Today’s rant begins with a trip to Phoenix, my local book store here in Burlington, where, while browsing the new hardcover books, I saw Wild featured. I thought, golly gee, that’s weird, Wild came out months ago, what’s it doing among the new books? Except that further review proved it wasn’t Wild at all. It was Goldberg Variations, a new book by Susan Isaacs, whose cover looks like this.


Now, you’ll just have to take my expert word for it that the similarity, while certainly striking here, is only a pale imitation of how much of a knock-off cover this actually is and feels like when you hold the books side by side. This is mainly because in the Goldberg pic above you can’t see the book’s spine, which is the EXACT SAME lipstick red with white writing that you see on the profile view of Cheryl’s book above. So incensed was I that the other night, I made my wife, who’s also read Wild, go into the bookstore with me to see the evidence, at which point I corralled both books, held them up for her perusal and intoned, “disgusting, isn’t it? I mean, can you believe those corporate pricks would stoop so low as to try to create a subconscious link between an established bestseller (Wild) and a brand new book so as to inflate sales? I mean, this has got to be some kind of copyright violation, right?” I was loud. People were looking at me.

My wife noticed what I noticed, but her disgust, while apparent in the raise of her eyebrows and the slight curl of her lip, did not reach the fever pitch of my own. Okay, she barely seemed to care, and continued looking at something else.

But, c’mon! You’re with me, aren’t you. That’s bullshit! Am I right?



Post #74: Newsweek’s News

Shaking My Head

Newsweek_LogoLoNewsweek, the iconic news magazine that, courtesy of my grandmother, has been arriving weekly at my door for over a decade now will, as of December 31st, only be arriving at my Ipad. Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown confirmed the rumor that Newsweek is going all digital. “We are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it,” Brown said. “We remain committed to Newsweek and to the journalism that it represents. This decision is not about the quality of the brand or the journalism, that is as powerful as ever. It is about the challenging economics of print publishing and distribution.”

Like a lot of people, I’m sure that I care a lot more about what it means that Newsweek is going all digital than about the act itself. Though I haven’t been an ardent reader of the magazine for a while now, I still enjoy a flip through and read a few articles every week, and since they’ve gotten so short and so un-newsy, it’s easy and fun too, kind of like People with facts. Okay, that’s a little harsh, but there’s no doubt that over the years Newsweek has become less of a “hard” news magazine, relying more on features and opinion. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed the switch and, though I could give a rat’s ass about fashion, which features with obnoxious regularity, am generally a fan of the sensibility that Tina Brown’s editor-in-chief-ness has brought to the magazine. I believe her that it isn’t about the news or the brand. It’s about something else.

In related news, The New York Times announced that it will probably soon make a number of cuts to its news room staff and offer a number of buy outs.  Publisher Arthur Sulzberger announced that he’d charged his top editors to “identify significant cost savings.” While I don’t envy Sulzberger’s position on this one, his diction needs love. Equating reductions in staff–meaning people–with a soul-less expression like “cost savings” makes me gag a little. But, jeez, what’s he supposed to say? Sulzberger wrote that “the advertising climate remains volatile and we don’t see this changing in the near future.” Is that the same something that Tina Brown was talking about?

So, now that I’ve told you what you already know, or sensed, let’s ask: what’s all this mean? Part of me greatly mourns this news, feels like as an icon like Newsweek can’t sustain a print edition and the NYT is downsizing again, and this time to its news staff, it signals that something vital is turning to liquid and slipping through our collective fingertips. Considering Newsweek, certainly quality journalism can happen in a digital only environment, but as the magazine’s coffers dry up, can they continue to afford what it even costs to report the news with class and style? This isn’t just about car ads. It’s about the relative worth of news, what passes for news, and what news will become. So maybe I disagree with Tina Brown a little bit. Maybe this is sort of about the brand. As reporters jobs are in the crosshairs, surely too is the integrity of reporting itself.

My brain surges forward, to a supposed print-less world, when my children, or maybe my children’s children are grown, and they’ve never held a paper copy of a newspaper, never written a letter by hand, never bought a new physical book and smelled the wood pulp under their noses. These images are saddening. Hold me. And yet, I couldn’t tell you the last time I bought a New York Times off the rack. Recently, my local newspaper, The Burlington Free Press, faced with the same devastating something that everyone else is reacting to, began charging for its on-line edition. For years my wife and I have been daily readers, yet we still haven’t ponied up and subscribed, and as a result we’ve basically stopped reading the paper. I get Newsweek as a gift and might not otherwise patronize the magazine. I admit I’m not helping, but I would still feign to call myself a print devotee, relatively speaking. I regularly buy new books and hit up my local library and I subscribe to a number of print periodicals (Poets and Writers, The Atlantic, Esquire, VQR, Bon Apetit). But there’s no doubt I consume less print than I did five years ago. It’s hard to keep pace, and the way we read is changing. But it sure seems to be changing awfully fast.

Post #72: Pure Bliss

Shaking My Head

A skateboarder was in the middle of the road when I turned the corner, spinning himself in rapid circles (technical term anyone?) like a figure skater. When his momentum would lag, he’d stop, quick rotate by jerking his body sideways and begin spinning again, the board at forty-five degrees, all his weight on it’s back edge like he was about to take off. I paused, pulled back on my dog’s lead, hoping the boarder wouldn’t see me so I could keep watching. Of course he saw me-people always see each other-so I switched my dog to my other side and kept walking. But, to my delight, he didn’t stop, didn’t wait for me to pass. Instead, he switched to Ollies, popping his board into the air, creating the effect that it was glued to his feet, bending to his every whim. He’d land, then rip another. For all the concern he showed, he might have been alone in an empty gymnasium. Kids are amazing, I thought, they don’t care who sees. It was at this point, though, that I noticed the paunchy middle pushing through his sweatshirt, the sad saggy bend to his aged neck. The casual creases around his eyes. The beard flecked with gray. I’m not kidding you, the guy was sixty five years old, easy, maybe older, and he was out there grinding with sheer, unapologetic bliss like a teenager killing time before his mom calls him in to dinner.

I did some searches and found a nice clip of this guy in California named Lloyd Khan. Be forewarned, though, his attitude (and his biceps) will make you feel old, regardless of your age.

Post #63: Is This What Progress Looks Like?

Shaking My Head

If you watched the Olympics, and I’m betting you watched at least a little, you saw commercials for a new NBC (Jimmy Fallon produced) comedy called Guys With Kids in which a supposedly modern trio of men take care of babies and, not knowing any better because they’re really just children themselves, do the kind of stupid male things with them that could make just about anybody laugh.  Except me.  What is it with the way fathers are represented by our culture?  Is it really this far behind the rest of us?  I have two young sons and have always considered myself an equal caregiver.  My wife and I both work full time.  We share cleaning and other domestic chores, except for cooking, of which I do the majority.  We both do laundry, clean the toilets, scrub the showers, mop the floors, iron shirts, clean up puke, piss and shit, and pretty much whatever else needs doing, and sure, there’s comedy to be found in life, but I’m so tired of the comedy, at least as far as shows like Guys With Kids are concerned, happening in the space between what a man is expected to do and what he might actually do.  There’s a reason Mad Men is set in the 60’s.  Check out the promo for Guys With Kids, then come back.

It’s not…horrible, right?  I mean, it’s a step closer to reality than, say, Home Improvement, or Vince Vaughan in Old School.  And it’s sort of funny.  But I’m still not laughing.  And I still won’t tune in.  Maybe I’d find it funny if any of it rang true to me.  It’s not that the life moments don’t ring true–they do.  The lack of privacy, the challenges to find intimacy, the unintentional disappointment of your partner, the desire to be a good man.  These things happen.  My existence if rife with life’s natural humor and ridiculousness and sometimes all you can do is laugh.  But it’s the laughs coming at the expense of an assumed ineptness in men that I find offensive and am so tired of.  I just flat out don’t know those guys. And one of them is a stay at home dad, which is actually a pretty progressive thing to put on television, all things considered.  But though their lives look familiar, their inner essence bears only a passing resemblance to my own.  And, I would bet, to a lot of people.  So why does network television and Hollywood keep force feeding us this horse shit?  Are we really not ready to deal with a man who is happy to cook dinner and make the bed and wipe his kid’s shitty ass without a laugh track to get him through it unscathed?  Or, even worse, castrated?  Now I know how gay people must have felt when they watched Will and Grace.

Yeah, I’m a guy sometimes.  I drink beer and tell my guy friends lewd jokes.  I mow the lawn and try to fix stuff and have trouble admitting when I can’t do things.  I like to watch sports and scratch my balls and brag about a good burp now and again.  But c’mon!  That’s not everything.  Shocking as NBC might find it, I know plenty of men who cook and clean their homes and not just because their wives tell them to.  I know men whose own domestic instincts surpass those of their (female) spouses.  I know men who read cooking magazines right out in public.  Men who just like to have things neat and tidy.  Men who groom and primp before watching football.  And men who wouldn’t mind staying inside to cook dinner while their wife kicks the soccer ball with the kids.  Even men who don’t need advice on humility, humanity, or manhood from a faceless neighbor over the proverbial fence.

So where is he?  Because he sure as hell isn’t on TV.

Post #61: Some Kind of Jackass

Shaking My Head

I just came across this piece on Huff Post entitled “10 Books that Taught me Reading Books is Bullshit.”  Now, as a vociferous reader and book obsessive, I’m fully willing to admit that I was a little biased against comedian/author Dan Wilbur’s premise, which he’s expanded on in a book length work called How Not to Read, and since I didn’t want to react with a snap judgment, I opened up my mind and read the post (mostly in the form of a slide show), just so I could be sure.  Yep, he’s totally full of shit.