For my nephew, Absalom H., Jr.
First, I find, learn the effing clinical skill of saying no—
to others, to yourself; this is also the skill of self-editing,
which is nothing more than observing boundaries, or not.
Case Study #17:
Listen, Kingpin—I had a story accepted for publication in
an on-line “lit mag”; there, I encountered for the first time
the capriciousness of MFAs, as they vetted my story twice,
then, in galley proofs, questioned my “tense structure”
and asked me to insert a character—out of whole cloth—at the very last minute.
I said if their “concerns” constituted a deal-breaker
they could kiss my damn ass and give my story back.
Not a deal-breaker, they said.
However, for the stalwart, rejections will be ongoing,
so avoid hearing no unnecessarily. Por ejemplo, Junior,
don’t make the novice mistake of sending a story too soon
after first acceptance—it’s greedy, and you will be told no.
What they told you about the three-part cover letter—
that was a lie propagated by business professors
who still think the split infinitive is a cardinal sin,
but typographical stunts are, passively, allowed.
Of course, don’t be anyone’s martyr—your own or theirs.
Love isn’t a march to victory, so I’ve heard poets grouch,
and I want to believe them, although I’m ruined for religion.
Case Study #26:
At a party for writers, I meet this woman who’s recently
graduated with, yes, an MFA degree, and by way of introduction
she recites the names of all the hotshots she’s studied with at college.
Like I give a composting crap, I want to say,
but I don’t want to be rude, so I reply in kind
by naming the various people I’ve worked with
on construction sites, in warehouses, and in offices.
The woman nods her head knowingly, as if the names
mean something to her, when, clearly, they couldn’t
mean a flying shit whatsoever. Then I say to her,
“Do you ever cry during the act of composition? I do.”
She is smarter than I: so she backs off to mingle elsewhere.
I enjoy lime-infused guacamole and blue organic corn chips
as I watch her exchange important names around the room.
“Avoid adjectives of scale,” counsels the poet, et al,
handbook advice with which even the MBAs concur,
but try convincing them the concept of enjambment
might comport with profit—you’ll get nowhere quick.
Writers, though, must be contrary, swiping Rorschach-like across the grain;
therefore, I say that writing in perfect anonymity is a great vantage
best given up for any number of worthy, if not excellent, alternatives.
NEVER—as in Joan-Crawford-no-more-wire-hangers-
kind-of-NEVER—listen to the maudlin Gymnopédies
of Erik Satie as background music while you write.
For writers, and only writers, going insane for the right
reason is preferable to remaining normal for the wrong
reason. Shake and stir until you achieve insouciance.
But even if you do go crazy, please don’t use phrases like
fictive universe or argot of the academy; for these vocal tics
there’s no medication or therapy, only regret delayed by ten years.
Case Study #50
Take note—merit trumps talent, unless you’re Melville,
and if you are Melville incarnate, then you will certainly
go unrecognized, work as a mindless clerk, and die
discounting eternity, just before some hack academic,
citing merit, makes tenure re-discovering your work.
Selah, wrote the psalmist eighty times, rounding up,
and three millennia hence, even the Elect will grant,
the cockeyed theologians can’t translate the word.
Martin Barkley lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and works as an independent writer and editor. Recently, his fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review. Martin also has stories available on-line for open viewing at ChamberFour, The Texas Observer, and the Good Men Project.