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—

– hook
– body of work
– personal bio—

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.  


by Martin Barkley



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. 

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