Here in Portland, Oregon, we have a school of writing called the Attic Institute. The Attic is located in the attic of an old brick building; I recommend the classes, but not in the heat of August, because, well, attic. A community has grown up around the Attic and its open-mic reading series on the first Friday of each month, called Fridays on the Boulevard.
On March 25, the Fridays organizer emailed us to say that the April Friday had been suspended. But then she wrote:
I also want to extend an offer for anyone in this community to send me a piece of writing (up to 3 pages of prose or poems) at this email address, and I will send you feedback on what I find most successful and engaging about your piece.
Additionally, if you submit a piece to this email address between now and April 1st, I will create a small digital collection and distribute it to this group. It will be a fun way to feel connected and engaged, and give us something nice to read!
I immediately wrote to this person, whom I won’t name because I don’t want to embarrass her and anyway I don’t have her permission. I thanked her for her generosity, said I’d like to volunteer once the series gets going again, and sent her the first three pages of the story I’m writing. She wrote back on April 2 with some helpful, morale-boosting comments.
On April 4, true to her word, she distributed an 8-page PDF with all the contributions she’d received, including an interesting poem called “I’m tired of constantly tabulating right and wrong.” That’s exactly how I feel when I’m fumbling with masks, bleaching what seems like an infinite line of door knobs and light switches, and wondering if I’ve properly decontaminated my groceries or will my pasta kill me.
Writing is a rewarding but tough way to live. The generosity shown by this one person has benefited many, starting with me. Living through a worldwide menace like the coronavirus makes you wonder what’s the point of anything – a question only humans are capable of asking. What’s the point? Maybe asking what’s the point is the point. Geoff Dyer, writing about how “everything non-COVID-related seems so pointless” in the April 13 New Yorker, says it better than me:
We routinely say of a setback, “It’s not the end of the world.” Well, of course it’s not. Even the end of the world as we know it turns out not to be the end of the world. So, to downgrade Fitzgerald’s rhapsodic claim at the end of The Great Gatsby, we plod on – or don’t stop plodding on – for the simple reason that, with few exceptions, we are programmed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’s what feet are for.
Editors are back on the job! Has Trump reopened the litmags?
In the first half of April, I received rejections from Copper Nickel (which pays real money, at least by litmag standards) and Joyland (which does not). Editors are a healthy lot, or maybe they just harbor a healthy skepticism toward me. Did they break their self-isolation just to squelch my dreams? Or was this a welcome break in the boredom of their social distancing? Here’s a real question: How many litmags will still be publishing in 2021?
Days since last rejection: 9. In the words of Stan Ridgway in the song “Factory,” “I do what I’m doing ’cause I don’t know what to do when I’m not doing it.”