Archive | July, 2012

Shredding Dreams

24 Jul

I am in the final stages of editing the short fiction section of a small but established literary arts magazine.  Tonight, I have been going through the submissions, and shredding each one whose cover letter has a place in a file labeled “[Magazine title] – Rejections.”  I considered giving it a not-so-harsh label.  I also considered just shredding the cover letters too — I’m not obligated to send rejection letters, according to our policy.  And, besides, rejections is what they are.  Why spare anyone who’s not ever going to see this file the painful frankness of the fact they are getting rejected?  But then something in me is bothering to keep the cover letters because, despite the organization’s policy, I do plan to send a message (prob. email) to each person who submitted something.  In a way, this is to soften the blow, despite my harsh file labeling, because at least with a letter they know they’ve been heard … even if they don’t like hearing what those who heard them may have to say.

Glancing down at these and remembering reading them (some a painful experience, some were not so bad but did not make the final – publishing – cut).  Some read like a blog, rather than a short story.  Some are the dreaded flash fiction that our web page specifically says is not welcome.  Some are stream of consciousness.  Several were not really stories at all but more like paintings, which were interesting for that reason, but were at the core no more than still lifes.   A surprising lot were misogynistic, and several racist, without self-analysis, reflection or redemption – just anti-[fill in the blank] apparently without realizing it (or caring it was so).  Then there were others who hated their characters for other reasons: one was by a social worker who I’m not sure even bothered to change the names of the customers she was trashing in a not-believably-fictitious piece of fiction.  Another was submitted without an author’s name, and with no contact information.  It was nearly a book, written from the perspective of a young male gigolo.  I’m still not sure it was intended for us, or if it was meant to be sent to a voyeuristic online zine.

What distinguished the best from the rest?  The best held some little part of the person who wrote it.  Even though we were insisting that fiction be fiction (and not essay, or true anecdote or poetry in narrative, paragraphed form), each of the ones that made it had something that was dug up from the writer’s psyche.  It was something they let slip past the internal editor, something that was slipped to the character’s drink, that didn’t even require a lot of digging but just called for a certain “letting go.”  It’s like how they say that each person who appears in a dream in some ways represents ourselves.  Their characters spoke those things they might not be willing to share otherwise.  And there was the golden nugget that kept their stories out of the titanium cutter.

There were so many submissions, and some so very good that just weren’t really fitting for this particular issue.  There was a lot of shredding tonight.  At one point, my big monster Titanium Cutter conked out on me, took a break, and spontaneously started shredding again about 40 minutes later.  And the pile left to shred was still bigger than my head.  Well, maybe not that big.  But, a sizable stack nonetheless, which still awaits in fact.  On that note, I shred away….

When To Inquire About Parentage

23 Jul

Pretty much never.

This is for those of you who are wondering, but especially for those of you who are not wondering, and who apparently do not know better (or who simply do not mind making inappropriate inquiries):

The gap in age between a woman’s children is not at all proportional to the appropriateness of asking the mother whether the kids have the same father.  

It’s as wrong to ask a woman with kids twenty years apart whether they have the same father as it is to ask a woman with kids 18 months apart.  I know.  I get asked it with surprising and alarming frequency, and (used to be shockingly) mostly from strangers I’ve just met.  What happened to the reins we used to have on inappropriateness?

My mother was recounting to me recently the time she was slapped as a kid when she referred to someone as “pregnant,” because the most one could say then was that someone was “in the family way.”  Not that I want to go back to a time when being direct resulted in corporal punishment, but shouldn’t adults at least have a better sense of boundaries, particularly with strangers?

As a bi-racial woman with multi-racial, multi-generational children, I guarantee you this same message applies to inquiries about the race of a person and their parents.  People don’t go around asking white kids where there parents are from (sooooo, are your parents from ….. um …. Ireland?), nor should they ask it just because a person’s skin is brown.

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