Like you are, I imagine, I'm angry this week at the news that the Supreme Court is preparing to do what we all feared, and take women's rights away from them in the name of letting states dictate how to treat their citizens. (The ostensible reason; this is really about hating women.)
I'm also feeling that sickening fear of knowing things are going to change, and that they're going to change for the worse. Alito is lying in his draft opinion that 'the [1973 Roe v. Wade] decision has had damaging consequences.' Abortion access makes our world more equal, and thus more free, and thus more beautiful. I haven't wanted to imagine a world where that beauty and freedom are taken away from us, and now I have to.
For someone like me who'll never personally need abortion services, this is the hardest part: waking up once again to my country's animosity toward so many of us. (Well, 59 percent of us in this instance.) What helps is remembering that our government, in whatever form it takes, is—I still believe—of us, by us, and for us. This week, I'm thinking of you all, finding solidarity in our numbers, and strength in our connection.
1. Beth Sullivan, Web Designer
Everything you’re looking at right now we owe to her. Beth is a friend from our undergraduate days together at Pitt. We took Teen Cinema together, and Russian Film History. After college, she set up her own shop as a web designer, and now she’s so well set up that her website is a total flex. (She’s not currently taking new clients.) Beth in her talents solved all my newsletter coding problems (which were many). She made Shenny’s beautiful banner, which she nailed on the first attempt, after I gave her some scattered thoughts on femininity and Kids in the Hall. Here’s how she pitched it: ‘The idea shows a mark left on a brocaded wall from removing a painting. It seems like the painting created a stain, but the rest of the wall has darkened with age; the stain is actually the purest part. (Contemplating what constitutes a stain feels relevant to your ethos.)’ I can’t think of anything more relevant to my ethos. Beth, thank you for all you’ve done. I couldn’t launch this newsletter without endorsing everything you are.
Are you familiar? My new favorite in the Wordle-esque game craze is this little tormenter Beth introduced me to. The idea is as simple as the game is not: Guess The Word. Semantle runs on an AI language engine that quantifies the similarity between your guess and The Word. So ‘gorgeous’ gets you a 10.34 score, say, where you want a 100.0. Playing can feel like a swamp you fight your whole body through and only end up moving an inch. Then on a whim, you guess ‘achievement’ and up pops a green progress bar that shows you’re only 7 words away from the word. (In the game below, ‘agreement’ was my Totally Great Guess that ended up being cold.) I hated Semantle at first, but the moment I saw that green progress bar, I was hooked. Why play? I’m gonna cite Barthes yet again, who wished
for a great 'pedagogy' of nuance in the classroom: nuance is one of the linguistic tools of nonarrogance, of nonintolerance: civic imperative to teach nuances (but I suppose great resistance from kids), to make up nuance exercises; one of these exercises: inventory of micronetworks of words that are very similar but a tiny bit different.
Is Semantle our best civic tool to teach tolerance? My average play is 67 guesses. Once, I got it in 4. I felt like a prince that day.
(Like everyone but the GOP, Semantle was looking for 'equality'.)
On Selling My Work
Last week in my workshop, I taught students how to submit their essays to journals and how to pitch essay ideas to magazines. The latter can feel like occult stuff—finding not only the specific editor at a magazine to pitch to, but figuring out how to email them, and then what to say to make them want to buy your idea. [See p.s. below.] I like writing for magazines, mostly for the fun struggle of putting a reported piece together, but also (to be honest) for the money and reach. Magazines are read. And they have money. Journals are read, too, but talking about this with my class, I cautioned that a lot of them still pay you in copies of the issue, and they laughed.
They laughed, but consider the historical function of the journal as a periodical. Literary journals are the peer-reviewed publications for us working on creative writing in the academy. In other academic fields, you’d publish your paper on, say, topological integer additive set-sequential graphs, and get copies of the issue, a line on your CV, and glory, maybe. There’s no commercial market for sociology studies, or whatever papers they publish over in business schools, but there is a commercial market for creative writing—a lucrative one for a select few. As a tenured professor, I’m paid a salary to (among other things) write creatively for a living, which has always made the money I earn from publishing feel ancillary to the writing itself.
There’s my privilege talking, I know, given how tenured professorships exist only for a select few these days. Another downside of the journal model: you write for your peers. I often feel I have an audience in mind who thinks about writing the way I think about it, and I know that many people need writing for different reasons. I was reminded of this last month when I went with Jenny on her annual trip to watch March Madness with our dad, and after three days of asking them lots of questions of the Why that? variety, Dad said ‘You should write an essay about this.’
What I heard, given what those words mean to me: NCAA basketball presents you with complex ideas to unpack in the active writing process. And I balked: ‘Yeah I don’t think so.’
What I soon realized Dad’s words meant to him: I’d like to read your thoughts and feelings on this weekend, and see them framed inside a story.
When I got home, I spent a couple hours putting down some notes toward the essay I might try to sell next year, around March Madness. Dad texted a couple hours after I posted it: ‘I read your essay, very good. Will you tweak it?’
I will tweak it. Publishing in journals for free has always felt like being good at school, but publishing in magazines feels like speaking up inside a loud, crowded room. If you’ve been in a room with me, you know my voice often fails to project. The room of publishing is loud and crowded, but these days I’m getting an urge to step toward the center of everyone.
p.s.: If you want to learn more about pitching, I recommend this tweet thread, the resources at studyhall.xyz, and any classes you can take with Caroline Shannon Karasik, who taught me like 80 percent of what I know.
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