Monday, February 23, 2015

Fuck-You Letters and Confessions

Letters written in the heat of a reflexive, Oh, yeah? but not sent, as a result of Better-sit-on-it-for-a-while constraints define your being.

There have been, as you well know, many such letters written, some of them a scant two words and an exclamation point, others approximating the length of a short story.  Over the years, many of these have been sent, documenting  the precarious ratio of your reflexive nature against the the possibility of your learning something from the actual contents of the letters.

The passion behind the urge to write letters runs in close parallel to your need to set story and essay in motion' both are stirrings of the voice you were first barely able to define, then learn to trust as a guiding force that defines how you would make your way through the deserts, forests, and clutter of life.

There is little to be learned from a fuck-you! letter other than the memory of your defensive belief of having believed you were right in a specific matter.  But there it is, your defensiveness a pigeon coming back, not to roost but to relieve itself on your defensive form.  There you are for yourself to see, smeared with pigeon poop, in your defensiveness.

One letter, which you wrote but did not mail, composed when you were still in your second decade, was addressed to the editor of a magazine to whom you had submitted many stories.  "I may be funny,"  you wrote in response to a note she'd sent you,along with a check for one of the stories she accepted, "but I am damned serious about wanting to produce stories for your magazine.  To your twenty-something-year-old credit, you responded instead, "Thank you for taking your time to save me a good deal of mine."

Given the number of fuck-you letters you've written and sent, this fuck-you letter, written and not sent, taken side-by-side with the thank-you letter you wrote and did send could well have been a high water mark in your learning process.

The editor had purchased one or two of your stories for what at the time were called true confession magazines, except that they were not your confessions of things you'd done so much as imaginary transgressions of young women, concocted by you.  You were serious about writing them because they were all first-person.  Once again, I found myself unable to tell Eric, "No; not until we're married," and once again, I knew, in spite of all his assurances that we would marry, as soon as he turned eighteen, marriage was the last thing on his mind.

You were serious about wanting to learn into muscle memory the ways of first-person accounts of women and men characters who were real enough but not you.  As such things go, you were aware how often your dialogue and narrative observations led to humorous results.  

So was the editor, who also did the math for you, telling you how the five cents per word she paid you would have been all right if she'd been purchasing all the stories you sent her as she indeed purchased most of the stories from most of her regular contributors.  But when you factored the number of rejections against the scant few acceptances, you were in fact writing for less than a penny a word.  She may have even used the term "Pyrrhic victory" in reference to the enclosed check.

So much to be learned.  For instance, a mere confession is not enough, for the same reasons a fuck-you letter is not enough; you have to stay with both when they arrive--and the intervening years between the then of your confessions and fuck-you letters and the now of them have not changed much.  You still have to stay with both of them to discover what they really mean, and what your next step will be in each case.

The goal is not revenge, which is to say getting your own face back.  The goal is understanding how to avoid telling the same story over and over again.  The goal is understanding where and how to find the newness of the next.

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