Website of the Year, 1997

They tell you to write every day, to create some short piece of fiction scribbled down on a notepad during your lunch break, but you just won’t do it. Your writing must carry weight and value. It should be passed around circles of peers and professionals in hushed whispers; doors shut behind the friend who walked briskly into the office down the hall. You cannot compose a compendium of half-thought ideas to be released as the rarities, the B-sides, in paperback by the Penguin Group a hundred years after your death. You must write the thing. It cannot be shallow and it cannot be stress-free. It should inspire college courses that tell young women and men to sit in a circle and discuss literature and religion and sexuality and find every reference to obscure song lyrics that play into the piece in ways only known to the author. The problem is, you are twenty-four years old and have all of the time and none of the patience.

You do not want to be published in the Southern Literary Review or the Poets’ Journal of the Carolinas or the 30 Greatest Stories Written By Authors Under 30 because those imply barriers and limitations that do not speak well of you and your writing, because if you moved a few states north or sat and grew a few years older your writing would be reviewed under more legitimate scrutiny. You could start by going to the top and submitting to the New Yorker, but considering even you don’t read the New Yorker you wonder if their acceptance would mean or lead to anything. You want the work to simply exist, to have existed within the past ten years, to echo in the public consciousness like a German fairy tale but with all the proper copyrights that get you paid. The creation is enjoyable but it is not the point. The point is the body of work. The separate bibliography page on a well-maintained Wikipedia entry. The “Hey, I’m glad you liked it,” and the sense of accomplishment gained from hard work. You won’t start seriously, though, because if you want to make anything valuable it will require hundreds of hours in the library and at least hundreds of days without new material.

You’re starting to miss the sense of fulfillment you received for bad little Xanga ditties, though. When you remove ninety-five percent of your friends from Facebook and when you sit for hours in your apartment with no roommate, speaking to no one but yourself and the occasional drive-through attendant, and when you put all your eggs in one basket which snaps its bottom straws at the lightest touch you are in an isolation chamber. The desire to remove one’s self is nonexistent and the slightest reminder of the outside world (a package in the mail, a question from a stranger, a comment on a message board) feels intruding. You can play big for appearances, you can turn introversion into extroversion when leadership is needed, but what was your normal life is no longer your normal life. You are not the example any more.

Rather, you are the name in the year book, the one without a picture because you had the audacity to think you looked decent enough without digital touch-ups, the one students in the old city sit around repeating the name for over and over again, coming up with nothing and shrugging. Did you even go to the school with them? You are the formless idea of self, and when form is maintained you represent the unknown, the stranger, the other, the potential drug dealer and the potential murderer and the potential rapist because you are what they expect all others to be. You are the incongruity of peaceful meeting, and yet you were once the congruity of meetings themselves. You have eliminated want because of these supernatural theories and here you are, and you are in nature, and you should be alright with that.

The Max G. Creech Insurance Agency and are successful enough to provide for families but they are not relevant to culture and they are not taught in college courses. They are means to ends. They are big enough to be bought out for six figures and little enough to be shuttered at the whim of seven figures. They exist as memorabilia hanging in the barn from a previous time when you did go out, you did see others, you did shake hands firmly and meant what you said. Both of them provided for those outside of the family, the patrons, but they did and will not survive the sands of time. They are the retail shoe salesmen of the higher class. All that is left is the memory of some thing that satisfied once, you’re sure of it, but there is no fame and fortune and well-maintained Wikipedia entry, and everyone who loved it is local and published in the Southern Literary Review. You are Southern, and then you go North and you are an East Coast-er, and then you go West and you are an American, and you hate the whole notion of it because you are the best in the world and only that sounds large enough to make you content.

You can’t for the life of you construct some overarching narrative of time and direct 2013 and 2014 into non-descriptive “good” and “bad” boxes because you know you are not the center of the universe and the protagonist of a story, but you also cannot excise free will and spend another weekend crumpled to the floor of the living room, whispering ugly nothings to yourself and stopping every once in a while, worried that the downstairs neighbors’ shuffling meant that they might have overheard. You will be writing something, not a story or a short story or a play or a poem but a noncommittal something, about the broadcast on WGN-TV in 1987 (a constructed narrative for an unconstructed time) and you can’t guarantee it will appear on your blog, but it will have to if the New Yorker and even the Southern Literary Review reject the piece. You are under the ridiculous impression that all will work out with sudden, rare explosions of unmitigated passion.


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