True Tales Of Literary Paranoia


This is actually a plea. Keep going. This is really a cry. Never stop.

If you feel yourself on the outside looking in, take heart. If you sense it will always be this way, that’s a lie. Even if you’ve already done the thing you want to do for the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell recommends, do it some more. Kill the voice that says stopping is reasonable. The thing in life you believe you’re best at and love doing more than anything else is worth bleeding over. The head and heart and stomach aches, consider each one a blessing.

Yes, that paragraph, yes yes, that’s it. By God, it is. But it is hard to write, I should admit. It’s like someone is wrestling my fingers away and typing something else. And though I don’t know if it’s true, I have to say the message reads like relief. “Give up,” it says, how simple would it be?

But then I remember my Bible. Where in Deuteronomy 4:29 it says if you seek God with your entire heart and soul you will find Him. Even Marnie Stern said, in a recent ad for Levi’s, “I really believe that if you work hard enough and long enough, something good comes out of it.” In short, if you pursue your life’s dream with your entire self, eventually – ostensibly before you die – you’ll reach it.

But you might not. In fact it’s more likely, as Woody Allen once said, “talent is luck,” and no matter how many years you spend writing that novel or painting those paintings or chiseling your core, you won’t make it. Sooner or later your dreams will die and you’ll settle into a life you didn’t want. If you’re lucky, you’ll find something somewhat like what you dreamed. But it won’t be what you wanted exactly, and “not quite” will be the closest you’ll ever come to becoming what you once envisioned.

I use the pronoun “you,” but I shouldn’t. This is about me, and if that seems self-centered, remember, I’m the one writing this. I get to choose what it’s about. Also, me is what I know. I wish I knew more about balancing equations or gold mining or betting on horses. But my specialty is solipsistic blog posts, and I’m afraid it will always be.

I’ll try to start at the beginning at least, but even finding that is difficult. It’s possible there isn’t one at all. Everything has blurred enough I don’t think, even as someone who considers himself an authority on myself, I could write the story in sequence.

I only know how I feel, isolated for reasons I don’t understand, unless I use conjecture to put everything back together. A jigsaw puzzle where I am sure, more and more, I am missing pieces. That is, my stories will never be published. My novels will never be accepted. And, most pressingly, my blog posts will never be freely shared. All because they’re being suppressed by an oligarchy I’ve never seen. Already I sound crazy, and I haven’t even started.

Like all problems, this begins with online dating. A few years ago I moved to Minneapolis and hardly knew anyone. I wasn’t on Twitter then, so I certainly didn’t know the internet literature scene. Tao Lin, that was about it. I had, a few years prior in Seattle, submitted a novel to agents and journals. And it had seemed, when I did, the publishing world was vast. Everyone had their own secret lighthouse on a desolate beach from which they represented authors or published important books or internet articles.

In that mindset, I began submitting in Minneapolis. I let go of the idea of my first published work being the next great American novel. I acquiesced to the normal path of moving up in increments. Everything was copasetic. One of the blogs in Minneapolis was accepting my posts. I had a fun, cool group of friends in Seattle. I’d have a fun, cool group in Minneapolis.

That was silly, I understand now, to expect that. I shouldn’t have been so disappointed when none of the people who ran the blog followed me on Twitter. Still, it disheartened me a great deal, for whatever pitiful reasons. But I kept going.

Then it got worse. After a string of rejected posts, I was told to stop submitting altogether.  So I grew a petty resentment. At the same time, because I was underemployed and slightly overweight with thinning hair, I online dated. And the first I met that summer was someone I told, over hamburgers, what happened with the local blog. How the writing there was either generic or vapid.

I was being unfair because I wanted to impress her. But to my surprise she agreed with me. She worked as a photographer under the editor of the blog for another online publication and she agreed. I loved that about her, and though neither of us were smitten, the afternoon went fine enough. She left on a friendly note. She even told me to follow her because that night she promised to live tweet an online date. But she never followed back, and when I wrote her that week saying it was silly of her not to – which was, in part, my ignorance to how social media worked – she replied by saying she couldn’t believe I would call her out like that. That was the beginning of my downward spiral.

The next step spin came a week later when I messaged another over the dating website about Rob Bell. She replied by scolding me for writing about Rob Bell in a joking – though condescending, yes – manner. She was friends with the photographer and everyone else in that group.

Then there were two getting their MFA at the University of Minnesota. One of them told me three weeks after our date she couldn’t see me again because I was still yearning. Those were her words. Then the other who slept over and had stories to tell about those in the local scene – one about ‘J. D.’ who, when she met him at a bar, acted like he was “fucking Jonathan Franzen.” After that she brought me to a poetry reading and introduced me to her friends and days later told me I was too eager to be in a relationship based on something I wrote, which she said in our texting correspondence she would never judge me for.

The one after that I went on a date with on a rooftop bar. She was part of a local collective connected with the same blog as above. Around the same time I went on a date with her I went on a date with someone who designed clothes and was also part of the collective. Later, I saw both of them at a party – run by two local writing websites – but I was only there to see the clothes designer. She had told me to come. But when I arrived she acted as if I didn’t exist because, I can now assume, she wanted to see if I was pathetic enough to not stay away. I also saw the one from the rooftop that night. I said hello, but she didn’t look at me, and I left feeling very sheepish.

After that was the blond novelist who messaged me over the dating website to submit to her online literary magazine. She said we should get a drink but on the night of she stood me up. On our date the next day she told me she didn’t want to have sex because, as she said, “we would have more than that.” We made out for our goodbye, then she went silent over the next weeks. So I wrote a story about “us” and sent it to her literary magazine.

Then her friend, I would later learn, who went to the same MFA program with the other two from before. She reached out to me over Twitter because she said I was great at promoting at her stuff and because she said she liked mine. We texted and she wrote that I was “clever, almost too clever,” then she sent me one of her stories and said I should one send back. Her story was good, so I sent her a congratulatory note, then I waited for her reply. That’s when she went silent.

And another who messaged me over Twitter to say we should meet. She thought, she said, she’d met everyone there was to know. Then she told me over drinks I hadn’t tried hard enough to be part of the group, which was her group. That night, she left the bar walking several paces ahead of me. I had refused to say that being part of her group was part of being a writer. What I couldn’t tell her, as I would have seemed even more low, is I had tried to be part of her group. I had reached out to several of them to discuss writing. I had talked to a few personally and said I was interested in freelance work. I could have told her those things, but I didn’t. I wanted to save my pride.

I have more stories, though it seems redundant to recall them. They all, I fear, have mounded into a mass forcing me out of an imaginary scene I believe is crucially important. But then I think, maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. All these horror stories didn’t make me a pariah. I would have been one anyway. I can think of three reasons why.

One is that I was, and continue to be, not good at writing. That’s why I’m not successful within the world of blog posts and short stories and autobiographical fiction. Or, better said, the reason why Marie Calloway doesn’t know who I am is because I’m not good (at writing). And though I often confront myself with this being the Occam’s Razor for my predicament, honestly, and I’m not trying to sound delusional, I don’t think that’s the case.

The second possibility is I haven’t put in the time. I haven’t worked hard enough to crack the shell of whatever nut protects the bylines and blog jobs and Twitter follows from everyone who matters. Maybe that’s it.

But there is one other conclusion, the one that drove to me to write this, the one that makes me believe no matter how many things I write or submit or query, it won’t matter. I don’t say the right things to the right people. So I’m an outsider, a creepy weirdo.

And that could be, but I have to be honest and say I’d rather be a creepy weirdo than be someone who dismisses people because I don’t believe them important.

So, should you keep pursuing your dream? I guess, or don’t. It doesn’t really matter. Just be sure to never be honest about anything. If you are, you’ll start ruining everything.