Recently, I've been reading more literary journals and zines and wanted to share some of them with you. I guess, since Hila and I wrote that post, I've been side-winding away from the design and style-driven community and looking for something with a little more meat. I’ve also been writing more and I wanted to find stuff that would spark and challenge me with that.
So, I’ve exposed myself to a whole bunch of writers, small presses, journals, e-zines and so forth and they're shared throughout this post and listed below. I have to say that it’s a happier place for me. But I also have noted in moving towards these places that so much of the talk is industry rather than craft. And I’ve come to understand that I don’t (and can’t) care less about industries.
The thing is this: When I think of myself as part of something large, full of flaws and doubt, I become unreasonably distracted and hopeless. This happens with the design blogosphere too: When I think of my design posts in the context of the endless churning of the sellout blog scene, I feel it’s pointless, materialistic, hollow. But when I focus on what I love and that those posts come from a sincere stance, one I believe in as an everyday art, it feels happy and natural to do them.
Likewise, making myself a slave to daily news about what publishing house has closed or merged, who won what awards, the struggles of writers, the struggles of booksellers... it all leaves me hopeless. It leaves me hopeless that I might be published. But also that I’d even want to be, that I’d have to go on some crusade of ego to make it all successful and would only become more and more indignant about not writing some Fifty Shades of Jane.
But when I sit alone in my apartment and look at my screen, focus on my words, I want to write. I have to write. So, I write, I get up, I come back and change things. I sleep on it overnight and change it more. I read it out loud and change it again. It's such a micro process, nothing to do with industry. Without judging myself to be good in a larger sense of literature, I work on my small and subjective craft, making things better in my own eyes, going over and over until I’m as close as I can get to capturing that thing I’m trying to capture.
And though I feel a need, a necessity, to tap into what the writing community is fired up about, especially as I want to be part of it, I know that those goings-on only serve to distract me. And I realize what a loner I am in my approach to most things and how a larger feeling of community can corrode my sense of usefulness.
When I was younger, I used to work in a darkroom. I would savour those afternoons and evenings of solitude. A darkroom has a church-like, ritualistic feeling. I didn’t go there to be Ansel. I didn’t go there to make photographs to be hung in galleries. I didn’t go to make photographs to be hung at all. I spent time exposing, dodging and burning, dipping fingers into chemicals, feeling the texture of paper weave in water as it was rinsed and weighing it down on racks to dry. I never stopped loving the moment a paper exposed to light is dropped into a bath of developer and an image begins to emerge, a ghost at first and then finally my imperfect image. And I’d make notes to cut a second here, to dodge the tree and burn the sky. I’d do it all again. And again. And again.
And that’s what being a writer is for me. It’s a process to retreat and settle down into, a craft to hone at its own pace. And the industry, and all industries, will swirl and tumble if you pay them any heed. And it’s always the death of something, the keening for times past, the over-analysis of how the greats got to be so great and what their over-and-over looked like. But I don’t really have deep feelings about it.
And I suppose being supremely unambitious about my writing helps with this. Not that I don’t want to be published. I do. Not that I don’t want people to read my work. I do. But that’s not what motivates me. When I see writers win awards, I don’t wish to be them. When I see a bestseller, I don’t think, by God some day. No. But even less than ambitious, I’ve never felt entitled. It’s a big deal for somebody to read something I’ve written. Just one person. For them to take time, or spend money. For them to give thought and sometimes even give voice to thoughts. It seems like a wonderful and intimate thing.
And the rest of it, the swirl of the industry, the idea of fans (heavens forbid) or a sense of time wasted working for my living. I’ve never felt that. I’ve worked a straight-job since I was 16 and have a hard time relating to people who think their creativity should be supported, just so. I don’t feel entitled to not having a job. I come home from work and go over what I wrote yesterday. I do it every night for weeks until I feel ready to send it into the world. And it doesn’t matter how, whether it’s in this blog or a journal, in an e-mail to a friend or a self-published book. And I don’t feel a sense of loss or shame or indignation about it, because I've had my time with the words.
But in a few small places I've found the kind of inspiration and sublime talent that serves to encourage and challenge rather than distract. And I find myself lingering with these at night, seeing this craft exemplified by these amazing writers and publishers:
THE SHOp a Magazine of Poetry
The Stinging Fly
The South Circular