Notes From a Desk Calendar (Underground)

So, for Christmas my father bought me a desk calendar titled “I Hate Everything,” which promised 365 days of something to hate. In other words, my dad wanted to tell me to go fuck myself. This calendar was clearly written by a psychopath:

Tuesday, May 29 2012. I hate that the air on a plane has to be recycled. I hate that the cool stuff is always on the other side of the plane. I hate that there aren’t enough pillows. I hate the fear that the airline lost my luggage–again. I hate that my carry-on never fits.

This calendar was written by Matthew DiBenedetti. He was born in a hollowed out sycamore tree in the wilds of Hoboken in 1883.

Wednesday, May 30 2012

I hate that I never discovered dinosaur bones.

As a lad of one, Matthew loved to learned about civil war trivia and decided that he was going to fight in it. He did, despite the war ending some twenty years before he died. His parents put on a show with a number of friends and staged the first re-enactment. It was awkward because a lot of the survivors were still, you know, alive, and they complained that they didn’t get the rape and torture of their families down right. Plus, General Sherman said they never got the fire quite right. More orange than red, he said.

Thursday, May 31 2012.

I hate that scary movies keep me up at night. I hate that when I pull the covers over my head, I feel safe. I hate knowing that is so not true.

When he turned three, Matthew was declared a genius by his schoolmarm. He was sent to a school for advanced students only for his new marm to discover that Matthew could neither read, nor write, nor speak English. Matthew’s files got mixed up with a man named Smitty, who was a genius. Smitty was sent to an “Institution” where he was promptly murdered with the other dullards of the time period. Smitty left blueprints for a waterless toilet but, alas, the math involved so complicated that no on could understand it.

Friday, June 1 2012

I hate When I run out of dryer sheets. I hate that all shirts aren’t wrinkle-free. I hate starched clothes.

At five, young Matthew discovered that his father was a local politicians, by the name of Krist Cristie, who had restarted the “Know Nothing Party.” Matthew took his father’s message to heart and burnt down several priests and hundreds of German immigrants. He stole their strudel. He did not enjoy the taste.

Saturday/Sunday, June 2/3 2012

I hate that I’m always hungry. I hate that SpaghettiOs are for kids. I hate that Saturday-morning cartoons aren’t nearly as good as they used to be.

At eight, Matthew wrote his first daily desk calendar titled “Things I Am Not Very Fond Of.” Each day had one item that Matthew was not fond of. He ran out of things that he was not fond of in March and the rest of the year simply reads: Beets. The calendar sold very well and became the official calendar of the Silver Party.

Monday, June 4 2012

I hate clotheslines. I hate that you can’t see them in the dark. I hate outdoor motion lights.

On Monday, June 4 2012, Matthew DiBenedetti sent me a cease and desist letter to stop making fun of him. Slander, he said. Slander! I told him that I would meet in in the center of town at low-noon for a duel. I’ll let you know what happens next week, gentle readers.

Most Famous Stories in the Portland Review

What is this? Helen. They want me to tell them more stories about famous foist stories in The Portland Review? Christ. I got a stomach problems. God. These kids don’t care. Fine. Fine!

Back in 1853 I was a clerk for a law firm on wall street, and since I’m a rather elderly guy today it might be hard for me to remember, but I did meet Herman Melville.

Herman!

Mell, as his friend’s preferred not to call him, was a janitor sweeping all up over my firm. He kept coming by and asking me questions.

“Hello good sir.”

“What can I do ya for?” I said, doing some very important paperwork.

“Were you asleep?”

“Just restin’ my eyes, kiddo. What’s up?”

I was up shitcrick. This no nothing party member janitor found me napping at work. Now I made a handsome salary in those days, which was about seventeen cents a month. God, could you live like a king on that. I used to eat nothing but ham, which is odd because I’m a chosen person, if you know what I mean. What? Oh come on Helen. I’m just kidding. My uncle was in the vaudeville. Zeppo Marx. You know. The Marx Brother that the Marx Brother’s all hated. Zeppo. Yeah yeah.

“Good sir, can you do me a favor,” this Herman kid asked. “Could you read this story of mine, and start a literary magazine and publish it?”

“Kid, I don’t know the foist thing about publishing. I’m not even sure I know how to read.”

And then he pulled a gun on me and the Lone Ranger came out with Hemingway riding him instead of a horse and I took a nosh from the onion on my belt, which was not the style at the time because onions had just gone out of style, and well. Blackmail is such an ugly word. That’s what Hermy said. Uh.

Helen. I need a Fresca. What? Sanka? Well, that’s not the same. Sigh. Whatever.

And that’s how Tin House got started. Now stop calling me.

 

 

The Empire Strikes Back: Lost Style

Here at the Portland Review we are always on the lookout for guest contributors. You can view our submission guidelines at http://portlandreview.submishmash.com/submit. So, without further ado, here’s Rebecca Marks.


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The Empire Strikes Back: Lost Style

 

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

Obsessive Lost fans have been galvanized with the new ABC series Once Upon A Time.  On the surface, this critically acclaimed series is simply an addictive addition to the Sunday night ABC line-up.  Upon further examination, however, and this program created by former Lost writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz is in fact a dangerous weapon for the rabid cult of Lost fanatics.  Remaining dormant since the series finale in 2010, the wide network of relentless Lost junkies has been reawakened with the premiere of this new series.

 

Non-Lost watchers remember the infamous September 22, 2004 the same way that Americans remember the day Elvis died – they can recall the exact time, place, and outfit they were wearing when their life became dominated by their Lost loving comrades.  As Oceanic Flight 815 plummeted to the ground, so did man’s ability to enter into a conversation about anything other than how Hurley managed to stay obese on a desert island, and how did Locke get out of that wheel chair?!  From the moment the Emmy award winning drama premiered, it became treacherous to enter into a conversation with any Lost viewer.  To the avid lostie, it was entirely irrelevant that friends, relatives, or complete strangers had absolutely no idea who Walt was, nor could they attempt to elucidate on his magical abilities.  If you had a pulse and a functioning sense of hearing, you became a viable sounding board for theories about the numbers and the origin of the black smoke monster.  Second only to Trekkies, there was no fan more annoying than the Lost fan.

On May 23, 2010, the non-Lost viewer was finally granted a much-deserved reprieve from the endless tirades on the true nature of The Others and the reasoning behind Desmond’s clairvoyant abilities.  After a gruelingly long final season of new mysteries and questions to be answered (read: to be obsessed over ad nauseam), Lost drew to a long-awaited close.  The non-Lost watcher was finally safe to peer through their curtains and brave the public sphere, for the years of torturous talk about frozen donkey wheels and the time space continuum had come to an end.  Raise your glass of McCutcheon Whiskey and praise Jacob – the world was safe again.

Once upon a time, in a living room near you, a new ABC series premiered.  Centered on the reworking of classic fairy tales, the new program promised mystery and an exploration of the timeless battle between good and evil.  Sound familiar?  Buckle your seatbelts and prepare for turbulence – for Lost has been found.

Innocent bystanders hoping for some new Sunday entertainment suddenly found themselves once again barraged by Lost discussion, this time centered on connections between the two shows.  An attempt to compliment Jennifer Goodwin’s performance would quickly morph into an animated “DID YOU SEE HER EATING THE APOLLO CANDY BAR THEY FOUND IN THE HATCH??? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN???”  The mythical Once characters are living in a cursed world with no happy endings, not unlike your friends and neighbors who desperately want to live in a world without constant references to the man in black and Sawyer’s hot bod.

As evidenced by the premiere of this new series that has absolutely nothing to do with Lost other than its creators, the army of Lost fanatics is not going anywhere.  I’m just waiting for the day when I’m aboard a particularly turbulent airplane and passengers start readying themselves for battles with The Others and identifying the soon-to-be leaders of our survivor pack.  And mark my words, I’ll be the first one zipped into my Dharma jumpsuit ready to fight off the polar bears.  Long Live Lost. 

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Rebecca Marks’ qualifications include a wicked underbite that yielded a pronounced lisp, a laundry list of allergies that necessitated years of shots and an addiction to antihistamine, a Jewish heritage that provides a boisterous family and an overflow of neuroses and sarcasm, and most expensively, a nearly completed Bachelor’s degree in English with research distinction and a double-minor in Jewish Studies and Creative Writing.  Her work will be appearing in an upcoming issue of The Inconsequential magazine.  Most importantly, she is full of passion for creative expression, the joy of storytelling, and compiling a lifetime of cringe-worthy, sometimes heart-wrenching lemons onto a much-needed glass of comic lemonade.

In Defense of Fame

Here at the Portland Review we are always on the lookout for guest contributors. You can view our submission guidelines at http://portlandreview.submishmash.com/submit. So, without further ado, here’s Rebecca Marks.


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In Defense of Fame

The time: Saturday night

The conundrum: SNL rerun

The solution: MTV’s brief interruption of their regularly scheduled America’s Best Pregnant Super Sweet Sixteen Jersey Shore Dweller to screen the 2009 film Fame. 

 

Critics have panned the remake of the 1980 film as an “apparent desire to appeal to the High School Musical generation.”  Robert Ebert referred to the film as a “PG-rated after school special”.  As a staunch supporter of the wonder that is the High School Musical franchise and the clean family fun of the PG rating, it is my civic duty to pull Fame up from the Rotten Tomatoes low rating trenches.  Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado1:

In Defense of Fame. 

1. One brief ado: what exactly is an ado?  Am I the only one who has never understood this phrase?  Ado within an ado: have I said “ado” so many times that it has started to sound nonsensical like when you say “egg” repeatedly?  Ado ado ado ado ado…Moving on!

 

The 2009 film about a New York City performing arts school teaches its viewers countless lessons on how to succeed in the entertainment industry.  Thank goodness for that after school special PG rating, or our children would have been robbed of the powerful messages communicated through Fame!

 

Powerful Message #1 – The Star Diet ()

In the dangerous age of photoshop and rampant eating disorders, Fame proves without a shadow of a doubt that A-List singers and actors are not naturally thin.  As evidenced by the film, entertainers have no time to actually sit down and consume a meal during their lunch breaks – they are far too busy bursting into perfectly choreographed song and dance routines!  When you’re rapping your heart out and clap-stomp dancing on tables, you clearly don’t have time for something as silly and inconsequential as food.  Mystery solved.  You’re welcome, feminism.

Powerful Message #2 – Screenwriting for Dummies ()

Do you aspire to be a successful screenwriter2, but don’t have the patience to flesh out a full story?  Are you superb at writing the beginning and the end, but none too keen on the middle?  Well have no fear!  Fame is a fantastic example of using montages to cut down on actual storytelling.  One can portray the students’ entire “Freshman Year” in the expanse of a handful of scenes!  Days of sweaty auditions can be consolidated into a matter of minutes!  Behold, the wonder of the montage – the cinema’s widely celebrated institution of professional laziness!  It’s not just for jaunty best-friends-laughing-and-trying-on-clothes scenes anymore!

2. More Fame-inspired advice for the aspiring screenwriter: sepia tone makes everything much more dramatic and Oscar-worthy.

Powerful Message #3 – Racism: A Thing of The Past 

Racism?  So. Totally. Dead.  In the fashion-forward age of a black President, typecasting the black actor into the part of the wrong-side-of-the-tracks-boy with a tragic background is clearly an ironic statement about the past of racial bias in the film industry.  That this young black actor, conveniently named Malik, has a mother working three jobs, a sister who was murdered, and a deadbeat dad who abandoned him is simply a reclaiming of racial stereotypes to remove their power.  And seriously, that young black female actress can belt a ballad better than anyone else in the film, proving my hypothesis that one must be a sassy black woman to be a fantastic singer.  Then there’s the portly African-American teacher with teeny glasses and the wisdom of the ages, spouting off thought gems such as “physically inhabit your own body” in a meaningful tone.  After all, you wouldn’t expect to find a wise, fatherly character who wasn’t black, would you?  If you think that Fame perpetuates traditional racist stereotypes, then something is wrong with you, my politically incorrect friend.  As evidenced by the film’s whopping THREE central black characters, racism in the film industry is a thing of the past.

Powerful Message #4 – Stop Thinking Before You Speak

If there is one thing that everyone needs to work on, it is their iron-clad brain to mouth filters.  As evidenced by our society’s rampant bullying and sexting, people today definitely over-analyze every last word that comes out of their mouth.  The film’s advice to “go with the first thing that pops in your head” and “learn not to be embarrassed” is thus invaluable for people worldwide.  If I’ve learned one thing from watching reality television, it is that today’s youth are far too introverted and concerned with their reputation.  Thank you Fame, for finally telling  children and adults alike to loosen up and let their freak flags fly.  Adios, dangerous days of thinking before you talk, and hello to the uninhibited fabulous future!

Powerful Message #5 – Don’t Be a Fool, Drop Out Of School

Listen closely children, for this is the most important message to glean from Fame.  If you have a dream, you must drop out of school immediately to pursue said dream.  Think of the ambitious teenybopper in the film who quit high school months before graduation to pursue her career on Sesame Street.  Do you think she regretted swapping out her high school diploma for her feathered pals?  Of course not!  I just know that if I had abandoned formal schooling in the sixth grade to move to the Big Apple and procure a position as a Saturday Night Live writer, I would be a comedy legend at this point.  Darn my parents and their conservative diploma-obsessed agenda!

So in conclusion: dance, don’t eat.  When in doubt, montage it out.  Racism is nothing but a disturbing memory.  Say whatever the hell pops into your head.  And most importantly, school is for chumps – drop out immediately.  Follow this handy five-step guide, and you’ll be a STAR in no time.

Fame, thank you again for all you have taught us.  As a humble token of my appreciation, I hereby elevate you from your one-star rating to a solid one and a half.  You deserve it!

P.S. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that the aspiring writer in me hasn’t stopped singing “you’re gonna remember my name” for the past several days.  Remember my name you will, world.  If not for my writing, then for my [self] Grammy-nominated singing.  And of course for my legendary dance moves, which have improved substantially now that I’ve learned to expel saliva onto the ground before sashaying into my interpretive dancing.  A million thank you’s, Fame!

 

Official trailer: 

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Rebecca Marks’ qualifications include a wicked underbite that yielded a pronounced lisp, a laundry list of allergies that necessitated years of shots and an addiction to antihistamine, a Jewish heritage that provides a boisterous family and an overflow of neuroses and sarcasm, and most expensively, a nearly completed Bachelor’s degree in English with research distinction and a double-minor in Jewish Studies and Creative Writing.  Her work will be appearing in an upcoming issue of The Inconsequential magazine.  Most importantly, she is full of passion for creative expression, the joy of storytelling, and compiling a lifetime of cringe-worthy, sometimes heart-wrenching lemons onto a much-needed glass of comic lemonade.

 

Dear All Seventeen of the Theportlandreview.com’s Readers

Dear All Seventeen of the Theportlandreview.com’s Readers,

Unfortunabadly, we are taking a break this week. We’ll be back next. Probably. In the meantime you should probably do whatever it is you do on the internet.

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(Did you know that Franken Berry cereal used to have a dye in it that the body couldn’t break down so your stool turned pink and that the pink stool syndrome was called Franken Berry Stool? Well. You probably knew that.)

Sincerely,

Your friends enemies at the Portlandreview.something or other.

You and Me, Babe–Chuck Barris

Here at the Portland Review we are always on the lookout for guest contributors. You can view our submission guidelines at http://portlandreview.submishmash.com/submit. So, without further ado, here’s Robert Hershorn.

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For Chuck Barris, the early 1970s must have seemed an appropriate, if not exactly opportune, time to finally Write That Novel.  His career was hitting a rough spot after the salad days of the ‘60s, when he nearly single-handedly revitalized the television game show format.  The Newlywed Game, the last of his production company’s signature shows, had been dropped from network rotation.  The Gong Show was still a few years off, and Barris had a wife and young daughter to clothe and feed.  Why not put out a quickie love story and let the chips fall where they may?

You and Me, Babe seems to fit the bill; it is, at its core, about two people who are hopelessly in love with each other.  But it’s far from conventional, as its 350 some-odd pages also support a bildungsroman, a character study, a road saga, a barely-disguised memoir, and (most intriguingly) a tortured confessional.  The reader certainly isn’t overcome with blubbering sobs or whoops of joy at the novel’s conclusion, though a wistful sigh would perhaps be in order.

Tommy Christian, the Barris alter ego, is the son of a dreary dentist in Queens.   At some point during his formative years, he encounters his sister’s friend Samantha Jane Wilkerson snooping through his bedroom.  The dashing Tommy duly informs her to get her fat ass the hell out of his sanctum sanctorum, totally blind to the obvious crush she has on him.  His reprobate interest is piqued three years later, when a much hotter Sammy makes an appearance at his sister’s wedding, and his mother reminds him that the young Ms. Wilkerson stands to inherit one of the largest fortunes in the United States.

We’re in the cute love story phase at this point, as Tommy starts a sort of half-hearted pursuit of Sammy that turns more serious when he realizes that he stands a good shot of winning her hand.  The two are wed over the protestations of Sammy’s scandalized parents, and they begin an extended honeymoon across the US and Europe, as Tommy pursues various career goals such as selling cuing machines to television studios and writing the Great American Novel.  Tommy and Sammy provide each other encouragement, love, and emotional support, and the two embark upon their marriage as a kind of great adventure.  The reader, of course, sits around and waits for someone to croak.

During the first three-quarters of You and Me, Babe, it’s easy to get the notion that Sammy’s goose is cooked.  Things are too perfect between the lovebirds; disaster must surely be waiting to strike.  Since Tommy is the one doing the narrating, it’s naturally Sammy who’s marked for death.  One could be forgiven for thinking she exists only to be exterminated, sweating through the sheets of her hospice bed as the tumors take their grisly toll, but not before she teaches Tommy what love really means.  Barris’ narration would certainly seem to support this notion.  He humanizes his leading lady, but he also can’t help holding her up as a paragon, and he very often writes of her ruefully, as something that has been irretrievably lost.  And since Barris is looking for a surefire hit with his dime store romance, that’s the way things have to go, right?

Tommy does lose Sammy, but Barris has a much more mundane fate in store for him than that of the early widower.  Our beat-the-odds love story turns stale, and becomes a particularly meticulous version of another old standby: the warts-and-all documentation of a disintegrating marriage.  Things just stop working between Tommy and Sammy; money becomes an issue, and the two find that they can no longer relate to each other, despite still being very much in love.

The touches of humor Barris employed earlier in the novel mostly vanish, as youth in bloom is replaced by drifting inertia, broken at times only by a desperate grasping for a bygone past or a sad, futile attempt at new thrills.  The author is extremely close to his protagonist, and the last part of the book reads as an accounting of the bad end of Barris’ own married life.  There are quarrels, reconciliations, fleeting moments of happiness, vicious blow-ups.  Barris does away with much of his narrative structure, seemingly concerned only with getting everything down for posterity.

One could accuse Barris of pulling a bait-and-switch, luring the reader in with a lightly quirky and warmhearted love story before laying down his litany of failure and remorse.   But the novel itself is really only a jumping-off point.  Barris, beyond weaving a good yarn or trying out a new angle to make some quick cash, is really concerned with trying to understand all that had happened to him by the time he was in his early forties.  Why did his parents get sick and die?  Why did his friends grow up and disappoint him, and then also die?  Why has he become successful beyond imagining while becoming desperately unhappy at the same time? Why aren’t things as simple as they used to be?  It is in this context that the more plaintive passages from earlier in the novel start to make sense.  Barris is in mourning after all, for his marriage and for the person he was at twenty, twenty-four, twenty-six.

These are sad things to dwell on, and tenacious problems to take on.  The edition of this novel that I own is billed as The New You and Me, Babe, with apparent revisions and expansions made by Barris sometime in the mid-2000s.  The “New” features of the novel are touted jauntily on the book’s cover, but it seems troubling that Barris would want to go back over such harsh territory, even with the distance of thirty years.  Troubling, perhaps, but not all that surprising: the demons Barris dragged out in You and Me, Babe will be with him for a lifetime.   Perhaps it’s only right that he stop in on them every once in a while, pin them down, and try to get some answers.

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When Robert Hershorn isn’t writing for a DC-based news wire, he’s thinking up film reviews or else drafting fake correspondence and oral histories.

The Dream of Publication

Many different people will tell you many different things about what they believe to be the cardinal rule of small press submission (and for that matter literary submission in general).  Some say it’s about having a snappy cover letter.  Some will tell you that, above all else, you need to read the magazine ahead of time and get a feel for what kind of material it publishes.  Some maintain that you need to be a “good” “writer,” whatever the hell that means.  And some think that simply being a writer helps, which we certainly agree with.  But above all else, we think the secret of publication comes down to four simple letters” DBAD.  Don’t Be a Dick.

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Don't be this guy.

To be fair, this is a somewhat difficult rule to follow because it’s much more long-term oriented than most of us would really like to bother with.  And I guess that, in order to segue properly into the DBAD rule, we need to first explore TDOP–The Dream of Publication.  (Also, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, this post will include an awful lot of acronyms.)

TDOP begins quite simply: the fledgling writer finishes off a story/poem/essay, and believes that, for all intents and purposes, it is flawless.  Note here that the fledgling writer is clever enough not to say that her story is perfect “for all intensive purposes,” but is still green enough to believe in the strange fever that descends upon her for the 24 hours immediately after a story/poem/essay’s completion, in which its problems will be rendered invisible and its strong points will seem clearly indicative of genius.  With trembling fingers and a rime of salt quickly drying on her upper lip, the fledgling writer sends her perfect story/poem/essay off to one literary magazine, the one whose pages she has dreamed of appearing within for months if not years.

The fledgling writer does not need to submit her perfect story/poem/essay–let’s call it “The Weight of the Moon, the White of Her Teeth,” or “WOMWOT” for short–to more than one place, because it is, after all, perfect.  The perfect magazine will read it and call up the fledgling writer that very day, saying that it has called its fancy New York publishing friends and that the fledgling writer now has the option of accepting a $500,000 novel option, with the strong possibility of a film adaptation following soon after.  The very words that the fledgling writer composed with clammy hands on a refurbished MacBook will fill the luscious mouth of Jeff Goldblum–not Jeff Goldblum now but delicious, halo-haired Fly-era Goldblum, because this is a fantasy and in the fantasies of fledgling writers Jeff Goldblum can be whatever fucking age you want, since none of the rest is plausible, either.

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The Fledgling Writer, Reenacted

And, just as the hopeful young Jeff Goldblum of The Fly steps too soon into his not-yet-fully-tested Telepod and accidentally splices his genes with those of a housefly, leading to a painful period of confusion, aggressive behavior, despair, destroyed relationships, and bodily disintegration, so too the fledgling writer is about to see TDOP’s dark side: The Truth About Publication (TAP).

(The Portland Review would take this time to mention that David Cronenberg’s The Fly is not just a damn near flawless horror movie but is also a remarkably good tool for explaining nearly every phenomenon of adult life, from puberty to existential crises brought on by grad school to the experience of buying car insurance.)

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The Fledgling Writer, 6 months after her glorious journey begins.

First of all, the hard truth is this: you will never write something that is perfect.  Never, ever, ever, ever.  We’re not saying this because we don’t believe in you, but because no one ever does.  Any published author who says they came up with that story or poem or novel you love with insignificant to no editing is almost certainly lying.  Writing is hard not just because you have to sit down in front of a computer/typewriter/legal pad/mud paddy and stick and somehow express the nebulous concepts floating around in your mind, but because, after your first crack at doing so, you have to go away for a while, drink a cup of coffee (or Tab, or Sanka, or Flavor Aid), do whatever it is that helps you relax (go to a whorehouse, a zoo, a lecture on geology, a movie theater), and then wander back to your writing and look at it objectively.  Then yohave to do that over and over and over again.

There is no quick answer. You will be perpetually flawed.  You will grow old, and as the birthdays pass you by you will realize that you are speeding further and further away from prodigy territory, the time in your writing life when you are cute and cuddly and so preternaturally brilliant it just makes people’s teeth hurt.  Here’s the thing: some people manage to get very famous very young and do impossibly good work before they are old enough to rent a car, but that probably won’t be you.  And even for those people, the secret is hard work and an immunity to self-loathing even more profound than whatever raw talent they possess.  Don’t waste your time envying them.  Just get back to your goddamn work.

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You will also never be able to afford this car.

But–and there is a but–all of this is good news.  Sure, you want money. You all want money.  We at the Portland Review, and I, Sarah Marshall–of 1871 Park Avenue, Portland, Oregon, in case you were wondering where you could send any correspondence and possibly checks–want money.  That will continue to be a problem for most of us for all of our lives.  But if you take a group of people united in their creative pursuits–in your case and our case, a group of writers–all of whom are constantly losing just a little bit of hair each month because of anxiety about how they will pay for rent/coffee/tuition/internet/Wonderbread, something wonderful happens: suddenly, you have a community.

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A photo of the author of this post, Sarah Marshall (aka The Fledgling Writer, 6 years later), who luckily has a hell of a lot of hair. NOTE: the cup on display in this picture comes from Columbia River Coffee Roaster in Astoria, Oregon, an excellent place to hang out and work on your hundreds of revisions once you've put TDOP to bed. (Also note the look of terror in her eyes. She is looking at her future, and she sees a community college in Beeville, Texas.)

One of the primary joys of being a writer comes from the people you meet and the situations you get in because of your strange and unprofitable path through life.  If you go to an MFA program–which the Portland Review highly recommends–then you have an even greater chance of meeting people who are perpetually stressed, inspired, inspiring, rapturous, suicidal, fascinating, and just a little bit (okay, sometimes a lot bit) pretentious.  If you don’t go back to school–because of lack of time or money or convenience; just don’t go because you think “writing can’t be taught,” because that’s bullshit–you can still go to readings and festivals and house parties and fundraisers or just sit on the back of a city bus until an attractive person gets on and starts reading Richard Yates’ The Easter Parade, and you find a convenient time to strike up a conversation with them.

And all the while, you keep on writing.  You entertain even the most ridiculous-sounding ideas, because you won’t know what works until you try it on for size–stories are like jumpsuits that way.  (See what I just did?  I tried on that metaphor.  It may or may not have been awful.  I don’t really care.)  You become a slut for genres–poetry, prose poetry, flash fiction, novellas, novels, science fiction, romance novels, belles-lettres, journalism, humor, whatever.  You try things you’re convinced you’ll be bad at, just to prove to yourself you won’t be.  You submit to every goddamn scum-sucking black hole of a literary magazine you can find (including this one!), and then branch out even further.  You learn to love the act of writing, and not your ideas of the spoils it will bring you.  You learn the gift of seeing the world through a writer’s eyes: inquisitively, appreciatively, and tirelessly.  You learn the secret of oatmeal, which can fill you up for six hours at a cost of thirty cents.  You slowly build a resume, build a career.  And if your dreamed-of success finally comes to you–that novel, that prestigious prize, that film adaptation starring the doughy Jeff Goldblum of 2012–you welcome it with open arms and know that the last few years or decades have taught you more and brought you faster friends and better stories than success ever could.

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Actually, Jeff Goldblum is looking pretty good these days.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that the fledgling writer, upon submitting her fledgling “perfect” piece to one perfect magazine, will probably be rejected.  And that this may send her into a tailspin, but that it shouldn’t.  Self-doubt is useful to an extent,  but self-loathing is a waste of time, and it’s not the kind of emotion that a rejection should engender.  One of your duties as a writer is to not just get used to rejections but to thrive on them.  For the most part, you will receive rejections because your piece isn’t quite right for the publication you submitted it to, or because, though it is very good, the competition is so goddamn stiff that acceptance was well-nigh impossible.  Sometimes a story will be rejected because it’s pretty good or even great but whoever read it can tell that it’s not quite ready to make its foray out into the world, and often you’ll be told this in your rejection letter.  Often the subjective tastes of the editor–or reader–will impact your submission as well, and this may seem unfair, but–in the immortal words of the Dread Pirate Roberts–life isn’t fair, and anyone who says differently is selling something.

We really have no reason for including this picture, but aren't you glad it's here?

So get used to rejection, because it will be your most constant companion in your life as writer.  It’s not personal.  If you maintain a healthy attitude about it–and really, you don’t have a choice–it can make you a stronger writer and a stronger person.  Conversely, if you act immaturely about it, you will merely violate the cardinal rule of publishing.  That’s right: DBAD.

This morning, Portland Review Editor Sarah Marshall (i.e. me) woke, yawned, stretched, poured herself a cup of subpar coffee and put the kettle on to boil water for her oatmeal, and went to check her email.  She–I, whatever–should note here that the standard rejection letter that the Portland Review uses goes as follows:

“Writing is like hunting. There are brutally cold afternoons with nothing in sight, only the wind and your breaking heart. Then the moment when you bag something big. The entire process is beyond intoxicating.” 
— Kate Braverman 

Dear [WRITER’S NAME]
Thank you for sending us “Title “. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not for us. 

Sincerely, 
[STAFF MEMBER’S NAME]
The Portland Review 

In case you haven’t racked up literally hundreds of rejection letters so far (and, trust me, I have, and I’ve had my share of hurt feelings about it besides), you should know that this is pretty standard both in length and sentiment.  We’d like to send out a personal rejection to every writer whose work isn’t right for the magazine, but we have a full-time staff of three people and have to send out about thirty or forty rejections a day.  If we were to write personal notes to everyone, we would pretty much sacrifice the time we need for our writing, our school, and our other jobs.  Also, unless you’re submitting to a few very high-profile magazines, you should know that this kind of arrangement re: staff and the time they have is pretty much standard.  We are, in the words of Bilbo Baggins, butter spread over too much toast.  We love our jobs at the Review, we love that we get to read your work and sometimes publish it, and we love that we get to play a small role in the fabulous literary community that’s flourishing in this particular moment of the digital age.  And this is another deviation from TDOP: the people who read your submissions are only human.  We wish we weren’t, but we are.  And so we send out form letters, just like nearly every other magazine of our size and resources.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s the way things are.

Here is a picture of the inside of my brain.

Which brings us to what I found in my inbox this morning, which was sent as a response to our standard rejection letter, and which read:

Wonderfully generic response. Perhaps the copy and paste quote aspect to your refusals might strict some as pathetic. Thanks for your words. 

I’m not going to reveal the name of this author–because that WOULD violate the DBAD rule, which also applies to small press publishers–so I’m just going to tell you: don’t do this.  Ever.  EVER.  Even if you feel you’ve been wronged, even if the rejection seems to come out of left field, even if, for whatever reason, you had put all your creative eggs in this particular basket.  I can tell you right now that we will never publish anything by this submitter, unless it’s of utterly unimpeachable brilliance (a possibility that “stricts” me as somewhat impossible).  The person who wrote this missive is not just rude, but hostile to the small press community in general, and apparently sees it only as a delivery system for their own career advancement.  This kind of attitude leads to dickishness, but it is also self-defeating and limiting.  Don’t allow yourself to go down this path.  It will only lead to unpleasantness for everyone involved, and it will only allow you to continue to be a baby when you should take every possible opportunity to grow.

This is hardly the first response of this kind that we’ve received, and it certainly won’t be the last.  But I’ll be leaving my post as editor soon, and it seems imperative that I give you some parting words, and above all the other things I’ve learned about writing and being a human being, this lesson seems the most important: Don’t Be a Dick.  It’s the one piece of conventional wisdom that will never fail you.