Dear Mr. Paulo Coelho,
I read your tweet yesterday that claimed that there are two hindrances to happiness, ‘hanging onto the past’ and ‘judging others,’ and, after consuming this information I felt deeply depressed, because I do both. At the time I was on the bus thumbing through my smartphone, and the bus was horribly crowded because the L-line wasn’t working, and the weather was terrible, so everyone who normally takes the subway was waiting for the crosstown M14 bus, which made every stop take forever, and people were pushing to get on and off, and yelling “Excuse Me!” in each other’s ears, and packing the rest of us close together, and the guy standing to my right smelled like onions, and the lady to my left was enormous and taking up enough space for three people, and also breathing really loudly like an asthmatic, but probably doing that just because she’s so out of shape, and I hated them both because the sight of them paraded how revolting most people are, which I almost immediately realized was a severe form of judgment, and this only made me more depressed.
Later, when I was back home, I thought about the quote some more. It makes me mad that you put letting go of one’s past on your list, not because I disagree with you, but because you’re saying it like it’s an item on a New Year’s resolution, penciled between go to the gym more and limit caffeine to two cups of coffee a day, and it’s not so damn simple to let go of my past when my past is all of the baggage that comes from all the life experiences I’ve ever had.
Maybe I’m missing the big picture. I don’t know. Maybe there’s an inherent good in simplifying things so people can make sense of the world’s existential issues. Or maybe my mental state is the problem, and that’s why I only get calls from my mother on my birthday, and can never seem to enjoy myself in social situations. But I think the steady psychological assault I took from childhood classmates popped a screw loose, and ever since then it has been impossible to find contentment. So, I’ve got to tell you, Sir, we don’t all “arrive in the present moment” as expeditiously as we’d like to, and your tweet just comes across a little too simple for me.
Joyce Carol Oates
New York University Graduate Writers Program
58 W 10th St, New York, NY 10003
Dear Ms. Joyce Carol Oates,
I follow you on Twitter and occasionally stop and look to see what you’re sharing with the world, because really you’re pretty unpredictable—sometimes it’s a shout out to the late Ms. Sylvia Plath, or a critique of the new Aaron Sorkin movie, and other times it’s a collection of new poems you like which I might open and skim over but never study. To tell you the truth I haven’t read any of your work at all. I probably should get around to it but I just haven’t found the time, so if you’re wondering why I even follow you it’s because I read an article about the most successful literary authors on social media, one of those ‘ten-best’ articles that dominate the Internet these days, and I want to be a writer, and last year I even applied to the prestigious MFA program that you’re currently the ‘Distinguished’ Writer-in-Residence at, but you or someone else with ‘pulling power’ clearly didn’t think I could uphold the New York University literary tradition, because even though I spent weeks crafting and polishing my application all I got was a cold impersonal email telling me thanks for trying and good luck next year.
All of this information is tangential to the real reason I’m writing this letter, but the whole experience made me angry and I’m trying to label my emotions, which the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence claims will keep me grounded. I must admit I’m highly skeptical of the suggestion because I have a hard time believing in any simple cure-all, just like I’m dubious of every all-encompassing statement, which is why I regularly scan the information dump that is social media looking for preachy tweets from high and mighty people to dismantle, but I must say, congratulations, well done, I have a hard time exposing you.
I figure that if I intelligently dispute one of your tweets in a letter so that I have the room to express my full thoughts, I’ll catch your attention and make you regret ever passing me up. But the opportunity never arises because your Twitter style is astute and often ironic, especially when you’re raising political issues, and I have to give you credit for so frequently putting forth your position in such a fearless way. And on top of everything else you sprinkle your 134,000 devoted followers with micro-anecdotes from your home life, like when you tweet about your cat Cherie which is nice because it creates a sense of intimacy and I start to feel like I actually know you or at least get a sense of who you are, and this is a little lift after you rejected my application. But then my happiness evaporates, because the truth is that our entire relationship is a pretense and a message addressed to an audience the size of three baseball stadiums is almost as detached as the form rejection letter I received from NYU. And just so you know, if I ever did come to your office hours which will now never happen and met Cherie, I would have an unpleasant time, because I think cats are aloof and snaky in nature and I have a serious allergy to feline fur.
I really hope you don’t get afraid reading this and think I’m some crazy stalker who is planning to Google search where you live and come to your house and kill you in your sleep, because I’m really not. I’m a nice guy, though I’ve been told by my ex-girlfriend that I have a short fuse and take things a little too personally, but according to the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology it’s pretty common to end up a screwball when you get put down by your childhood peers one too many times. And if it makes you feel any better, my resentment about the whole New York University letdown isn’t pointed at you, because if Zadie Smith, or Rick Moody, or Jonathan Safran Foer had Twitter accounts I would follow them, and keep a vigilant eye out for their social media missteps, and think about them with equally bitter feelings while I hold the elevator door open for the Johnson family in 3B, or say, “Hope the Giants win on Sunday,” to Mrs. Walker, while I pull the lever and drive her up to 9F. And just to show you that I’m not even the least bit threatening I’ll share a personal anecdote with you so that we can level the playing field and you can get a faint sense of the human being behind this letter.
It turns out that you were one of my mom’s favorite authors growing up, and when she went to college she read all of your work and really connected with one of your novels, Do With Me What You Will, which I guess hit her in a profound way and made her feel like you really understood her plight in the world in that strange way that literature can sometimes do. When I first heard that anecdote I thought, wow! that’s pretty awesome, because my mom’s a nice woman, so thank you for making some of her youthful existential dilemmas a bit more bearable. But later I also felt bummed-out because it would have been so cool to tell my mom that I not only knew her used-to-be favorite author but was also learning from this same person, and that dream was dashed when you spurned my creative potential last spring.
And the more I think about it the more needled I get because I know I’m young and probably a little naïve, and maybe when you reviewed my application you thought that I hadn’t lived enough yet and my perspective was just a little too narrow, but I feel like you’re telling me that I don’t have a breathing literary voice or anything interesting to say. And I know you didn’t feel that way about Jonathan Safran Foer when he was your student at Princeton because I Wikipediaed him, which is such a dominant information dump in society that I feel comfortable using it here as a verb, and you supposedly recognized his immense talent right from the start.
And when I learned this information or rather borrowed it because I didn’t actually learn it—I just plugged a phrase into the Internet and received a long stream of words in return and then consumed them like a Pac-Man monster, not stopping to take the time to really absorb them—I just ended up with a frivolous factoid that will only serve me in writing this letter or perhaps discussing literature at a dinner party or an MFA open house. I think my generation is oversaturated with information. We have the world at our fingertips and dip into the reservoir of knowledge at any point that we want, and I think that this makes us complacent. We have a superficial awareness of everything and a fundamental grasp of nothing. And I bring this point up because I hope you’ll agree with my conclusions and perhaps even start to tweet on this subject, which I’ll acknowledge would be ironic because you would be using Twitter as a platform to denounce modern technologies, but I for one would overlook this hypocrisy because I think you’d be speaking with substance. And if you find my musings thoughtful and decide that I’m a complicated yet still arresting guy I hope you’ll begin to follow me on Twitter @RIPV1S1ON, because as of now I only have 12 Twitter friends and I’d like a lot more. I often post links to my short stories on Twitter but currently these stories just die of loneliness. But it’s okay if you don’t follow me because I know that following some random nobody would enter you onto a slippery slope and then you’d probably get a million more requests to follow a lot more random nobodies as well. So forget boosting my standing in the Twitter-sphere and consider teaching next year at Hunter, because that’s where I’m applying this year, in addition to Arizona State, Stonybrook, Kansas, Purdue, and John Hopkins, but not NYU, because after the trauma of last year I refuse to ever apply there again.
Son of a Fan
CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
219 W 40th St, New York, NY 10018
Dear Mr. Ta-Nehisi Coates,
You probably think I’m going to congratulate you on your MacArthur Genius grant, but I’m not, because I’m sure that you’ve already received a million congratulations and are now desensitized to all of them so that by this point the words congratulations, and genius, and Ta-Nehisi mash together in your head like fruit in a blender. And my claim is supported by your Twitter page because you’ve selected the most saucy tweets that extol your genius and responded to them with audacity, creating an amusing playground banter that I regularly find in the pick-up basketball games that take place at my gym, the 14th Street YMCA. And from these tweets I get the sense that you’re a pretty ‘down to earth’ guy, and that by calling yourself the Gawd of all Geniuses, Sir Genius, and He Who Holds Knowledge Of All Things In All Realms At All Times, you’re actually poking fun at the whole genius-label, and I’m pretty sure that if someone doesn’t understand your irony and takes your claims at face value and mistakenly thinks you have the world’s biggest ego you won’t feel the immediate need to correct them and restore your reputation. To me that is a sign of true confidence, which is something I have none of.
Last weekend I went to go see the new David Mamet play and while I was watching it my mind was operating on two simultaneous tracks. Half my brain was thinking, wow, this play is pretty awesome, and the other half was thinking, wow, David Mamet is flying so far above me and I’ll never approach his level of talent, and this thought kept interrupting my ability to observe and enjoy the dramatic action on stage, so eventually watching the play became difficult and also somewhat depressing. And I embarrassingly have to admit that I haven’t read Between the World and Me, but Christmas is approaching and I think I’ll buy myself a copy as a gift. I feel confident that when I do read it I will similarly recognize my brain operating on two simultaneous tracks—one track will feel disgusted at the deep-seated racial inequalities that permeate Western society and favor me in a way that I presently can’t even begin to comprehend, and the other track will recognize your immense authorial talent and feel hopelessly crushed.
I reference all of this because of a tweet that you recently released that says, basing your writing on ‘what white people read’ or ‘what any group reads’ is building your castle on the sand, and I take this to mean that an author should always write with honesty and truth and that shepherding one’s voice to cater to public demands dilutes the artistic soul. But my problem is that I feel like all the information I’ve gathered from my twenty-five years of living has been said before, and that the only things I can authentically write about are young love, loneliness, death, mental instability, and the trauma of a psychologically-tormented childhood, and when put in the context of my white middle-class upbringing none of it seems interesting because these themes have already been penned to death by white male authors across the canon of Western literature. And I’m aware that by sharing all of this with you I seem asinine because you’re probably thinking here’s yet another white guy lamenting his problems when the dilemmas that he is facing are entirely existential. And you’re probably thinking even his problems are platitudes and there really isn’t a thing about this young man’s existence that is original or worth sharing. And you’re also probably thinking but fortunately for him even if he rehashes the same stale stories there will always be a rural white audience for his literature. I know I’m making a lot of assumptions here because I’ve never met you or even read your literature aside from what you post on Twitter, so I apologize if it seems presumptuous to guess at how you think, and I realize that I’m probably projecting my opinion of myself onto you, which is a version of blame-shifting that I learned about when reading Psychological Trauma And The Adult Survivor.
But the truth is, Mr. Coates, I expect you to feel that I’m hopeless beyond reconciliation because on down days I really feel that way about myself and I think that’s how my mother’s friend Blue and the world feels about me too. My childhood reinforced these feelings, because no matter where I went to school or what my interests were I was always the victim of ridicule. At Sandshore Elementary I was called a poseur and a prick. In eighth grade I was asked by Alice Millard, who’re your friends, which wasn’t a question at all, but rather an allusion to the fact that I had no friends, and at Mount Olive High School Homecoming 2008 I was stood up by my date, Juanita Juarez, which was an expensive and embarrassing ordeal because I had already rented my tuxedo and our limousine. And the truth is that I’m just pulling threads from an elaborately woven tapestry at random because basically my entire childhood was a war zone and every day was a success if I wasn’t bullied. I struggle mightily to move past these experiences but I’ve been telling Paulo Coelho that it’s difficult to do, because all that was real for me and it shaped who I am, but in a way I always felt that my neighborhood didn’t accurately represent the world and that just out of reach existed much more diverse communities full of interesting voices, and these are the voices I want to learn from and connect to.
But I’m at a loss trying to figure out how to get what I want because I don’t have a social network, and despite all the evidence to the contrary Manhattan can be a devastatingly lonely place, and when I’m not on duty as an elevator man I’m sitting in my sixth-floor walkup studio apartment writing, and my subjects seem to always mirror my experience and deal with mood swings and family death and a whole bunch of other suburban melodrama. Recently I’ve started becoming increasingly convinced that my voice doesn’t have a pulse, which is a sentiment that has been shared by insensitive professionals at MFA programs, and I’d like to pen something progressive and bold, so I’m going to stop taking my psychotropic medication and instead turn to you, He Who Permits The Sun To Rise, for guidance. How do I construct a written work that both moves and lasts?
Restless New Yorker
Lippincott Massie McQuilkin.
27 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011
Dear Ms. Roxane Gay,
Congratulations on winning the 2015 PEN Center USA Freedom to Write award, which is an award I had never heard of until very recently and a mouthful to say, but I guess seems well-deserved because it looks like you’re pretty hot right now and receiving a lot of acclaim in the literary sphere. After typing in 2015 PEN Center USA Freedom to Write award on Google and sifting through a few unsuccessful links, I found an article explaining what you’re actually getting recognized for, and I think an award honoring exceptional courage in the defense of free expression is a commendable thing. And while I haven’t read much of your stuff, I have browsed over a couple of your stories and I greatly enjoyed them, particularly the humorous, self-deprecating, and biting voice you employ, but what I remember most and what compelled me to follow you on Twitter was the graphic sexual nature of your writing, a pretty in-your-face vulgarity from the female perspective. In a way it reminded me of my dead sister’s unsuccessful attempt at stand-up comedy, but for me your work wasn’t unsuccessful at all, because you handled female sexuality well, and by well I mean established authenticity and kept the voice sharp, but this keen wit was missing from my sister’s heavy-handed routine about licking pussy and subway poles.
Did you know that on Friday night when I was sitting alone at home composing a letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates my phone buzzed because I received an email, and when I opened it I found an acceptance message from Jesse Eagle, the editor of DOGZPLOT? And I bring this up to you because I imagine you are a bighearted person who supports struggling writers such as myself, and will find it cool that we will now share publications in the same magazine, a magazine that has five stories in the Wigleaf 2015 top 50, and in my opinion this accolade should not be undervalued. Wouldn’t you agree that sharing art with the world is a beautiful thing, and that a work of art is much bigger than the artist and it outlasts the artist and takes a life of its own, and it dives down and stirs the soul and connects us to the commonality of the human condition, and also probably does a lot more profound stuff? And you and I, Roxane, we’re now both doing this because we’re part of the published-author fellowship, as well as the DOGZPLOT author fellowship, along with approximately 900 other people in my estimation, although some of those people are probably repeat contributors, so the actual number is likely a little smaller. As members of that fellowship I really feel like we’ve forged a deep connection. And if you feel the same way and want to make this one-way friendship a little more reciprocal consider following me back on Twitter @RIPV1S1ON. I’d mightily appreciate it.
Joyce Carol Oates
New York University Graduate Writers Program
Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House
58 W 10th St, New York, NY 10003
Dear Ms. Joyce Carol Oates,
I read in the New York Times about all the backlash you got for your tweet about ISIS and joy, and it seems like your tweet fell victim to one of the fundamental problems of Twitter, which is that when you only have 140 characters to convey an idea or thought your message might be received in the wrong context. I saw there’s even a Jezebel article titled Please Stop Tweeting, Joyce Carol Oates, but you should really ignore that and shouldn’t let other people’s opinions stop you from expressing your own, because I think that part of a writer’s job is to think about and make sense of the confusing, contradictory, and ugly parts of the human condition, and according to my mom you do a convincing job. I don’t know if you’ve given my proposal about teaching at one of my listed schools next year any further thought because I haven’t heard back from you, but I thought you should know that I’m not the hack writer you made me out to be—I got a micro-fiction story accepted to DOGZPLOT literary journal. HA! So maybe when you’re sitting on the train in the morning going to teach your NYU darlings think about my suggestion.
Your Next Protégé
42 Knightsbridge, London SW1S 7JR, United Kingdom
Dear Mr. Salman Rushdie,
I’ve been a fan ever since I discovered Haroun and the Sea of Stories when I was thirteen, and while at the time most of my classmates spent their lunch breaks with friends in the cafeteria or on the basketball court shooting hoops, I devoured your magical realism in the school library like my late family dog Vision devoured the shit of other dogs on our neighborhood walks. And as I’ve grown up I’ve stuck with magical realism because it brings a sense of much needed enchantment to the world, and it picked me up from the darkest moments of my fucked up life, like when my sister was shot and killed outside a Trenton nightclub.
But ignore that because I want to keep this letter full of levity, so I’m going to shift gears and focus on the four-year-old New York Times article I read that quotes you as saying that you live around Union Square. I live in Alphabet City! That makes us practically neighbors! And I bet you and I frequent the same coffee shops and walk down the East Village avenues flipping off reckless bikers when they blow a red light. And on a day like today when the sky is blue and the cabs are braying don’t you love our community and feel alive? Don’t you feel like it’s wrong for the pill-pushing doctors of the world to prescribe soul-dimming medicines to stabilize some of our realities? Don’t you agree that those of us who are prescribed these medicines should reject them, because the artist needs to have their emotional valves opened wide to the experience of life? I imagine you do.
But there I go again, turning this letter into a downer, so let’s keep spirits high and switch back to you, because you are the one with the celebrated oeuvre, and also the longtime resident of the area, so I appreciate your insight into all cultural matters and am wondering where you recommend for an iconic neighborhood meal. Do you suggest Italian? Chinese? Something else? A resident in the building I work at told me yesterday that the old-school Polish diner on Avenue A is pretty good, but that the Zagat-rated pizza places on 13th and 1st are quality but slightly overhyped. Have you been? Is it true? Want to check it out and see? If you do follow me back on Twitter @RIPV1S1ON and let’s arrange a time to meet. Weeknights I’m on the job, but you’re the celebrity, so I’ll work around your schedule.
Your Upright Neighbor
1041 North Formosa Avenue
Formosa Building, Room 10, West Hollywood, CA 90046
Dear Mr. Stephen King,
Recently I’ve started following and scrutinizing a lot of prominent authors on Twitter, and when I find a compelling tweet of theirs I immediately respond in the hope that my reply will command their attention and earn a follow-back. If you’re wondering whether this idea has been successful up to this point it hasn’t, but that’s beside the point because they say good things come to those who wait, which like a lot of clichés is only true some of the time, and even though the closest thing to your work I’ve read was a The Toast parody titled How To Tell If You Are In a Stephen King Novel, I’ve decided to become another of your Twitter-groupies anyway because I’m hoping that the cliché will apply to me, and that you, Roxane Gay, Salman Rushdie and the gang will follow me back on Twitter, but more importantly that my second pass at MFA programs will be fruitful and gain me acceptance into a respected and fully-funded institution.
But I apologize if I’m boring you with generalities because this letter isn’t about a host of successful authors, this letter is about you, and I want you to know that when I located your Twitter account I was delighted to discover an abundance of provocative tweets and I found it difficult selecting only one to address. But I finally picked the tweet where you said—After 3 months of viewing, I think I can say with confidence that the evening network newscasts are basically drug pushers for Big Pharma—because I agree with your criticism of Big Pharma and I think the general American populace is way too addicted to pharmaceutical drugs, but I think that all of Big Pharma’s co-conspirators deserve scorn too such as the doctors who push medicine on the members of society who struggle to fit into a restrictive mold. And these quack professionals often try to put boundaries on my horizon by telling me that when I believe my world is limitless it’s my mania speaking, but I think they don’t have a single creative thought in a calendar year. I believe I’m doing a good thing by resisting their attempts to stabilize me into a robot existence. And yesterday Mrs. Tan in 6B told me that her two kids Nat and Sarah love when I’m on duty, specifically referencing how they enjoy all of the accents I put on and when I dance the salsa. And sure I’ve gotten a couple complaints in the last year from Mr. Diaz in 12D about being sullen and uncommunicative, but nobody is perfect and I think it’s a little harsh for him to judge my whole professional persona on just a few down days.
I searched you on Google because that’s how I access most of the world’s known information these days, and I found a link to a 2009 Daily Mail article titled, Stephen King’s Real Horror Story: How the novelist’s addiction to drink and drugs nearly killed him, and this article explained that your murky past has a striking similarity to mine because both of our fathers left our families when we were young. And I also learned that you struggled heavily with substance abuse during the 1970s and 1980s but now live life in an unaltered mental state and that many critics believe that your more recent writing is your best. And I found all of this new information surprising and informative because when I put it in the context of your tweet about Big Pharma the message took on new meaning, although I admit I might be misguided about my hypothesis. I reference all of this because I refuse to succumb to pharmaceutical drugs to steady my mood, and it feels good to know that one of the world’s most successful literary leviathans penned his most highly regarded work after rejecting mind-altering substances. You’re an inspiration.
CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
219 W 40th St, New York, NY 10018
Dear Mr. Ta-Nehisi Coates,
I still haven’t gotten a reply from you for my earlier letter, but that’s no biggie, and I just wanted to tell you that I thought about you yesterday when I was ambling through the Union Square Holiday food market, because in between the hot cider and the Lebkuchen cookies I saw your book on sale, and when your National Book Award book is on sale at a holiday food market which doesn’t really have any place for literature then you know you’ve made it. Congratulations.
Guy Still Waiting For a Response
for Neil Gaiman
4470 Sunset Blvd. # 339
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Dear Mr. Neil Gaiman,
For a long time I didn’t follow you on Twitter, because I had no fucking idea who you were, and whenever someone said Neil Gaiman I thought of Neil Degrasse Tyson, so in my head I saw the astrophysicist with the moustache and the cool-sounding voice, but I guess it turns out I’ve been living under a rock, because you’re actually a #1 New York Times bestselling author with almost 2.5 million Twitter followers, and like the only person ever worth talking about according to two incredibly annoying women in my continuing education Writer’s Gym class at Hunter College.
And I don’t mean this as a dis, but I’m undecided as to whether I want to read any of your work, because I don’t really enjoy all that myth and monster fantasy stuff and kind of can’t stand when die hard fans start babbling about Wyverns, Gogs, and goblins, which those damn girls keep doing, and when I hear them yap—I’m chaotic good, I’m chaotic neutral—and then giggle amongst each other, I begin to despise the fantasy genre with a strangely intense passion. I suppose this letter makes me sound like just another detached millennial hater, but I promise that I am a deeply feeling person who is just a little self-absorbed, so that in other words I resent a lot of people for being happy and seeming to understand life but then I feel bad for acting so shallow. I’m aware that my position may not evoke any sympathy from you because we all have problems, but at least give me credit for being honest, because Dr. Dan Siegel of the Mindsight Institute says that in order to master an emotion you need to name it to tame it.
And I imagine you’re wondering why I’m baring my soul when we don’t even know each other and I’m not even a fan and there are a lot more obvious outlets to turn to such as family or friends, but the truth is that those wells are pretty dehydrated, because as I was telling Stephen King, ever since my dad left us growing up things have been a mess, and after my sister died my mom told me she found sexual liberation with another woman, which made things kinda confusing. I’ve already told Ta-Nehisi Coates and Paulo Coelho I don’t have any compadres in Manhattan, because if I did I wouldn’t have signed up for a double-shift every day over the holiday break since I would presumably have had at least one Friendsgiving to attend.
And on a day like today when my mood dips and life feels exhausting and I can’t find the energy to get dressed and go to work or even get out of bed I feel the pull of the pills that dim my soul. But I’m resisting temptations and pushing to communicate with someone authentically, so thank you in advance for listening. Have a happy Turkey-day. Hope you have someone to share it with and that you glutton yourself and root against the Cowboys.
McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
1 Toronto Street
Dear Ms. Margaret Atwood,
Yesterday was Thanksgiving for those of us who live in the United States, and I’m pretty sure you already know that in America we sit around the dinner table on Thanksgiving and appreciate what we are thankful for, a tradition that pays homage to the time when the generous Native Indians in America gave the starving pilgrims corn and other crops and both parties shared a good meal. But that’s a bunch of bullshit because what actually happened when the pilgrims arrived was that they went about systematically killing the Indians with disease and superior weapons. But since most historical accounts are written by the victor I guess those of us south of the border get to reinvent history as we see fit, so we turned Thanksgiving into a day to celebrate gratitude, and since I didn’t observe the holiday this year and because you’re Canadian and I assume you didn’t celebrate it either I figured you’d be a good person to share my thanks with.
I’m thankful for my job, or rather I was thankful for my job, because when I didn’t show up to work on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday because I was feeling pretty blue and then spent yesterday telling all of the residents in 270 Second Ave that the world is a scary place and we’re all fucked, because I truly believe it is and we are, the super called me and asked me to take some time off.
I’m thankful for my writing but unfortunately no one else is, because I’ve gotten one meager acceptance from DOGZPLOT online literary journal and over 100 rejections from other literary journals, and when I asked my Writer’s Gym teacher to review the stories I’m sending in for the MFA process, stories I’ve soldered and sanded with the steady hands of Hephaestus, she asked if I had any other stories to submit.
I’m not thankful for friends because I’ve already told all of the other prosperous literary Twitter snobs of the world who ignore me that I don’t have any, and I’m thankful for family because I love my mom but I’m still not sure how I feel about her lady-friend.
I’m thankful for my apartment because it’s in a city that has a breathing energy 365 days a year, but I’m not thankful for the cockroaches in the lining of the walls, or that the gas in the building has been shut off by Con-Edison since September, or that my evil landlord told me next year he is going to raise my rent to an unaffordable price which will likely force me out of the neighborhood.
What in your idyllic life are you most thankful for? Is it the 55 literary awards, insanely large list of published works, and induction into Canada’s Walk of Fame, or your long lasting marriage and recognition as 1987 Humanist of the year? Follow me back on Twitter @RIPV1S1ON and let me know. Please. It’d mean a lot.
Lonely Thankless American
Dear Mr. Paulo Coelho,
I read your tweet yesterday titled 10 SEC READ: Why are you crying? (ENG, ESPA, PORT), and because these days I have a lot of time on my hands I clicked the link. When I read your story my head exploded off my skull like a champagne cork ha! Ha! and I’m not even kidding, because this story so accurately applies to everything that’s been going on in my life.
I say this because six weeks ago I was asked by the super in the building I work at to take some time, and by time he meant a lifetime ha! Ha! so I’ve been out of work which was pretty hard on my stomach at first, but eventually it shrunk and now I tell people I’m on the Manhattan model diet ha! ha! And even though nudity is legal in New York City I guess it’s not legal in the building where I lived, because my neighbors weren’t generous like the neighbors in your story, my neighbors were close-minded and uptight and didn’t want to experience how liberating cold air feels on your junk when you run down the hallways. My landlord didn’t appreciate free expression either because he served me an Unconditional Quit Notice, and maybe I could have fought it but I didn’t want to, because at the time I thought screw that vertically challenged mousy man—who wants to be in a place where they’re not wanted? But now I admit that my thinking was a little shortsighted because New York is pretty cold in the winter and when you don’t have somewhere warm to sleep that can really pose a problem. I knew the parks would be scary at night but the shelters are a lot scarier than I was prepared for, and all I can say is that I’m lucky I’m not a woman because I’ve seen some pretty hoary stuff that I’ll spare you the details of. The point is that I’ve learned there’s not enough television or literature or stuff in popular culture that speaks to how freaking terrifying it is for women to be homeless at night. So what I’m trying to say is that the last few weeks have been particularly hard, and for most I imagine the build up to Christmas was nice because the city was aglow and all the shops were lit with lights but for me it was a fucking depressing holiday because I spent it shivering in Washington Square Park all alone.
But then yesterday in the library when I read your story I realized Oh Shit! I am the Man in the story and my mom is the Friend and there’s no question that she will accept her last living child back into her home, and Blue will look past our previous disagreements and accept me too. And even if Blue hasn’t changed her mind about me my mom will overrule her and draw me a bath and cook me spaghetti carbonara my absolute favorite meal.
So I’m making a sign saying, NEED MONEY FOR A BUS TICKET HOME TO NEW JERSEY, and hopefully most people don’t walk past me and think that my sign is a cheap sentimental play for drug money, which I admit is a thought I might have had before I learned that the universe is a humbling and darkly ironic place. But even if people do wrongly misinterpret my sign that’s okay because I know that eventually I’ll get my money and make my way home to family that loves me!!!
By the way, I never heard back from you after I wrote you that first letter, and I apologize if I offended you with my tone. Hope it’s all good between us.
No Longer Wayward Son
Joyce Carol Oates
New York University Graduate Writers Program
Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House
58 W 10th St, New York, NY 10003
Dear Ms. Joyce Carol Oates,
I wanted to get this letter to you sooner, but I’ve been out of commission for a while thanks to a lot of travel, the NY/NJ MTA, and the NJPD, but I’ll get to that in a minute. For right now know that I’m disappointed to learn that you will not be teaching at one of my listed MFA programs next year and will be returning to Princeton instead, but also know that I’m not that disappointed in this chain of events, because certain life incidents got in the way of me sending in my applications on time this year. Also, I have decided that learning from you might not be all it’s built up to be, and that maybe I should place less value on my mom’s advice since she and Blue have unequivocally decided they only want a son with a drugged-down brain.
And I guess a minute is up, because now I’ll tell you about how I got out of commission, which is a story that starts while you were cozying up to your NYU favorites at the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House and I was temporarily homeless in downtown Manhattan. Life was hard for me, blah, blah, blah, but eventually I got enough money for a train back home to Mount Olive, New Jersey. I booked my train ticket from Penn Station filled with energy and dreams, but on the way to Dover some high-strung people in my car complained to an MTA official about my smell. The guy came over and he said do you mind moving to another car? and I said I do mind I paid for my ticket this is discrimination, and he said please keep your voice down and I said I will not keep my voice down and he said you’re making a disturbance I’ll have to call the police. When we got to Dover the police were waiting and they said get off the train and I said don’t touch me but they did touch me and so I screamed, and they tackled and handcuffed me and took me down to the station where I stayed overnight until my mom came down in the morning with Blue. And my mom said Tank you still aren’t taking your medication, and I said that’s right Mom but I am who I am and I want to be me, now will you get me out of this place I’ve had a really rough few months and I’m afraid any moment I will completely burst and cry. And my mom looked at me like she might cry too, and then she looked at Blue and Blue said Marcia we talked about this, and my mom said Tank I won’t bail you out unless you get treatment and start taking medications, and I said mom don’t do this, that junk turns me into someone else. And my mom said then I can’t help you, and I said Wow! That’s despicable! and a lot of other very hurtful things, and Blue said Marcia I know this is hard but you’re making the right choice he needs to hit rock bottom. So I said okay Mom you’re right bail me out and I’ll do it your way and she smiled and we hugged and agreed. But I couldn’t do it her way because I need to be free so I left Mount Olive and hitched my way to Venice, California where in the middle of February it’s seventy-five degrees. And I met a girl out there Trish and she’s wired like me, so when we fight you can imagine the fights get pretty crazy, but when we love, well, I’ve never felt so close to anyone’s soul.
And I think I’m going to give up writing because it now seems like a thing people do when they can’t share their pain, and with Trish around I no longer feel so alone. And I’m going to unfollow you on Twitter and close my account too, because I’m tired of living with jealousy and resentment, and the interconnected social media train barrels down the tracks too fast anyway and I’m no longer afraid of going obsolete.
And I’m telling you all this because maybe you’ll find my last few months interesting and write a story about me. Maybe the first Joyce Carol Oates story I read will be that story in a magazine. Wouldn’t that be funny? In a way it wouldn’t even surprise me.