Academic journal article Chicago Review

Mail Romance

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Mail Romance

Article excerpt

1. An automythological account of this author's strange affair

The second most astounding day of my monkish and circumscribed life was the 19th of January, 1995-itself a double anniversary, for it also marks the beginning of a debilitating illness (the very date of infection, as it were), which I did not then know existed. Indeed, it could very well be that it did not then exist, and I have newly borne this affliction into the world. Bitter legacy, if true! Quel sale destin! Yet I was once an artist of some ambition, the kind that takes words as tools; I had labored long, long as the next sentence, which will attempt to explain; bear with me, dear reader, and do breathe deeply:

After fifteen years of writing daily without publishing-completing, in that time, a B.A., many horrible and not-as-horrible stories, three novels, dozens of poems and papers, eight workshops, an M.F.A., course work for a Ph.D. in literature, several semesters of student teaching, years of tri-weekly writers' group meetings on Long Island and in New York City, and, before that, an entire childhood and adolescence that seemed, from my second-grade play adaptation of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown to my fourth-place story "Can't Cry For Help"1 in Scholastic Voice's national student writing contest, at its center a kind of preparation to be a writer; in the midst of what had become a long and widening stream of standard, lowest-- tier rejection slips from scores of literary magazines high and lowI found a foreign-looking envelope, emblazoned with the stately ocher-and-black Gettysburg Review logo, in my little gold-painted mailbox in the lobby of my Queens apartment.

Writers, even the most overlooked or uninitiated, will instinctively know what this means; but for those of you with the good sense to be outside the field, may I explain, firstly, that rejections customarily arrive encased in homely #10 self-addressed stamped Office Max envelopes (hereafter SASOME's, pronounced "say-- somes"), which the unassuming author encloses with his manuscript, and, further, that on this occasion I suspected that other than to answer my request for publication of "Sister Rose,"2 The Gettysburg Review would have no real reason to write to me. And clearly, they had written to me: my name and address were taped, directly onto the envelope-no sticker; no "auto," asterisks or "ecrlot" (whatever that foul group of letters means)-and so I realized, before opening the envelope and reading its unironic, congratulatory contents, that the course of my writing career, lower-case c, was about to change, presumably for the better.

Immediately, perhaps even simultaneously, a writer searches for metaphors to describe such an event; it would of course never be enough to say, I trembled, I sobbed; these bald details must be linked to other things, incorporated, attached to the larger cloth of his life, of Life (or, at the very least, to someone else's work, preferably someone hardy: Shakespeare jumps readily to mind, but what about Isaiah? The ransomed of the Lord returning with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads, sorrow and sighing fleeing away...), and my chief one, naturally, was first orgasm. But more on that later; some words on the fifteen deathly years.

I would say literally deathly, but no, that is another metaphor (like cloth), also an unfunny pun, and here is why: I had begun to see that mailbox-not too much taller and deeper than the dimensions of a business-size envelope in the first place, and then perhaps three inches wide-as a kind of coffin; inside, every week, one or two of my anorexic, corpse-white, #10 SASOME's, the name of the slayer noted in my own hand in the return-address area. Once, when by an unfortunate coincidence I received four such missives in a day, I extended the metaphor to morgue: "Time to check the morguebox," I would say to myself-realistically3-then, taking leave of my dismal chamber, shuffle down the stairs with my mournful, clinking keys, a perverse St. …

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