Putting Down Roots

I think this makes it official.
April 5, 2011, 11:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I am a compulsive mailbox checker. It was more of a problem when I was at school, because mail got put in the boxes a couple times a day, and so I was compelled to walk past sweet little CPO 7144 every time I walked through Gladfelter (which was several times a day: I ate all three meals in there, and would generally walk through between classes to see friends who worked in the offices there, and walked through while leading admissions tours. Yes, I checked my mail when I led tours). At camp, I learn the schedule of the particular office person, and check accordingly (Papa G, the fabulous office manager for two years running, generally went to the post office right before lunch, so I would always check on my way to rest hour.) And here in Tallahassee, the mailman will come anytime between 10:30 and 1:30. If I’m home, I’ve learned the sound of the truck coming down the other side of the street, and know it’ll take about 10 minutes for him to come south past our house.

Yesterday, we stopped at home quickly to drop off some rotting wood from a bed we had dismantled and to pick up the bag of power tools. It was just past lunch, so I looked in the mailbox to find, tucked between the junk mail and the bills, a letter addressed to me in a very familiar loopy purple scrawl.

I wondered for a few seconds about why on earth I was getting a letter from myself, and then I read the return address. It was a self-addressed envelope I had sent along with a submission to the Apalachee Review, a literary journal that’s published in Tallahassee. My mother had the privilege of getting my first ever response from a journal (I had sent an essay to The Sun, expecting little, and putting my mother’s address as the return in case I moved before they got back to me. She read the essay they returned, and told me the rejection letter was “really nice,”) so this was my first time I got to read a response.

WS Merwin has a poem about the (really quite successful) poet John Berryman, in which he says, “as for publishing he advised me / to paper my wall with rejection slips,” and so I was ready for a kind, “I’m sorry, but this isn’t what we’re looking for.”

But you know what I got, folks? A letter handwritten (in purple, no less!) saying they want to publish a piece of creative nonfiction I’d sent them.

I only got a chance to peek at the letter before I had to go back to work, so I got to wonder about it all afternoon, and this about the strangeness of the fact that something I had written would be printed up on someone else’s press and mailed out to hundreds (thousands?) of people who I don’t know. Besides copies that I’ve run off for folks and sent with letters, my writing only exists in a few dozen letterpress-printed chapbooks of poetry, and if I think hard enough I can tell you every person whose got one.

This is the unknown. And I’m excited.

PS: The essay was about baby loons and learning how to ride a bike and my childhood.

PPS: This is the poem by Merwin: Berryman (and this is how the poem by Merwin ends. I think it’s fabulous):

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write


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