When you leave the shop and that little black bag swings at your side; non-descript, unidentifiable, concealing the tawdry publication living within the plastic sheaths, no one is fooled by what you have, and it is made worse by the fact that you know everyone else knows what is in the bag. But, all you can do is keep your pace, praddle on as though you are person of the world, having seen a thing or two in your day.
Why should you feel guilty? It was an impulse buy. It tempted you with curvaceous melodies belted by lustful sirens, and the simple sensibilities of desire. Any casual observer is privy, because they too have fallen victim to the sumptuous taunts of that which is just out of reach.
These magazines stuffed between copies of the New Yorker and the Paris Review, purchased to satisfy us in ways previously unknown. Ostensibly, we are discussing local literature. The little tiny, no-name publications that live near the front counters of your local bookshop, where inside it’s pages, people like you and I, scribble our ideas and theories in the shape of fiction, with the grand design that this will fall into the hands of those who possess the powers that be; into the toilet of Mount Olympus; onto Caesar’s nightstand; or in the front seat of an editor for Simon & Schuster. It used to be that by reading the works of our community we would console our frustration, our grievances with some good, old-fashioned judgement.
I would like to call this, Literary Masturbation. And this term has two meanings, however, there is only one I would like to stick.
The first meaning is what was outlined above; the surly self-satisfaction of condemning others while you sit, feeling left out, and scorning the world. The second is much more pertinent, and constructive than the first.
If you are a writer without the Oxbridge contacts, or the Ivy League network, the gods upon Mt. Olympus have alternative bathroom reading material; Caesar never returns your calls; and, your college roommate’s father is not said editor. Sadly, for most aspiring writers, there are many more steps that need be taken before that big break is within sight. That is not to marginalize the publishing industry (which, to be honest, may need to be called into question, but not here) through the assumption that simply by knowing someone, or whatever Kevin Baconesque degree of separation gets you there, one is assured of selling a million copies and establishing themselves as a prominent literary voice. On the contrary, nothing is assured in art. We are blinded by the possibilities nepotism would offer if afforded the luxury. Talent, believe it or not, is still a factor in maintaining yourself as a literary name. Even Dan Brown. He managed to write a story that hooked people, and as much as it pains me, historical inaccuracy aside, he did what is so often overlooked in the arts: he told a story. Human beings are suckers for a story. That’s why people would sit around a fire and listen to some blind guy tell, The Iliad; same with the Shakespearean canon.
This idea of Literary Masturbation stems from another ignored factor, a form of nepotism granted to people like you, and me; the struggling lot seeming to be endlessly disconnected from the publishing monster that builds dreams out of even it’s foulest dispensations. Who can blame us? We are products of the modern age, demanding that all good things to come at once. Instant gratification is what anyone expects now, despite what you hold in your heart of hearts; it is programmed into us, subconsciously, so that for all of the morals we may cling to, the fact remains, we want to be published by a reputable publisher, now; we want to be discovered now. I, personally, want to be apart of the Four Seasons crew in New York, mingling with the likes of Mailer, Vonnegut, Yates, etc. Forget fame; let me write something that gets me at that table, night after night. But, that was a tangent. To the point–
Publications, recognition, and a forum with which to discuss literature are all around. Most of us are not fortunate enough to be among the literary elite, or know someone who is, but what exists are communities, which, we are all apart of. I do not mean that in some metaphorical splish splash, but rather, literally. Go to the local library, and guaranteed, you will find a poetry society. Granted, this will most definitely be filled with pensioners and senior citizens, but that’s okay. Beggars cannot be choosers. Or, sniff around your local bookshop, and that is a proper bookshop, one that has an identity in the neighbourhood, and they will certainly be filled in with some form of literary scoop. They may even be a venue for readings themselves. Look on Craig’s list. They are there.
We are surrounded by communities of people who think like us, who dream similar dreams to us, and maybe there is no pay check to be had, but if that is what drove you to literature, then good, do not become apart of it. The point is reading and writing; doing what you love, and sharing that with others, because how hard is it to expel all of the things which manifest in the mind, verbally? Nearly impossible for me, but with fiction, I find the words I was once too timid to say, or needed time to arrange. I am no longer an introvert. The point is to seek out the reading groups, the book clubs, the poetry groups, or just a bunch of people sitting in a pub, once a week, to discuss the new story, or latest chapter in their novel. This idea is a simple one, and it fits into a larger picture as well. If the big Houses, or magazines, pass on your work, if the large literary festivals leave you feel alienated and lacking, do it yourself.
Start a magazine. Put out fliers, or craig’s list ads, about writers getting together to talk shop. There is nothing writers love more than talking about their work, except for maybe alcohol, which is why you would meet in a pub. It’s like Spanish fly. Just give it some time, the thing will grow.
But, the wonderful thing is, there are great, small publications out there now, looking for support, while you, out there in internet land, are looking to be supported. These people are lovers of art, or else they would not have signed up for creating a magazine. Look up, content magazine if you are in the San Jose area; or this website for a list of small independent magazines in San Francisco that urge new voices on (I had trouble finding a couple of these, but they are just examples); Or Pen Pusher if you are in London. The list is endless, but they are there, coaxing the people outside of the great artistic sphere into understanding that literature lives and breathes in all places; it is just a matter of taking the initiative to find it, or create it, to give aide to those new voices struggling to be heard. Just as in war, revolutions, and protests, there is strength in numbers. A great rolling wave of voices will carry great sway, and the last thing anyone will consider if it is done with force, is where this wave berths.
So, I ask of you: no longer feel ashamed; no longer hide from desire and the clamour for what is absent in yours and mines, day-to-day life. I, like you, have needs, wants, and hopes for what will become of my misadventures behind the keyboard, and the blood, sweat, and toil that is poured into these ideas. Small, tiny publications are our friends. We love them. We need them, because we feel connected to them. Ignore the little black bags, the sneaking, and the shame. Sure, it is not quality literature at times, and it is not what you considered for yourself, but we are connected because they, like you, and me, write because there is no other way.