If you are looking at a fire, it occurred to me last night, you look busy. Maybe you are doing something. I was observing a fire at the time I had this epiphany, a blaze burning in the fireplace of a house where I had gone to a party. I had been talking to a friend who went outside for a moment, and after a minute or so of staring rather blankly at a post holding up the roof, and at the wine bottles and glasses beside it, I thought that I looked a little foolish sitting there, so I turned toward the fire. Ahh, so much better. Then I looked contemplative, a true philosopher finding hidden meaning and obscure connections in the minutia of life, rather than a dork at a party.
This is what dorks at parties think about when they have a free moment.
The party was a celebration of the literary magazine Chattahoochee Review, which comes out of Georgia Perimeter College in Atlanta. Years ago, more than 100, when I worked at that college, back when the school still had a name that wasn’t stupid, I was a fiction reader for the magazine. It was the first time I had ever read the fiction submissions to a literary magazine, and what I recall most about the experience was not being struck by bad writing. I don’t recall the writing quality as obviously bad. Of course I was a freshman writing instructor at the time, so maybe my standards were low. What I remember about submissions to the magazine is that most of them seemed very dull to me.
Since then I have become a mere writer, submitting to magazines where other readers read my stories and think , “Ewwww!” Not long ago I had the hubris (which it has to be) to submit a humorous story to The New Yorker, knowing that I was more likely to be struck by the same asteroid that Elvis is on. They wrote back and said, “Sorry we can’t use this amusing story” and I wondered if I should feel slightly flattered—“The New Yorker rejected me but someone kind of liked it, sort of!” Or was that a standard reply? Did it really mean “Dear Dork, isn’t our slush pile high enough without your dull trash?”
Laying hubris and nonsense aside, but close by in case I need them, I was at the party because my friend is now the editor of the magazine, and I really wanted to see her. The party, as it turned out, was our best bet for running into one another while I was in the great metropolis of Georgia. It was lovely to see her, albeit briefly, and I wanted to hear more about the process of getting out the magazine. I believe an analogy to Hercules and that Barn of Endless Dung he cleaned out might be applicable.
There was also a surprise at the party, as I had the very fine fortune to see Lamar York, who started the magazine and was editor for many years at Dekalb College (when Georgia Perimeter College still had a real name). I always thought of Lamar as one of the most elegant men I knew, and he was certainly a cut above my own swinish sartorial style. Now I imitate Lamar in my pale Goodwill fashion. I also wish to add an important and pertinent fact about Lamar, that he gave me the small copy I own of the Minoan Snake Goddess. Maybe she’s not called Snake Goddess, and I’m embarrassed that I don’t remember since I used to teach this. She’s the one with bare boobs and holding snakes. Let’s assume you don’t know either, which means I’m right.
As I write this, I’m sitting in my mother’s house north of Atlanta, and she just asked me what killed the mother of a friend (years ago). I came so close to saying “Jesus” but I know my mother would not have appreciated that. And I know you’ll be proud of me to know that I resisted. So Jesus didn’t do it, but I think he was called in for questioning as a friendly witness.
And now I am out of Atlanta, on my way slowly back toward the north. It will take a while, and all the flowers that are blooming down here will recede into potential as I climb up the continent.