2023-02-03: heavy glow

i used to subscribe to a particular press. every year, in the spring and the fall, i'd get everything they published. it was expensive. it was worth it. they published not only great work but beautiful books. thick, textured paper. clean text. yesterday, i received an email from them, automated and impersonal: our submissions are open. we'd love to read your work.
at the beginning of last year i began sending out my full-length manuscript. after a moonshot to a very famous british press, who never replied to my submission, i created a list for the next few: the one whose poetry editor had published my first chapbook; the one whose books were beautiful objects, just incomparable; and the press above, who have published many of my favourite poets.
for a long time i'd wanted to take the best of what i've written, going back decades, and turn it into a book. a lot of my work, particularly recently, circles a small set of themes. memory. belonging. death and uncertainty. taken as a whole i believe it's good, that it works, and in 2022 i worked with an editor to help make it stronger. her suggestions improved it further, and ultimately kickstarted another project. the manuscript was solid. it was ready. i checked my shortlist. who took electronic submissions. who wanted paper. i started to send it out.
i've been writing most of my life, which is to say failure has become as much a part of me as breathing. my acceptance rate when sending to literary magazines hovers between 10-15%; submissions of actual manuscripts (i'm including my chapbook here), about the same. if you don't get used to no, they say, you won't last long. and yet what's never really discussed when people talk about no, when they talk about coping strategies, about sending to the next magazine, the next press, is the underlying heartbreak: you will never publish this with us. the door shut. a small dream gone. a little death.
my manuscript's dominant themes are virtual communities; the prairie landscape; the online; hidden traumas, and the difficulties of memory. at its core, it's an attempt to capture something about the era of the BBS and the early web, and what it meant to grow up in a virtual, stateless space. because i was there for both of these. because they were formative in my life.

when i look around for others writing on these eras and themes in literary spaces, i can't find them. it feels like it's just me. but i know we were all writing, a lot: on our websites, in our journals, posting terrible poems and sending long, rambling emails to crushes whose words cut through the CRT's heavy glow. creativity the defining force of that era. nobody to tell us what to do. the possibilities limitless, our time alone and together stretching outward like an expanse of meadowlands. if i'm still here, if i'm writing this, there must have been others who kept going, who felt they had something they urgently needed to say. where are you? where did you all go?

based on the rejections it's received, i think it's maybe a little tricky. not avant-garde, but perhaps a bit specialist. keep sending this out, one editor wrote, in his beautiful penmanship. another: your book was very close. it's an excellent project.
i re-read those notes in my low hours. encouragement from people i respect.
from 1998 to 2012, i kept an online journal. at geocities, on altern, on friends' domains, at my isp, at livejournal. the details of that time largely lost now. everything not LJ long gone. off-web. the internet remembers everything, we were told, but that's not quite true, is it?

what can you find from your life from 2005? or earlier? link rot and changes to search algorithms collude to destroy any tangible or coherent sense of the online past. you're left wondering: is that how it happened?

did it happen?

being technologically focused in a literary space has made me, not an outsider, but perhaps an outlier. different. i don't have an english degree or mfa. writing isn't my everything. it's central to me but not the only thing i do. i read at least a hundred books a year, but more online. i write, but also play several instruments. i publish, and make software. i feel comfortable and a little sad saying that if i dropped dead tomorrow, i'd probably remembered less for my writing than my code.
i look at writers with many books (and multiple in progress) and i marvel, how do they do it? i can't seem to juggle multiple manuscripts. i can't even think about the next one. i assume this is it, my one shot in the dying days of the world. i want to believe this manuscript's important. my attempt to capture something hovering. something like fireflies. a part of my life. of ours. fading now. flickering. increasingly dim.
last july, a response from that first press, the one that emailed me yesterday: we did admire your manuscript's attempts to reconcile...

(so, a no)

i let myself feel sad. gave it space. let myself name all the possibilities that wouldn't be. two days later i sent a selection from the manuscript to a different press, based on the west coast. i'm holding out hope. in september, they asked to see the whole thing.