Writing is a battlefield. Our new column, ‘From the Trenches’, brings you tales from the front line. In this instalment, Kent MacCarter ponders the necessary evil of submissions.
I am stuck in a birth canal.
Our birth canal: the passage that guides its subjects into some semblance of an established writer, supplanting erstwhile emergent selves. But I’ve been stuck for some years of residing at that in utero address.
Movement does occur in my perpetual state of writerly emergence – activity of the one-step-forward-one-step-backward ilk – resulting in scarce advancement. This must be because my foot is caught on something that I cannot see.
This sensation feels as though I am sprinting towards a wondrous coastline – gagging for a swim to rinse off obscurity’s filth, while wearing every piece of clothing I own in constricting layers. And as I run, I strip away strata of apparel (in slo-mo pastiche, à la Baywatch) until I am down to my nude element of ‘voice’ – a voice primed to dive into the success of readership.
While running, I manage to shed all layers save a final pair of jeans. Those I unbutton, unzip and just about completely kick off … but they entangle my ankles mid step.
I’ve dreamt this scenario on a few occasions. My foot catches, I twist, and I face-plant onto the sand. My arms stretch out forward, my fingertips grazing the water’s fleeting meniscus – a tide-line half there, half not. In writing, what is this difficult-to-read space so fettered to others’ subjectivity, which appears, dries, then reappears so quickly?
So there I am, in that dream, enduring a mouthful of sand, with my neck craned back around to see the articles of clothing tossed hither and thither during my unsuccessful approach. Connecting the dots of those scattered garments, I notice, creates a constellation that spells: submissions.
Submissions. To submit. The act of submission is the one experience that unifies all writers at some point in our careers. Submissions are wild creatures – wild like thylacines were. At times, they’re equally as elusive when you wait for their return.
Speaking of returns, let’s address the SASE, long a requirement of the submissions game. It’s a dying species. I will not be glum to see it become extinct. There is nothing more deflating than arriving home after a day job to find a once-folded envelope addressed to you in your own writing. It’s almost never good news.
You know what’s inside. Occasionally the contents are not even signed by anybody; there’s just a lazily scissored half-sheet of paper wishing you the very best in placing ‘it’ or ‘them’ elsewhere. No room. Inn’s full.
‘We could not find room …’ – not even in the online annex where space is infinite and e-mattresses get wheeled in from everywhere to accommodate all sorts of tired stuff.
Yet, I can say that on a few occasions when SASEs have returned home to roost, hand-written good news was tap-dancing inside, clicking its heels, waiting for me to read it. It buoys the spirits … enough to keep submitting. Then again, I have also received sweet handwritten notes enclosed in SASEs – complete with free copies of the publication – that were clear rejections.
In 2011, I experienced a few ‘firsts’ in the endless permutations that submissions result in, one of which has emerged as the most notable. I received a stock email from a publication: unsuccessful. I always hear a foghorn’s moo when I read that word. No stranger to that. Except that this particular publication was one … that I’d never submitted to. That’s right. I was informed, rather ignominiously, that my work had not made the cut without having submitted so much as a skerrick for their consideration. 49% of me felt the epitome of shame, while 51% – thankfully a slender majority – found this acerbically comical.
I have saved that email gem. Perhaps I will hang it in the loo like I did a bench warrant for my arrest that cops in the great state of South Carolina posted to me many years back. A friend and I had driven all night from Atlanta to coastal Charleston to witness sunrise over the Atlantic, something we’d never seen.
I was nabbed in the deep dead of night for driving far in excess of the speed limit, peeling away hours of darkness, trying to get to the beach to greet daybreak. As a damned Yankee in rural Dixie, I stood no chance of being let loose quickly with a warning. The cop fussed about, hiking his holster up and allowing it to theatrically drop, over and over again, for nearly an hour. Making CB calls. We’d got within 10km from the coast before sunbeams broke through murk. I never paid the fine – it was gargantuan – and so became a wanted man in the most wussy manner possible.
That’s one way to be wanted.
Kent MacCarter is a writer of poetry and non-fiction who lives in Melbourne where he lives with his wife, son and two cats.