Bygone Era

31 Oct


There was a time when I lived on two eggs and a baked potato a day. It was a real loser time for me, a time of roach clips and resin and shivering and sweating and discount grain alcohol and unspeakable depression. My girlfriend of two years had broken up with me over a can of Pepsi while swinging from a swing set in her mother’s backyard. “You can’t love me like I need to be loved,” she had said, and the next day she drove me to Pittsburgh and unceremoniously deposited me on my best friend’s doorstep, like an animal she wished to abandon, and that was that.

I was 26 years old and working in a grocery store for minimum wage–at that time, five-fifteen an hour. In an act of charity which I am still paying off, my best friend had invited me to sleep and write in his basement, providing I help with some of the bills. It was not a nice basement. It was a bunker, a hovel. There was a drain in the floor that I pissed in. A single hanging light bulb. Cockroaches crawled on me as I slept. I will go to my grave believing that the two years I spent swatting spiders and gulping Radon in that rancid basement shaved at least ten years off the tail end of my life.

I mention this not to be cute or to prove my street cred as a starving artist–although, if anyone wants to throw down on a better claim to poverty, I will see your Ramen noodles and raise you a baked potato–but to make a larger point about the process of publishing stories in 2012. You see, back then, if I wanted to submit work to a magazine, I had to walk to the Post Office, pull on the door, and convince a human to sell me a coil of stamps. I had to draft personalized cover letters, do research as to which editors were working where, the sorts of stories they favored. I had to allocate my funds judiciously and draconianly, and make decisions between envelopes and food.

Third Coast, and many journals like it, no longer accept “snail mail” submissions. Nifty electronic submission managers like Submittable, once a taboo concept in publishing, are the norm. Now all you have to do is upload a document into a database and press Send. The process takes no longer than a minute and a half. Cover letters are optional. So is crossing your fingers. You can log into the system and monitor the status of your submission at your leisure. And when the inevitable rejection arrives, it comes via email, and is often detected as spam; and the whole experience seems weightless and somehow machinelike to me, a correspondence dreamed up out of the ether.

A nice family lives in that house now–young professionals with kids and dogs and flower boxes in the windows. I imagine them putting their children to sleep, reading them stories in rooms lit by Ikea lamps and draped in roller-coaster wallpaper, never knowing the caliber of riffraff that once crept around in their house after midnight; the things I did, and ate, to survive. Sometimes, while walking home from the bar, I will pass by the house and peer in through the basement windows, hoping to catch a glimpse of something I might have left behind, a relic to connect me with that part of myself, but the house is always dark, and the flowers obscure my view.


5 Responses to “Bygone Era”

  1. heather mull October 31, 2012 at 11:57 pm #

    I like your tags on this one: depression, failure, poverty, rejection. Reminds me of that horrible 80’s song “Birth, School, Work, Death” by some band whose name I’m too lazy to Google for the sake of this comment. I’m glad I met you after this time. You know, when you were more mildly alcoholic, somewhat less depressed, more gainfully employed at a coffeeshop, and had assumed a nom de plume. Three cheers for moving forward in your life, EB!

  2. Andrew C Hitt November 15, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    I remember eating well at that house. I remember Stan throwing an eight pound, whole filet mignon tenderloin into the ceiling fan. It’s strange to think that other people live there now.

  3. michelsauret December 12, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    Nice piece. I like how you unveil the memory lane of the author’s days of sacrice and tie it into the electronic rejection letter.

    I’ve always preferred online submisison options, but it does cause you to submit a bit more carelessly. I think it does remove the sting of the rejection a little, but mainly it’s nice not have to mail out all of those envelopes any loner…


  1. Character Development « Letters Of Rejection - December 14, 2012

    […] up in the world–literally, from basement to attic. Once again I found myself relying upon a certain friend who, perhaps more than anyone else, understood the struggle I was facing; the compulsion to […]

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