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Last week when I emailed back an editor at a very fine, highbrow publication I responded to the way she closed her email by letting her know I actually have absolutely no intention of ever submitting my work to her again. She moved on to provide her apologies, which I guess should have placated me, but I kindly declined the apology, too. I forwarded the email exchange to a friend.

“You are crazy,” a friend responded.

I really like Helen DeWitt for many reasons, primarily because a friend, happening to be the very same one, once told me: “She is crazy. She gets in huge fights with her editors and doesn’t talk to them for years and wants her product to be exactly the way she envisions it.” If anything, I think that this is very not crazy at all; it makes the most complete sense to me that someone talented and verbally rigorous but never anything near verbose wants things the way she deems the most compelling. She edits herself more than enough, thank you very much.

There is a sentence somewhere [1] in DeWitt’s Lightning Rods asking: “Why does coffee never taste as good as it smells?” The question is a statement, and I do take it personally. Reading such a sentence fervently awakens my contrarian nature.[2] I have always liked coffee truly very much. As a child, I was undoubtedly the youngest one to bring coffee mugs to school, an action or habit eventually leading to phone calls to my parents from the school’s administration about how their son is a bad influence on other kids. Other kids wanted to drink coffee too. I was a trendsetter! How did the other kids know that it was coffee that the drink was in my silver traveller’s mug? It was the scent. The caffeinated aroma. The way its hot steam perpetrated the sterile educational environment. It smelled good.

A friend [3] once told me that there are only two ways to enter our bodies: sex and food. She then talked about abjection, but I kept thinking about our smells, smells and how smells too can be warm.

I have given it a lot of rational, logic-oriented thought and I have decided the reason I began drinking coffee was its warmth. It is possible that the average–or actually the median–reader assumed this would have been about the taste and how things are delicious and the flavor trip to Ethiopia and Costa Rica. But it is not, it is about warmth. The median reader–but definitely not the average reader, because the average does not think about things this much, if we are willing to be honest–wonders why coffee’s warmth is better than Nesquik’s. I would disagree, respectfully, with this median reader because there is a textural warmth to coffee that hot Nestle chocolate will never get near to at all. [4] In conclusion, I think coffee is always as good as it smells. Sometimes, my problem with coffee is that its warmth cannot be paralleled by its aromatic odor, or anything else at all.

Even if I disagree with Helen DeWitt on this tiny little section, I do think everyone should read Lightning Rods. The book is all about finding warmth, without at any point being warm itself. It is a book full of scents, but in the end I think we could all agree what is best is the possibility of warmth, even if it seems impossible.


[1] The somewhere being page 71 if one needs be precise, read that page after reading 70 to achieve the optimal reader’s satisfaction.

[2] Recently, or at least not very long ago, I was questioned extensively and aggressively about this character flaw of mine. The largest issue I had with the accusation was the intrinsic flaw in denying it. My immediate paralysis in realizing that presenting a cajoling case was impossible was a relief. Internally I disagreed, but externalizing my disagreement was beyond the point, or actually it was the point, exactly.

[3] Still exactly the same friend in all cases. I guess we are close, or this piece would imply so.

[4] Not much later in my life my parents started receiving calls about how I was a bad influence on other kids: they, too, wanted to smoke. In my defense, I only did it because it kept me warm and made the coffee smell better, especially as its smell pertains to its warmth. My mom told the administration she has taught me well enough, thank you very much.

Behind the Scenes & Craft Notes & I Like __ A Lot & Massive People / 3 Comments
July 5th, 2013 / 11:16 am

A Brief Report on Denver Coffee Shops

I sometimes joke that I became a writer so I could justify spending all my time in coffee shops (despite what Tom Waits said about them). When traveling, I always seek out new ones where I can do some writing. I’ve been in Denver since Xmas Day, during which time I’ve managed to sample about half a dozen places.

The nicest one I’ve found, by far, has been the Denver Bicycle Cafe (which is where I wrote this, on my second visit there). If I lived in town, this would definitely be one of my writing hangouts.


Vicarious MFA / 9 Comments
January 1st, 2013 / 4:15 pm

How David Lynch Sells Coffee

Film / 7 Comments
May 5th, 2011 / 7:10 pm

A to Z of Stupid Feelings About Anybody

Are you hungry. Did you come because you are hungry. When you eat do you eat more than you had planned to eat and then feel so full you cannot as well move or do you limit yourself to the eating of the thing that might best keep your body toward a vision of something people look toward and do not not see in jest.

Books come in the mail. I stack them up, some on the sofa arms, some on the floor around my bed. At night in the dark trying to walk or piss I slip on them sometimes and often have to move books to make room on my desk to sit my laptop down. I’ve been thinking about reordering my books in the order that I read them. I have been keeping a list for ten years. I’ve yet to make the switch because I am afraid of disrupting the order of the stacks I’ve already put together, which is based on associations such as press, idea, time, generation, like-mindedness, or something else. I mostly know where everything is.

Can you please talk to yourself more. A public forum doesn’t demand the idea of losing steam. It doesn’t mean you are doing a service to people who are mostly wholly worthy of doing service to, but it means there is somewhere doing something and sometimes trying to eat. A girl just sat down next to me in the coffee shop and pulled her shirt down over her pants in such a way. Her pants are too long at her feet. She doesn’t seem to be trying.

Do you think it’s wrong to try. Do you think it’s wrong to say too many good things. Is there so little out here that it’s surprising that the things that get lit to are the things someone would want to talk about. I’m sure there are articles where someone is telling everybody how there are so many books coming out each year. People are worried about machines. Machines are getting older too.


Random / 17 Comments
October 10th, 2010 / 4:03 pm

Q & A 3

If you have questions about writing or publishing or whatever, leave them in the comments or e-mail them to roxane at roxanegay dot com and we will find you some answers.

Q1: How do you get a poetry manuscript published?

Sam Pink

write a poetry manuscript that you like and show it to people.

Sean Lovelace

That’s a tough one. I would say contests and then send it out to presses who you admire, or who have a sensibility somewhat like your own work. Also, publish the individual poems, build a presence, voice, and you might just get a publisher contacting you, saying, “Do you have a collection?” Like all writng, if it is a strong collection and you believe in it, it will eventually find its place.

Alexis Orgera

So far editors have asked for the chapbooks I’ve published. I’m told you just have to send out relentlessly, particularly to places where the editors’ aesthetic is similar to your own. For instance, I wouldn’t send a manuscript with lots of shit-fuck-goddamns…well, that’s not true. I send everything everywhere.


Behind the Scenes / 24 Comments
January 13th, 2010 / 2:58 pm

when do you drink coffee & how do you take it? do either of these things actually mean anything to you?