Sunday, September 06, 2009

Literary Masochism

by Zinta Aistars

It's a holiday weekend, and I could be pursuing a thousand holiday pleasures rather than chaining myself to a computer, cracking the whip until it smokes. Every season, I ask myself: why do I do this? Have I gone mad? Am I a closet masochist?

At the change of every season, I post a new issue of The Smoking Poet. I've been doing this for nearly four years now. It's not tooting my own horn to say that every issue is a continual process of improvement. As the smoke clears, I pull the trigger to launch a new issue of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, art, book reviews, cigar reviews, links and resources, and, most recently, a page devoted to making the world a little more aware, a little better with "A Good Cause." It's not tooting my own horn, but tooting the dozens of horns of the contributors to TSP. Gems, I'm tellling you. Real treasure.

Is that why I do this? Because I can tell you, I'm sure it looks easier from the outside than it does from the inside. I used to be able to accomplish the setup of a new template within a few hours. Then it became many hours. Then it meant sacrificing the day. Now, it's become more like three days. And I'm referring here just to setting up the Web site. Never mind the reading and replying to virtually hundreds of submissions. Every writer (I know! I know!) aching for a personal reply. I try. But time is limited, oh is it ever.

So every season, I ask myself: why do I do this? I begin my self-imposed work day Sunday at 8 a.m. and I know when the midnight hour approaches, I'll probably still be pecking away at it. To resume again tomorrow. I have spent 14-hour days doing this. (While sunshine suns outside, while butterlies flit from flower to flower, while saner human beings play and romp.)

Doing what? Sorting through the submissions that have been processed over the past four months. Labeling each one: accepted, rejected, revised, page of site where it will appear, writer notified, writer reviewed, posted. Choosing the new template. Constructing the pages. Adding artwork to each page, formatting, captioning, linking. Transferring each accepted submission to a Word doc, where I reformat it to the same font and size, align margins, cut and paste into template. Connect to table of contents. Work out mysterious glitches that sometimes appear in the process of transfer. Next post. Write the frontispiece. Write book reviews and post, adding book cover jpg's and links. Construct the feature author page with interview conducted over the previous months. Add photo and link. Curse under my breath because the margins go out of sync. Do it again. Reboot computer because it froze up just before I hit save. Do it again. Revise page layout because one of the poems has longer lines than the others and they break funny. Do it again. Check author list on table of contents again - did I miss anyone? Contact author who forgot to include a bio statement. Revise bio statement another author sent in that is longer than the submission itself. Wonder why almost no one reads submission guidelines. Curse softly again and hope my angels aren't listening.

And so on.

And so on.

Day three.

Am I nuts? What about that novel that is pulling at me, nipping at my heels, tugging at my hem, whining until I want to slap its hungry face? What about the freelance article due Tuesday? What about the housecleaning that awaits, the carpet that needs vacuuming, the pile of laundry that needs washing, the closet that needs ordering, the garage that needs cleaning, the lawn that needs mowing, that no magical elf will do when I'm not looking? What about the last few chapters of Georgia O'Keeffe's biography I am aching to read? The part about how she separates herself from the rest of the human race and does nothing but walk in the desert sun and paint the white bones and the blue table of Pedernal? What about MY life?

I pour another mug of coffee and get back to working on the site. Dang, it's starting to look really sharp. Like puzzle pieces coming together. As I post, my eye revisits a few of the lines of poetry just pasted to the page. Fine lines. Lines that sizzle. Lines that hum in the blood. Lines that make water rush to my eyes. Lines that inspire and tease and haunt.

Really, it would be wonderful to have a crew of editors who share my madness, love nothing more than chaining themselves to their computers for 14 hours, too. Nothing better to do? And for no pay. Not even a free cigar. Is there a listing for self-sacrificing editors in the Yellow Pages who long to give up their holidays for nothing?

In my dreams.

Masochist. No other reason. Self-flagellation, whip over my own head, penitance for unknown sins.

Only then there is that moment. The launch. The trigger pulled. Click on PUBLISH. And suddenly, the new issue is live, the hits hammer on the pages, the words of dozens of new and established writers sing out into the ethernet, reaching who? where? perhaps Australia, China, Latvia, New Zealand, that lonely house on the glacier tip in Alaska. With just a few days of my own time, I have helped, over four years, at least a hundred writers and artists reach a new audience. I can't tell who is behind each hit that racks up on the pages... but the numbers accumulate, and with each new issue, there are more. The Smoking Poet is being read.

And I played some small part in this.

God, I love it.

Fall 2009 issue of The Smoking Poet ... coming soon!

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