Aside

GtA assembles! Special things take place

We just made history ladies and gentleman. For the first time since we expanded the magazine beyond the Founders of Pat, Adam, and John, Gambling the Aisle assembled all of its members in one room at the same time, for at least an hour. It was incredible. I know because I was there. It was like a solar eclipse.

While we wait for the magazine to make us millions, we (sadly) have to fill our lives with other means, which results in very rare physical encounters with each other. We work together primarily over the internet and through our cellular devices. We meet in pieces, when a few of us are available on the same night at the same time.

But on one magical evening in fall, the crisp air hanging around us, Gambling the Aisle met. Adam, Jenna (that’s me, I’m writing this), Pat, John, Megan, Andy, Becca (by order of arrival), and Peanut, the dog who loves these meetings the most, came together.  Some of the things that we discussed weren’t all that exciting, like whether we should tagline ourselves “Denver’s Second Best Lit Magazine,” or “Englewood’s Best Lit Magazine,” and how great a year 2008 was, but a lot of it was quite exciting, and that’s what we’d like to share. Here’s some things to look forward to from us over at GtA:

The results of our First Annual Chapbook Contest!
Submissions for poetry, fiction, and cover art are still open! The deadline is October 31st so if you’re reading this, it’s not too late! We look forward to going through all the work we have received, and declaring a talented winner in November. Look for the results of our contest, featuring the winning writers and artist, and honorable mentions in our upcoming winter issue. And speaking of that…

Our winter issue!
As always, we are accepting regular submissions in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art. Our newest issue will be coming out both online and in print this December.

Fiction Writer’s Workshop
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to sit down with Pat or Adam or Andy or me and argue and discuss pieces of writing, you’re in luck, and you’re not alone. But in all seriousness, the Workshop Podcast is a brand new venture that we’re all very excited about. With one workshop successfully under our belt, we are looking forward to reading and commenting on more of our readers’ work!

That was all for that meeting, and really we exceeded our own wildest hopes for productivity. After all, with such great people in a room together, who could hope to get any work done?

-JP

How to Succeed at Comps Without Really Trying, Week 6

Oddly enough, I think I’m getting used to this. Reading. All the time.

I’m not saying that my brain doesn’t feel like it’s atrophying. Or that I don’t desire to wallow in a grassy field. Or that I’m not so so tired.

But despite all this, I may be hitting a stride here. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I can’t read during business hours, like I was originally panning to do. An 8-5 schedule implies that there is a beginning and an end. Both are lies.

Comp reading is like a flood: it rises and sweeps away everything that isn’t nailed down. It is the second half of the binary that has become my life. Should I watch a movie or should I read? Should I drink heavily or should I read? Should I go for a run or should I read?  Should I write or should I read? (These last two questions are often the hardest for me to answer as writing and running are usually at the top of my priority pile).

And of course, the answer is always the latter option, even if I don’t always do it.

Only very scheduled events survive the tide of reading, things that are planned a week or so in advance. Anything spontaneous doesn’t stand a chance. Because that empty time that say, a friend suggests we fill by going to a bar or watching a baseball game, isn’t really empty time. It’s already spoken for. Always.

Always. Always. Always.

My reading schedule is malleable though. If a friend wants to plan a lunch I can do that, but it means that I’ll be reading all evening (and thus will have to turn down any additional offers). If there’s a birthday party in the evening, I have to stay on task during the day.

Before this summer started, my professors kept saying that I needed to take advantage of this time, because I won’t ever have another summer like this. And this is true, but what they don’t mention is that life doesn’t stop. Friends and family still want to see you. Your body still needs to be exercised. Your groceries won’t buy themselves. Your car will still break down.

And all this needs to happen in those few hours in which you’re trying to wedge all these social activities.

Which means that, although I spend the majority of my days reading and fighting off an oncoming nap, I’m wildly busy because the pressure builds on both sides of the binary: if I don’t socialize enough I’ll start feeling like I’ve slipped through a crack in society’s fabric, if I don’t read enough I’m not taking advantage of what this summer is all about.

The edges of this flood are murky. Often they look like dry land upon which I can throw a frisbee or go for a hike, but really, it’s just more flood disguised as something solid.

But this is another way of saying that this binary isn’t so neat. There are so many social, mental, physical, emotional, moral, factors that something feels neglected all the time. And neglect leads to panic. Which leads to an overcorrection. Which leads to more neglect and panic.

So the flood has turned into an icy road and my life is an ’88 Bronco with bald tires, it’s fishtailing more often than it’s not, and every time I yank the wheel into the spin, I wonder if this is the time I end up in the ditch.

But the ditch is another metaphor altogether.

How to Succeed at Comps Without Really Trying, Week 4

Something is happening.

I was at the grocery store when a wave of thankfulness and love hit me. I loved the old ladies who park their carts in front of everything I need. I loved the smell of the seafood counter. I loved cart boy who was mopping isle 6 because he was whipping that thing.

I especially loved that I was doing something other than staring at book, at the written word, at scribbles on dead trees or darkened pixels on a screen. I loved that I was using my legs rather than sitting on my ass. Even if this was just walking through a grocery store a block from my house. Even then.

In the parking lot I smelled the sunset and thought, this is what it is to be illiterate. Just for a moment, to see the world as it is rather than the representation of characters as they shop for groceries and maneuver around old ladies’ carts and smell the seafood isle.

This euphoria is still echoing in my calves as I type this (yes, back in front of the screen) because behind my monitor I can see pink and purple clouds over the mountains. Not even the screeching of the neighborhood cat in heat can ruin this (Oh. We will discuss this cat. This fucking cat. In. Depth.)Image

This is what happens when you read a novel a day for three weeks and then, suddenly, find yourself doing something, anything, anything at all, other than reading. It feels like one big orgasm by absence (of reading) and presence (of god damn everything else).

Even as I’m starting to feel the accumulated exhaustion not just in my brain, but my body, I am, at this moment, in love with this Colorado summer because it links back to every other Colorado summer I’ve ever had where reading was something I did when I wasn’t chasing snakes in a creek bed or dip-shitting it up at some mall or standing so utterly bored in the outfield of a little league game.

Sometimes it’s good to remember that I wasn’t always doing this.

The other day I read a novel without reading it. My eyes passed over the words. When I finished I had copious notes. I thought, good job. I thought, another one down. Then I realized I couldn’t recall the main characters name 30 seconds after finishing the book. (The character’s name is Abel if anyone wants to guess what it is. And no, it’s not the Bible).

The other day I became aware of the other cars on the highway. I mean really aware, to the point I felt the panic of a 16 year old. There are so many. So fast. What if. What if.

The other day on the frisbee field I lined up one of my oldest friends. I looked at him dead center, let the frisbee fly, and then called him the completely wrong name.

The day I learned that caffeine isn’t nearly as effective as a nap.

The other day I saw a kid at the park and felt so happy for him because he can’t even read yet.

The exhaustion is worrying. Yes, I am just a bit over a third done with my time in comps. And, according to my very rough calculations, I’m about a third done with my primary sources. Here’s the bad news, those calculations don’t include the secondary sources (we may go into this math in more depth another time). So this euphoria, through absence, through exhaustion. Yeah, it’s going to muddy.

How to Succeed at Comps Without Really Trying, Week 3

Let me tell you about pages per day (we’ll talk about pages per sitting, pages per hour, pages per drink, and pages per nap another time). I figure that I can read up to 300 pages in one day. This is pushing it. Really pushing it. A more comfortable range for me is something like 200 to 250. So far I’ve maintained this pace, reading a novel a day. It should be noted that this is novel reading, not secondary text reading. Theory is usually so dense that my pace falls off a cliff. I am only mortal after all.

However, it’s not so simple as looking at page count as not all 300 pagers are created equal.

There seems to be some rule in publishing that says that if a book is short (say 200 pages or less) that it needs to be padded by large margins, spacing, and font. This figures as no one wants to spend $20 bucks on something that has the approximate weight of a paper airplane. We want to feel that we’ve got our money’s worth. To quote Boris the Blade in Snatch, “Heavy is good. Heavy is reliable.” Heavy books double as self-defense weapons. This is why we like them.

However, on the other side of the spectrum, say anything over 350, publishers start borrowing their spacing techniques from a contortion artist in a glass box. They take every element that the short book tries to expand, and shrink it like a scrotum hitting ice water. The font, spacing, and margins all get so crammed that they have no sense of personal space. This is because huge books intimidate people. When the reading public tends towards magazines and newspapers, a book that weighs the same as a two year old isn’t going to fly off the shelves. Plus, a 700 page is so heavy you’ll probably only pull a muscle if you try to throw it at someone.

So, this makes 300 pages (or so, hell if I’m being scientific here) the sweet spot towards which all texts migrate with gravitational-like regularity. So I’ll say it again, not all 300 page books are created equally.

I can tell within five seconds of flipping through a book how my day’s going to go. There are the obvious signs, the text’s girth, heft, length, etc. (size matters) but nothing makes my ass spasm with grief more than seeing that a 350 pager is really a 450 pager or with joy at seeing a 200 pager that’s really a 125er.

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Zombie Bake-Off

Look (don’t read. Just look) at the picture of Stephen Graham Jones’ Zombie Bake-Off: the font’s larger, this pagination screams relax! Relax mo-fo! My eyes can breathe this white space. The section breaks are ample and have an awesome graphic of a doughnut on above each. I flip through this book and say, cake. I can rock this in a day. Cake.

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Plague of Doves

Now look at Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves (right). Look at this thing. It’s like a black hole rests just inside the fourth chapter and everything is being crammed towards some event horizon. The section breaks look like they’re under tectonic pressure. Just seeing this wall of text makes my eyes deflate into my skull. I know that when I open this book, that if I’m going to keep my pace up, I’ve got to make it through this thing in one day, which is akin to realizing that the marathon you thought was in San Diego is really in Nepal.

(Of course, both are excellent reads (in wildly different ways) but god damn.)

Part of me says this doesn’t matter. The same part says that it all has to be read anyway. And another part of me wants to murder that first part.