If I had sent this newsletter just a few days earlier, I would have directed your attention to an arresting short story by the author Isabel Fall, which ran in the latest issue of Clarkesworld. But now if you follow that link, you'll see a note that reads, "This story has been removed by request of the author."
The story got a lot of attention: first good attention, then not. I don't entirely understand what happened. Plus, it seems like the last thing this situation calls for is more outside analysis and opinions. But I hope she’s okay and I hope the whole community involved is okay.
It is hard for people doing something new and original. I wrote this earlier about how fragile they are at the beginning of their careers:
“Observing raw talent always fills me with a protective feeling, because raw talent alone takes a person only so far, and rarely far enough...thinking of the genius youth I have known, who for a various unfair reasons — money, health, mental health — couldn't level up, couldn't transition talent into a career or even a semi-stable past time.”
Then come the social and institutional barriers. And more barriers because the culture isn’t ready for them yet.
In this example: here is a writer, who, it would appear, has no representation, let alone books under contract. She published this inventive story so modestly — in an online journal, anonymously. I can't help but think about what happened to her in contrast with the unrelenting boosterism of professional publishing twitter. It is often the same insiders who lavish hot books with praise on social media that will privately tell you how shaggy and inept the work actually is —but it's easier to be part of hype as it happens. People hope that power and shine will rub off on them, I guess. But neither an avalanche of criticism nor a vacuum of it are ideal for any sort of community.
But I don't just want more for the Isabel Falls in the world, I wish there were more opportunities for the people criticizing her story too.
A security guard at NYPL at Lincoln Center was reading this: Lies: A Diary 1986-1999. Looks interesting.
Over the holiday, I was thinking a lot about how #metoo fizzled out, or went in hibernation, or ended completely. It feels like we all walked out of the theater at intermission and forgot to get back to our seats in time to watch the resolution. Part of it is because I skipped a holiday party. Not because someone who harassed me would be there. But because someone I told — who didn't believe me when I told them — would be there. All those splinters after the original crack—that’s what’s hard to talk about. That’s what living with it is. This piece by Jessie Lochrie resonated with me.
One of the most formative/frustrating experiences in my career I haven’t really seen represented: coming to the realization that my work had value because guys around me kept ripping it off and getting praised for it. Like a nonconsensual Cyrano. But I guess Cyrano knew he was good.
I'm thinking about that now because of what happened to Isabel Fall. Lookit me—now I'm dumping my anxieties and baggage onto this anonymous writer. Doing exactly what caused all this trouble: projecting. But it's hard not to: I've never witnessed as stark an example of a big break crushed.
I don't understand what happened to her other than that whole situation is very sad. But I know what it's like to have a big break crushed. I've known some of the many sorts of barriers between having potential and realizing it. Things don’t stop being fragile, but if you’re lucky, you find bubblewrap along the way.