August 23rd, 2018

#tbt The Anonymous Party

I’m going to do something writers are never supposed to do–it’s gauche, it’s self-serving, it’s proof you should have written better. But whatever, just this one little indulgence after all these years: I’m going to explain a story in public.

The logic goes that a writer writes what she writes with whatever intentions she may have, but then releases her work into the world–she cannot accompany it. And a reader reads whatever they read into or out of the work–if they don’t interpret intention “correctly,” then it’s not there for them, the story has a different meaning for that reader than it does for the author. Better, worse, more boring, more enigmatic, it doesn’t matter–writers cannot possibly follow our work around on kite strings, explaining it to each individual reader. It must stand on its own as the words on the page.

I largely adhere to that, even when asked directly by a student or an interviewer or a friend “what did you mean by x?” Often I meant something quite specific and I really hope you get it–equally often I was just rolling with the characters and whatever the reader can come up with is as good what I do. Either way, I feel like it’s unfair to say–unfair to the reader, who was hoping to create an imaginative world for her own self. And unfair to the work, which I did rather hope was good, good enough to speak for itself. But in this case, no one ever mentioned getting this one joke, so I’m going to speak for it.

The story in question is “The Anonymous Party,” from my second book, The Big Dream. That book came out in 2011, but I can see in my submission records that I was sending the story out to journals as early as 2006, so it’s even older than that–let’s say conservative estimate 13 years. I amassed 8 rejections according to my Excel sheet before it got published in the book and I couldn’t send it out anymore.

I actually think it’s a really good story and I’m not sure I understand about the 8 rejections. I just finished reading it a minute ago and while some of my older work makes me squirm a bit, I still feel really proud of this one. It’s about a young woman named Yaël who is a brand manager at the magazine company that later turns out to be Dream Inc. She is only in her early twenties but bright and successful. She’s also very pretty and quite concerned with her appearance. The whole story is about different worlds colliding, and the first half is about Yaël coming home to very old-fashioned Jewish family, telling them about her work day, and preparing to go out for the evening with her girl friend who is also secretly her girlfriend. One of the things I would do differently if I were writing this story today is not make the family quite so old-fashioned. I still think there’s a lot of truth and sweetness in that section, but having the mom wear a housedress is hitting it a bit too hard. Also Yaël has a cellphone and even uses it properly–quite an accomplishment considering I didn’t own one myself at that point–but we don’t see any technology at all until much later in the story, which doesn’t quite seem accurate for a character like that.

Anyway, the dichotomies of the scene are what interested me–Yaël’s polished clothes with the roughness of language she uses with her family, her elegance and her parents’ schlumpiness, everyone’s bafflement with each other and their genuine kinds and interest in each other. I really like that family and had actually hoped to write a bit more about them later, but no further stories ever came to me. Sadly.

Yaël leaves for the party and here is the joke that I want to explain. She buys a bottle of wine to give as a hostess gift at the party her girlfriend Sasha’s friends are giving. She, both in her family circles and in her professional ones, is used to the courteous gift given to anyone so kind as to invite you into their home. What she doesn’t realize is that Sasha is a grad student and this is a grad student party. As soon as she gets there, she offers her wine, but not only can she not find the hosts, grad student etiquette is that everyone drinks their own alcohol unless you are close friends, so no one will even take it from her. She gets annoyed having to carry the wine around all night and eventually abandons the bottle under the sink in the bathroom. Anyway, just to wrap things up, the story goes on with Sasha and Yaël finally connecting at the party.

That’s the joke! I have to assume someone somewhere got it, though no one ever mentioned to me nor in any of the reviews the book got, positive or negative. The few times anyone did directly reference the story to me, they did say they liked it–especially the name Yaël, which is not something I can really take credit for. The wine joke was not the point of the story–nor the name Yaël for that matter. But sometimes I just realize that that thing I thought was so clever, no one is probably ever going to know about unless I tell them, so here I am, telling you. You probably still don’t care, which is very natural. This has all been hugely self-indulgent and truly it was kind of you to even read this far, if in fact you have.

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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