PART 1: RUSSELL JAFFE
“Don’t use third person when you’re talking about yourself.” –Chorus of Lost Spirits of English teachers
Russell Jaffe is going to the forest preserve & leaving his phone in the car. It is the way he was raised. It is the old way. Forest preserve paths, if you were to zoom out, look a lot like the human brain. Maybe things are all fucked up now because people have an inherent desire to get lost. Maybe this is a world becoming—or already completely, really—a place where you can no longer get lost. With almost any screen, strangers can enter & exit your life the same way thoughts do, from deep ones to grocery lists. Things like forest preserves are synthetic systems for getting lost; everybody deserves the right to get lost.
Anyway, at the forest preserve, Russell has to take a piss, so he goes into the sheltered bathrooms at the main entrance to the central trails in a clearing surrounded by woods & a visitor’s center. The inside the bathroom is more like a concrete outhouse with a thatched roof of thick, green slats of recent wood, & the toilet is a plastic cone-tube covering a dark hole in the floor. Liquid is in the hole. & Russell thinks, it looks like oil. It looks like a cloud at night. & Russell thinks, I’d write that as “a hole like a passing galaxy,” or “the creamy default of an unmoving oil slick in an unlit parking lot at night.” & he’d share this on the internet. Or he’d take a picture of the hole & put an emoji in it. A small animal—a food! Russell could put a poem on there, he could just say, “here’s where I am write now.” The language there is like an orange flag—remember! Here! Do not!
Russell thinks, the way my mind functions has changed.
& it isn’t all bad. There’s some hilarious stuff online. Some really great people he’s never met are on Facebook writing & sharing brilliant, moving, funny content, feelings, & truths. It’s like a synthetic version of hanging out with your friends—the people aren’t in front of you, but the intimate language is! On the episode of S-Town Russell is obsessively listening to today, a character says “intimacy is sharing your thoughts, feelings, & beliefs with other people & not fearing their judgment or disapproval.” This isn’t a direct quote, but it’s close. But how often are we seeking intimacy in public venting spaces where we seek being assuaged with LIKES? How often are we gathering in halos of lit screens illuminating our individual faces staring down instead of gathered around a fire, all lit by that same light, with the amazing and relentlessness of our own being people drawing us together?
We are made stronger that way.
Russell has been out of the game, in ways, since becoming a dad. & he’s been seeing a counselor about his feelings about going nowhere at work, & he’s been working out, & he’s been writing a lot on his phone. But Facebook keeps hitting like waves & he keeps feeling brave, braced before them, & the suddenly upside down, sprawled out, tumbled, at wet. & feeling awful. & it’s not usually WHAT is being shared, but HOW
The speed with which we share information has vastly, spectacularly overtaken our coping mechanisms & abilities to process information into feelings & understandings, & we are sharing ourselves into an exhaustive, stressed-out oblivion.
Whatever he says, Russell is addicted to the internet. The internet has sprung up around us not so much like an alternative universe of the imagination, something Russell likes to say it is, which sees people responding to emotional states & concepts more than reality itself, but like a mist that has crept in overnight, fogging is in, shrouding is in our immediate peripheries. There’s a lot more out there we aren’t seeing, are nervous to step out into & see.
Things feel opaque in clouds like the internet is.
& he teaches 6 classes. 6! Full time is 4. & he emphasizes this because it isn’t just something to complain about: the money, for the work, is unsustainable. Without a full-time teaching job, that competition, that agony of application & judgment, this is over. This can’t go on. It actually can’t.
But Russell stays sharp reading submissions, & there is judgment in publication, but it isn’t the same, & “no” is always “please, try again. Always!” Russell almost always says yes, but sometimes doesn’t.
But implicit in people is hope, simply by virtue of their being people & existing.
If Russell isn’t involved with art somehow (Russell realized when his child was born with his partner who made the child first from thoughts & then from strange fluids & chemicals inside them, & now the child is 2 & a half & talks like they do, & has jokes & skits, ridiculous tantrums, is a HUMAN, not a half & not an almost, but a human unmistakably), Russell cannot function. Russell turtles up & feels lost in all the worst kinds of being lost. Russell reads, Russell is constantly reading with a soft evaluative eye, & in that eye is just an eye for people reading & sharing people, Russell is made more whole.
The job of an editor is simply to direct light & apply shine upon work so that it may sparkle at its most truly.
TL;DR magazine keeps him reading, keeps him challenged, keeps him sharp for student work at his job & keeps him thinking, changing, learning, & growing from reading, especially the work of marginalized voices & different generations he grows more from listening to & sharing than ever possibly teaching or talking about as a form of comprehending.
So TL;DR magazine functions, at the lowest level, as a way for Russell himself to function, collaborate, correspond, & ultimately breathe easier in a weary & crushing context of a 2017.
A literary journal is the promise of life itself, like that little plant that grew from the trash in WALL-E.
The phones & the screens. One can speak to any stranger anywhere at any time, & the stranger CAN speak back. I can’t get lost anymore. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing. It is a thing. This is a way to walk hand in hand with this change; to not slam a door on this change. Because any door he closes is going to be like the doors on the outhouse he’s looking at recording this right now to transcribe later: Saloon doors. Doors that swing open, doors that do not stay closed.
We live among institutions full of doors. For example, school. School itself is supposed to be about being open to learning.
In school, Russell learned about the holocaust, and how bad it was, and that it’s over now. And here we are, recognizing that it’s happening again, the wheels are in motion. At every turn, we are being tested with our history and information itself.
Russell learned this teaching in cities, and this is where empathy come from. By crossing Invisible boundaries into the starkly different Americas we have historically worked to shield and segregate from one another.
Deerfield, Illinois, Russell’s hometown, the town bordering this forest preserve, was called the “Little Rock of the north” in the 1950s and 60s. Russell was born in that shadow of a building never built, which became the park near his childhood home. It was to be neighborhood of large homes made available for African Americans, a way to jumpstart the local economy, to desegregate the divided neighborhoods in Chicago. To include. But the citizens of Deerfield voted it down in a vicious series of debates and meetings that divided the community.
We are at a crisis point of needing to listen and needing to be heard in every possible context.
If you are a white person, you must recognize the holocaust the historical domination of other people has made of the world, and to not do so is to deny history.
To write, one must have faith in readership. And that means faith in people.
All this, good & bad, understandings & communicated understandings, metaphors & metaphors that use “like” or “as” so they have a different name, right & wrong, as perceived as fact as it is, still hinges on faith, because faith is all we all have inside or heads–faith in commonality itself. Faith in the commonplace.
Faith: life, a net. But all of this is in ourselves, in our heads. & that Russell sometimes just thinks he is a strange person.
PART 2: THE NEW LITERATURE
“Good writing is good writing.” “Some words you shouldn’t use.” –Chorus of Lost Spirits of English teachers
- Infrastructure is enough of a word to be the poem, so let’s walk around in that & let that breathe for a little.
- People build things. It is our natural way. Literature is building, only the foundation is the self. & that can get really tricky, but that is what that is. Even something as forthright & direct as an instruction manual has roots in the nature of curiosity & doing that stems from the self.
- Even now, I am trying to think of words, because there are better words. Or maybe not better, but closer. & literature is about both perspective & closeness, or the interpretation that comes with trying to come close to something. Or about building bridges between aesthetics; that is, photos & text are suggestions our minds MUST & DO work to put together.
- The ways we understand the world now are myriad, rapid-happening, quick-changing ways & that literature reflects its times, & our literature now needs to reflect these times.
- Once, Carleen & I were driving through the desert. & eating cookie butter from a Trader Joe’s jar. & talking about the literary communities we knew like a venn diagram of commonality—who did we both know? What work do we really enjoy? & watching the landscape sprawl out forever & then change in a way that cannot be put to words made me realize that many of us poets are actually more PROMOTION ARTISTS. As artists, we’ve learned to be our own advocates, our own branders, our own commoditizers of personality & work, & ways to speak about ourselves & others; we’ve invented the non-evaluation “review” of poetry, for example, that is just essay poetry—basically what this manifesto is—with no actual evaluation at all. Calling a book a butterfly in a basket of honey, legs stuck & wings flailing, is not actually an evaluation at all. Like, three out of four stars is an evaluation.
- Because MFA programs churn out a production line of students (like myself) who are in debt & have no direct line to a sustainable job (adjunct instructing IS NOT A SUSTAINABLE INCOME) but who refuse to be denied. Money has nothing on feeling feelings in this difficult world. So we make presses & tours & blogs & online magazines. That’s what TL;DR magazine is. Literature is happening in amazing ways from kids, young writers on Instagram, who will not be denied. & elderly people self publishing memoirs who will not be denied. People writing will not be denied, & their work speaks to evolutionary demands of the mind are to be seen, & literature is becoming harder to classify in the clutter, & that’s why literature needs to be among the clutter.
- As a teacher, I read platitudes in brilliant students & assumed brilliance & correctness by other teachers. This isn’t bad, but it’s lit informed by ideology designed to put a bow on things. Like this twitter account, spitting out algorithmically a series of exhaustive platitudes.
- No one seems to like the clichés. They’re just the spackle holding life together, it feels like. We push ourselves not toward them, but using them as fuel. Be yourself. Never give up. There’s so much more to do & say, & using literature to normalize the fact that we think & feel so much more than base-level, one-size-fits-all -isms is important.
- As a teacher, I read mind-boggling brilliance all the time, and I am becoming increasingly heartbroken over WHERE all this writing goes—to a teacher like me, to be evaluated, to be handed back, and to move on, like vultures from a carcass.
- School is a process of finding oneself because life is. Shouldn’t we be working to document and showcase that finding that is our commonality as people living within communities and cultures and homes and infrastructure?
- John Taylor Gatto is right when he says “genius is as common as dirt.” What is NOT so common, however, is nurturing & cultivating genius.
- Our production line mentality drawn by national & ideological lines would have you believe we are too different to comprehend each other, which is absolutely untrue. We have a duty to write our brilliance, & to read it, & to share it, so that we might better save a world for ourselves.
- Because to act like we are a collection of individuals would be to poison the l& around us to protect ourselves. & that is not sustaining. That is just crazy.
- That we often observe the headwinds & struggles holding us back, but not the privileges & luck that drives us forward. That is why we must write: to encounter those & reconcile.
- It’s fair to say that writers and authors, from competitive full-time professors with book contracts and agents to open mic regulars, are strong-feeling people who learn VIA communicating, often presenting or performing. It is as if being up there is a kind of expelling or exercising of demons so that new energy and knowledge might flow in.
- To be fair, this probably applies to the second type more than the first. Sometimes the first is involved with literature because it’s an adjunct, one canal of many, to hierarchize power and control.
- “Vote for me,” “like my status,” “place my work” IS MORE SIGNIFICANT to this type THAN the actual work having been done. Because we want to be seen and to belong, but how we actualize those things is complicated.
- We write so that we can be seen, & to be seen we feel we must stand out, & so we do.
- Inhabiting & being inhabited is deeply significant to literature now. It’s always had that little spark, but at this point it’s become a full on, state-covering wildfire.
- What’s emerging from that ashen soil & rocks? It’s…literature. Or, the nature of things themselves.
- Because our minds are constantly unpacking narratives & evocative language (in books, online, in the branded language of packaging, in using emotions like cloth woven for a blanketing, covering purpose) but language nonetheless that is targeted, or trying to wring something direct from us, we look to literature to unwind us with the indirect. With the experience of emotions for the sake of keeping them in tune. & that has meant an emergence of literature that is both of the times but strong enough to “cut through the clutter” or inhabit it.
- You get why: we write because objects fail us. They are never enough, and they can never be enough.
- & because the internet, access to information, the narrow channels of the school system, & outsider-feeling nature of writing itself when so, so many people don’t HAVE NOT STOPPED PEOPLE FROM WRITING, we need new coping mechanisms LIKE TL;DR magazine to excise the overwhelming emotional nature of living and writing via publishing.
- The act of publishing isn’t a revolutionary act in that it isn’t new. It’s that the way we’ve anthologized & assigned de-facto historians via educational institutions means a lot of stuff gets lost. &, on top of all that, if we lose educational institutions, we lose the knowledge. That is, unless it’s documented.
- How does it happen—and it happens sometimes—that people who never leave their neighborhoods know the world? It is through reading and correspondence.
- (Another story is learning how to access it if it’s documented. Anyway…)
- The new literature must be strong enough to untangle targeted language, & it must lead us to nothing but our abstract selves. The new literature’s purpose is the journey, & literary devices, rules of thumb, & guidelines are rocks affixed to—in the way of—the rapids.
- Or, I love thinking about the hermit crab with a beer can for a shell. Then again, there are seabirds whose stomachs are stuffed to capacity with colorful plastic bottlecaps.
- Or, all real learning is hybrid learning.
- I continuously update TL;DR with suggestions of what to write, from Worst American Parking photos or descriptions to poetry food review to collections of statuses & screen names to erasures. So much ends up standing out.
- It is no longer enough to be inspired. We must be kinesthetic—we must write what inspires us & find something uniquely ourselves—something that changes & stretches like we do, like our bodies & minds do. Even the universe itself is in a continuous state of expansion!
- Remember that if you read something & think, that was interesting, or thoughtful, or good, or terrible…& that I could edit that, or I could do that, or wait, I could do even better, or I am reminded of or given an idea…cherish that aliveness! You are being moved to act. This is powerful!
- Think about the way you learned things & watch the tunnel expand before you like a wormhole.
PART 3: THE MIND & LIVING IN THE WORLD
“If you’re going to write about your grandparent, it had better be the best grandparent story in the world.” –Chorus of Lost Spirits of English teachers
Dada consisted of artists who rejected the logic, reason, & aestheticism of modern capitalist society, instead expressing nonsense, irrationality, & anti-bourgeois protest in their works. The art of the movement spanned visual, literary, & sound media, including collage, sound poetry, cut-up writing, & sculpture. Dadaist artists expressed their discontent with violence, war, & nationalism, & maintained political affinities with the radical left.” –the Wikipedia page for “Dada”
- My grandma’s house overlooks a golf course in a gated community. It’s big, it’s immaculately clean. It’s white & the rooms have high ceilings; the wooden floors are a creamy, almost plastic feeling wood. Describing it thinking about it, it feels like a lot of houses, especially big ones, feel: both lonely at the times it’s empty, with her miniature Schnauzer’s bark cascading around the big rooms, & full at the times my family would be there, sitting in chairs, getting up to help grandma, grandma telling them in the other room to go sit down, she’s got it, & their coming back to sit in different chairs. Like when people gather together, they give it a pulse. Anyway, I’m in the kitchen with my grandma, & she goes to get a folder she’s been telling me about. In it is the poem she published in her hometown newspaper (South Bend Indiana) when she was just 13.
- She’s 90 now & she still is excited about this. & right then & there—& it makes sense when writers say “thunderbolt” or “spark” of creativity “hit them.” Didn’t show up, or come to mind, but HIT them…it occurs to me that I felt like that when I published in a college zine from a Southern Illinois community college years ago because they sent something across my grad school’s email server. It blew my mind then—I was overjoyed!
- She also texted me this:
- Just think about how knowledge has functioned in YOUR life. You learned in school. What was anthologized? What was preserved, proliferated, & dissected for meaning? Why was that what you were taught? Couldn’t we all be doing that for each other?
- What if literature was a flood, not a boxed & packaged commodity sold on the backs of standardized exams & canonical (read: mostly by white men, whose perspectives we have been for the longest time regurgitating) works?
- What if we were all publishing, all sharing, & all seeking with excitement & intrigue new & emerging voices? Works in progress, like we are?
- Art has power because sharing has power.
- As magical as the world is, it is also a lonely place.
- All these institutions, all these screens, the pixelated light now as common as grass; all economics, all trade, & even l& itself in its relationship to people is about sharing. It all stems from an inherent, deep seeded desire to share. Have you ever met someone who glows because they’ve been told “yes” that day?
- I know people who are addicted to this in publishing. & like how we deal with many additions—for example, sugar addiction—we FEED the addiction so that we might ALL feel it & ALL rise or fall with that feeling together, rather than lose some in the world to this feeling.
- Watch chef shows on Netflix. Watch Japanese pro wrestling. Both tell the stories of coming up, of being tried by fire, of being on the outside of the norms; of leaving, learning “classics,” developing technique, returning home to find yourself. Japanese pro wrestlers who were thin, lanky, and in plain black or blue tights come back with big mohawks or heaps of bling and boil over with muscles and color and makeup and character. Chefs return focused on indigenous ingredients, reframing and challenging what food even is.
- This is what we must do. TL;DR magazine is a place for this. It is a place for those on that journey.
- TL;DR magazine, in documenting the emptied-&-refilled notions of our relationships to objects & language or to each other, or really just that we sat down to write a thing because we were moved by it, serves a life-essential mechanism for living & coping in the world, & by documenting, like how cave paintings were the necessary act of perspective sharing.
- Direct or implicit, perspective being shared is the difference between living in only a technical sense & living.
- Maybe on top of all this—or adjacent to it—we feel good when we write & share for a reason: We are feeling our feelings above all else, churning them up like fuel to keep living in the world. Living in the world is, was, & will always be very hard. Life is finite above all else. We forget that!
- & movements like Dadaism sought to discharge the brutality of war & nationalism with indirect, non-linear, often messy simplicity. & so it is we need to discharge again, this time the targeted language of our screens, of our products, of our systems of even communicating with each other.
- You cannot even look at something on a screen without being targeted by the language of intent. Intent to sell, intent to grab—one never feels truly safe, does one?
- Gender & race have to be brought into this because the new literature needs appropriation, & the way appropriation has functioned has too often, too intensely been beyond insensitive; the use of autopsies of as people of color as a “remixed text for poetic effect;” the countless young men writing harrowing accounts of rape & the argument being one of free speech & censorship over the real feelings triggered in listeners; there are too many examples to name.
- & yet to truly live in the world, we must use appropriation to inhabit & take control of the rhetoric we’re bombarded with to buy things, to vote for things, to click LIKE on things, to be afraid of things. We must strip the packaging of its language. We must reign in the wild clickbait, making it directionless, like how an art gallery with no pictures becomes an empty room.
- Do you see how easy it is to slip? To not fire back at or challenge the languages of power being used to strip us of our agency, of our feeling empowered, of our feeling like our voices matter, & funneling that into purchasing…& to instead target one another for our very identities?
- It is as if we are often trying to clip one another’s antennae that help us recognize one another & collaborate in the interests of life.
- “Not life, but a good life, is to be chiefly valued.” –Socrates, to Crito
- & we must acknowledge that the reason appropriation is so often directed at other people—often different races or genders—is because the world has generally been a playplace for white men where everything is on limits, encouraged, & allowed, & the feelings of people are presented to them on the level of the blinding whirlwind of rhetoric around them.
- We must write a new literature to purge the targeted language of content & replace it with indirect simplicity of our own intimate language. I saw a car & thought of a movie, so I am writing a top 10 list. I heard a dripping sound & thought of an owl, so I am hungry for a quesadilla. We must let our language follow the indirect above all else, document it, share it, watch that growth & gestation & life! That is the role of TL;DR: to preserve the human spirit. A lot of things are designed to do this, but the point is, so is TL;DR magazine.
- TL;DR magazine is just one journal doing what more journals need, essentially, to do: to eschew the dominant aesthetics of what passes of successful, anthologized literature and working to cultivate new styles and voices; poems that challenge form, essays that are works of art, memes that are pervasive literature spearheading the zeitgeist, fragments of the world seen.
- Writing & publishing are about being seen.
- Publishing has real value. It’s easy for me to say it’s being in the world. It’s harder to understand that it IS the world. Being seen is existing.-Russell Jaffe