“In general I end my stories before I get a chance do something more aesthetically pleasing to me. But I’ve thrown whole stories away when all I lacked was a last line. Often.”
Oh, hello. I'm Meaghan O'Connell.
Welcome to my tumblr! I have been writing and reading here since 2008. Here are some highlights.
I worked at Tumblr for awhile in the early days, and then Kickstarter for a bit longer.
In 2010, I spent a long time co-editing and -publishing and -rallying around a thing called Coming & Crying. If you like sex and feelings and have $8, you can buy the e-book here.
And sure, follow me on Twitter if you want, you pervert.
A few months ago I finished, or so I thought, an essay I’d been writing for months — years now. All of the time references are completely out of date. I shift some and forget others.
This essay was one of the first things I started working on after I left my job, the thing I had in mind before I left. I spent so many early afternoons in May and June and July half-ecstatic, messing with every word. It has been futzed with and cut and shuffled around half to death and it shows, I know that now. It just never really comes together and shines in the way I want it to, no matter how much I try. Something was lost somewhere, or was never found.
What I’ve loved about writing it despite all this is that it’s about something banal that still felt very profound to me and I couldn’t figure out why. I feel in genuine pursuit of something, so close to figuring it out. Unfortunately I still haven’t, and haven’t given up either. Whether I am being stubborn or just reveling the writing process, the part of it I want to keep close to me and experience again and again, I still don’t know.
Even now months later I open this document and start switching the order of it and hoping something will emerge. I know I have to go deeper but I am afraid of misleading myself. Or worse, truer, I’m afraid there’s nothing there.
Anyway, a few months ago I submitted this half-working essay to a handful of places and it has been rejected everywhere, an unloved child that instead of defending I look at, too, and say, “Yeah, okay, fair.”
Submitting it was good for me, even if it was premature. I want to learn rejection, to learn to laugh at it and keep going. I don’t want to live in potential. Also, and more honestly, I wanted to be done with it, this stupid nowhere essay. Submitting it was a way to get it out of my face and out of my brain and off of my to-do list.
But now it keeps coming back, insisting that I’m not done with it, even if finishing means giving up once and for all. This ugly child. I sent it into the world though I knew it wasn’t ready because I wanted to turn its bedroom into an office. Now it’s back and living in my basement.
I am trying to look at this in the most detached, bemused, grateful way possible, that is in the time between bouts of hopelessness and despair about how I will ever get anywhere in life. I know, or suspect, this is part of the process, if I want to partake in the process. (My notebooks have “Make this a zine?” next to almost every little thing I plot out.)
I will shelve it and come back to it later. Give it time. Start something else. Problem is, or the challenge is, I’ve done that with EVERYTHING this year so far. Nothing is finished, or figured out. It’s a good lesson in patience, fortitude, work for its own sake. It’s how it is. It’s where I am now. It’s how I learn to make good work. It makes me miss blogging. And having a job. And a paycheck. And an ego.
Anyway a few weeks ago I got an email from one of the literary magazines I submitted my orphan child essay to — a rejection, but one with a note so strange and amazing it made me wonder if I wrote the essay just so I could receive this rejection:
The staccato nature of this was off-putting to me at first, but grew in its appeal. The story’s underbelly was there but not enough for me at the end. The essay kind of trailed off. Because you’re a good writer, you can find an image or scene to hang your hat on and call it a day, but really, this is serious business, isn’t it? I don’t think you’ve figured it out yet, meaning, you’re still wrestling with this incident. It doesn’t go to the next level for me, but I think you can still get this published somewhere as is. I’m sorry to disappoint. Good luck.
I definitely said “What the fuckkkk” out loud when I read it. I definitely forwarded it to a handful of friends to ask if it was normal. I definitely agree with a lot of it, especially her point that I haven’t really “figured it out” yet. I may never!
But I also laughed so hard and with such awe at this. I loved it so much, even though I wanted people to tell me this was not normal. I paced excited around the house. I walked to yoga and laughed out loud, thinking of it. My joy at the strange honesty and offhandedness of it is possibly equivalent to what it would be if she’d accepted it (not that I know that feeling, yet). A stranger read my work! She resisted its staccato nature (with apologies to Lydia Davis) but ended up appreciating it. She thinks it “kind of trailed off.” (It really did!) She thinks that even though she didn’t think it was finished, or great, I could still get it published somewhere else as-is.
[I know I am a perfectionist because my first reaction was, Hell no, why would I want it out in the world as-is, when ONE SINGLE PERSON wasn’t completely won over by it?]
She doesn’t know me. She owes me nothing. She didn’t have to face me when she said it. She was, I can assume, perfectly honest in her assessment. What a thrill!
Anyway all this to say that I am thinking maybe publishing things, having a wide audience, an intimate connection with readers, being part of the conversation, is no longer my end game. Maybe my end game is to submit everything I write to this woman, and have her send me little psychoanalyzing messages in reply.
Anonymous asked: What does it look like, the taking a risk on someone if you like them?
Well, see I think there’s usually that moment when you’re like oh god fuck what no ahh what if i am imagining everything oh shit oh god and your vision gets kind of blurry and you usually turn around or keep walking or throw your phone across the room and lie face down on your bed—that? that facedown bed lying or sad sack park bench sitting? Instead of that you hit call or send or ring the bell or keep going even though like, your eyes aren’t focused and you’re sweating and dizzy and don’t know why anyone would take you seriously as a human being but you don’t care, because you know the worst thing that could happen is you feel stupid, which is actually pretty awful and will happen again and again, but what else can you do?
Which is kind of cool I think, because you get to say implicitly basically that, Hey, I like you enough that I am willing to traverse this awful frightening confusing time OH GOD I CAN’T BREATHE, etc. And then later laugh about it and be like Hey remember when I couldn’t breathe? And they’ll be like, Ha ha yeah that was hilarious because I didn’t even like you like that. And you’ll be like, goddammit, this again? And then you blame yourself, as you should, and then you hesitate more the next time, which is fair—more sweating, less articulation. Or maybe some people get better at it as they go. Maybe they storm in with a hand on their hip or a good Lean and they don’t pace and their mouths don’t get dry and they always fall in love or they always think what the other person is thinking too and there is no like, parsing of the connotations or what have you. But whatever fuck that. BE AN IDIOT FOR PEOPLE.
Ha, this is making the rounds a little over three years later. When I wrote it I had just met Dustin / was losing my mind. But I still think it’s true (if I understand my self correctly).
there was a hilarious old man (newsboy hat, ny times, goldbutton suit, huge ears, the works) on the bus today who kept insisting that me and bobby were married and i was laughing my ass off. he told bobby he should ask his dad for 10 dollars and run away with me to coney island.
when he was leaving he asked bobby for a high five but bobby goes, “I don’t like to touch the hands of old people.”
I found this in my email today while trying to find my old GRE score. Turns out I did better today than I did right out of college. Even the math! Booya, teens.
I am home in bed tonight and I’m supposed to be studying for the GRE. Pah! I don’t know what “supposed to” really means when you’re an adult, but my aim was to do it, even though as I said it out loud I thought about all the to-do lists I’d make instead, the googling I’d do, the Sopranos I’d watch (oh goddamn, I’ve succumbed and nothing else matters). It was like my brain wandered away from itself, whistling and looking over its shoulder, thinking, “Ha, yeah right.”
I stared at I think one problem and made Dustin look at it (he was sitting next to me, playing a video game on his phone) while I stammered about it, about how my brain is freaking out. He said he understood the problem but did not understand what I was saying. I covered up half of the equation with my hand. I said I knew the question but the algebra, oh, I’d forgotten what was allowed. Isolating the variable — do you remember this? It seems unfair, the things they let you do. Divide both sides by the coefficient? Why? Okay I know why but it’s funny how wild math can seem even when it’s right; correct. Math is, or was, something I could do but that I hated. I want to say it didn’t come naturally to me but that is hardly fair. Why did I, do I, hate it? I got a D in math in college and my academic advisor sat me down and said, “What are you doing, I have engineers who didn’t do as well as you on the SAT.” (Which is hilarious in retrospect, those engineers! I mean they’re children? They hadn’t done shit. It was freshman year. They were just men, probably. Math men! Future engineers and accountants and even lawyers. My intellectual enemy, I sometimes think — or to be clear: sometimes think I think, unconsciously.)
I always think of this conversation with my advisor, maybe because I savor the idea of being praised for something I willingly discarded. I fear not knowing the difference between being good at something and enjoying it, or I dislike the trait in other people, so I exaggerate it in myself. Or else I am spoiled, a too-often praised child, and impatient with myself and anything that is, or was, a little too much of a challenge. The way as a child I hated learning how to swim, swatting at my parents in the pool: Get away from me. How often has my petulance held me back, made me stew in my own incompetence?
I am still that child.
Anyway I signed up to take the GRE in an impulsive moment and now have spent $200 on it and it’s Wednesday and though I’m 70% sure I won’t be applying to grad school this year, I paid and I checked out a book from the library and turns out I forgot all of Math. I am trying to do all of these more practical calculations like, Can I just not relearn the quadratic formula and that would be ok? Is it worth losing two weeks of my life to study for this? How much can your GRE scores matter, actually, when you are going to school for writing, my god?!
I studied wholeheartedly only one afternoon so far, and only because the coffee shop I was meeting someone in four hours from my arrival turned out not to have wifi. I had to sit there with this book and a crowded room and an iced tea and actually read this book. My head nearly blew open. I hated it so much, I got so mad at math. And yet it is like anything that is a little bit hard but not impenetrable: I look at it and comprehend nothing, then I take a step back and re-approach it with a new squint and read slowly and breathe and it’s fine. It’s like I have to turn the dial just a tiny bit. This is how learning a new language is for me, too. And legal documents or literary theory or tax code. I tell myself, People out there do understand this. Why not you?
It sounds a little arrogant I suppose but after a point you just learn to do all that maternal bucking-up for yourself. Why not me, motherfuckers, why not me?
This is how it feels relearning the rules of exponents. It means nothing and then it makes great sense. It is a gift. The world shifts into place. I am ecstatic. Then in awe of my teenaged self who knew all of this at once, and did it deftly. How did we do it, though, and why did they make us? I imagine it was to give us that same tiny sense of control, that intellectual domination, a toehold in the sea of unknowingness that is adolescence. Or else they didn’t know what else to do with us. Is this why the accountant and the lawyer and the engineer are my intellectual enemies — their firm grip of the truth, their shifting into place, never subsided. They carried it with them into adulthood and now make more money than me. I am so jealous of them, they so often get to work with the lights on, knowing every turn of the hallway as they walk through it in the middle of the night. Those fucking dicks. I may never make my peace with it.
In the meantime, remember y = mx + b? m is slope. I remember it, can recite it, but still am unsure what to do with it. When I get to those questions I write TOO HARD in the margins of my library book. I understood it fully once. What else have I lost in the prideful, grasping effort to define myself?
The past few times I’ve run into someone and they’ve said, “Congratulations!” out of context, my mind starts racing, wondering what they are congratulating me for. Part of me thinks I am having a Doris Lessing moment, and that someone is giving me a big award for, I don’t know what, really promising Google Docs? And I haven’t been on Twitter so I just haven’t heard the news yet. Or once I thought my former boss was congratulating me for not working at his company anymore. I was like, Wow I guess we’re being really…real today. But no: engagement.
Congratulations is such a funny thing to say for this, I think. We didn’t get married yet. We made a decision! We had several difficult conversations over the course of a few years! We dealt with ambivalence and fear and had to articulate things we would almost rather not (okay that is always worthy of congratulations, in my book). We’re excited — and I know congratulations is shorthand for, “How exciting!” or, “I’m happy for you!” or, “I wish you the best!” But I think of it usually as closer to, “Good job!” so it keeps striking me as a little hilarious, in this moment for me of not-working and working on things slowly/quietly/privately, this moment where I am so hungry and nostalgic for the days of “good job.” And here I am accepting “good job!” for making a conventional decision people almost automatically support (never my strong suit).
I am trying to resist that neediness, to stay focused on the long con. And dwell in peace and happiness and accept everyone’s well wishes and stop hoping people are congratulating me on winning the Nobel for staying off Twitter for three months.
And we have done a great job, with each other, accepting each others’ love, practicing empathy, articulating hard things, saying what we want. We have done a good job, for two sensitive, moody, fearful, stubborn, proud, striving people who have never felt more known. And I do want to celebrate that. It’s just funny because how do other people know that? Though maybe they do. Or maybe we are asserting it through this decision, and people are trusting us and supporting that. Reconciling cynicism and giving people the benefit of the doubt: a new thing for me!
I love her. Still haven’t finished the Golden Notebook; still love her.
I didn’t write back because when you replied to me I realized what a horrible person you are and decided that actually I don’t want to meet you after all. I was hoping you’d take the hint but it appears you are another naggy, entitled millennial who seems to have read too many business self-help books.
Please never speak to me or of me again.
Thanks in advance,
A person responding to my “follow-up” email, probably.
"So are you freaked out by the idea of having sex with the same person for the rest of your life?"
"Huh. I mean, no, not really?"
"Are you sure? No one new? Just one vagina. The exact same vagina, forever."
"Well, I’m sure your vagina will change over time."
Please tell me I’m not the only one who consistently finds that what I thought was a gchat sound was just part of the Sufjan song.