A few weeks ago, I put out a widespread call for submissions to my new project level:deepsouth— for Generation X. The response was healthy, people were sharing the posts on Facebook, Twitter, and other online media, and the site’s submissions page got hundreds of hits. (I know that the standard of excellence on social media is thousands of hits, but I’m satisfied with this inauspicious start.) Several encouraging comments also came back, remarks about the project being a cool idea or about how it’s time for such a thing.
Then it went mostly quiet, though some submissions did trickle in. My wife reminded me that I need to give people time to write, and she’s got a point, but I also know about something else that’s stalling or delaying some submissions: the emotional gut-punch that comes when a writer mulls over the idea, perhaps even has a first draft, and says to himself or herself, “I can’t publish this.” Other related sentiments are: “My parents/friends/etc. would be hurt by it,” and “This would hurt my career,” and “I don’t want to admit to having done things that were illegal.” (To that last one, fair enough.)
It’s a common thing for a writer to be driven into the arms of a difficult subject. Writing is an excellent way to explore a troublesome situation or event, to lay it on paper or the screen, to step back, and to look at it from a distance. In fact, some therapists even suggest journaling as part of the regimen. But that doesn’t mean that that’s all writing can be used for. Writing can also be used to record or share what we’re proud of, pleased with, or glad to remember.
I’ve already had a few emails, even one that contained a submission, saying, “Here’s an idea that would work, but I’ll never write/publish it.” Okay, then just like the old Chaka Khan and Rufus song, I say, “Tell me something good.” Generation X has this stigma attached to it that we’re the ones who got the shit end of the stick. We’re angry and surly because our hearts were broken, we were unloved and unsupervised, and nobody cared what we felt. That may be the stereotype, but one point of creating level:deepsouth was to show that that’s not the whole story. In addition to divorced parents, hard-ass teachers, unassailed bullying, and rampant cynicism, we also had some great music (from Thriller to Nevermind), some of the best movies ever made (not just Spielberg and Lucas), some icons that were full of wonder, and above all, the tremendous freedom to roam and discover and invent. Not all of our experiences were harsh, lonely, mean-spirited, or painful. A lot of them were fun, exhilarating, educational, creative, or downright weird. I hope that many, many people will write about those.
For those writers who may be considering a submission to level:deepsouth but who are finding themselves nervous about possible reactions to an essay about a painful episode, write about something else! Consider writing about a favorite album for watch & listen or about a book that a teacher assigned for in print. Consider writing a short, anecdotal piece about a good memory for golden days. I’ll tell anyone what I tell my high-school writing students: don’t assume that, to seem smart or deep, you have to write a gloomy text on a dark subject. If you’re not a Holden Caulfield type, please don’t try to be. If you don’t want to write and publish an essay that would make you unwelcome at Thanksgiving or that would get you fired from your job, then don’t— but don’t let that stop you from writing at all. Write about something else that your friends (or even your parents) would be glad to see published. Because, let’s be honest, some good things happened, too.