On Friday, July 11, Stymie Magazine founding editor Erik Smetana announced that Stymie will be closing its doors after rolling out a few last accepted pieces. This makes me sad, not only because a great journal that published a lot of things I enjoyed reading, but also because Stymie Magazine helped me as a writer in ways I am still figuring out.
In 2012, Stymie published a story I wrote during my MA program, a story called “Middle Infield.” It’s a story I loved writing, one of the first (and still few) short stories that came off the keyboard in any way that felt easy, natural, purposeful. [For me, a good short story is the hardest thing in the world to write.] And it was a story that came from bits and pieces of life, and it was a story that I also wrote about. I was so incredibly happy when “Middle Infield” found a home; for whatever reason, it was the publication that made me feel most like a writer up to that point. More likely, it was a publication that came when I really needed to feel that way—three years into a demanding new job, a job I loved but also a job that could have easily swallowed my writing whole. I was in the middle of a novel draft then, too, trying to finish while also trying to teach five classes and run a literary festival, and that acceptance came at one of the times where it was hard to see the end of the draft, hard to see how any of it would work.
In the end, it did work. I finished the draft before Christmas of that year. I submitted all of the literary festival grant evaluations on time. I did my best work for my students. I had reasons not to write, but I wrote anyway, and I know that story helped that happen.
There are weeks like this one—these past ones—where life, generally, threatens to consume all of that, anyway. All writers go through periods where the world is full of completely sane, reasonable reasons not to write. In the current month, I have a 2000-mile move, a house to sell, an apartment to settle into, a new office to unpack, new classes to plan, family I’ve been away from for half a decade to see—all things I can point to as functional reasons that the carefully cultivated habit is off the rails. Most mornings, I still put myself in my desk chair. I’m two hours later than I should be; I’m easily distracted by the internet, my phone, the oddments that are never going to have a proper place in this apartment; my cupboards are in the wrong places; my tea takes longer to make; the cats are not in the places I’m used to looking for them. Who hasn’t sung this song before?
I’m trying to be gentler with myself (in this hour, at least—this morning was a different story); there can be quieter writing times, smaller progresses. Invisible progresses. Internal percolation. Something.
Yesterday, we drove the hour and change home—
(a place I still clearly don’t know how to name because home is this apartment in Hershey, so close to the park that I can see the Kissing Tower from the living room and all of these summer days are written over with rollercoaster screams and the soft whistle of the park train, home is where that desk chair is where I sit and don’t write but want to, but home is also where we did our growing up, the same school district, where family is, but there is the house in Wyoming, now empty and waiting but for five years, it wasn’t, was home and where we had our other family, the family we choose, and how many homes can one person hold in one heart?)
—and we spent a few hours with my husband’s family, and then a few hours with mine, and then we came back to Hershey in time to watch the last outs of the Phillies’ game. The drive takes just over an hour by one possible route or nearly ninety minutes by another. We drove through old coal country; we took a road called Gold Mine that turned hairpins here and there and crossed the Appalachian Trail twice. It was green and steep and quiet. We passed a man on a tractor, and we waved, but we forgot about our Wyoming license plates and he looked at us strangely.
When Stymie accepted my story, it felt like someone waving back. It was that acceptance in Stymie, a literary journal that took sports and sport-related content seriously, that gave me the confidence to make my first pitch to The Classical. It was almost six months later, but there was something residual there, something that helped to give me a little more permission to take myself seriously. That’s another lifelong struggle, artistically, that’s neither here nor there at the moment, but sometimes the feeling crystallizes enough to break off a piece, hold it in my hand, and feel yes, this. Sometimes the feeling has enough weight to throw.
So thank you, Stymie, and Kari, Matt, Julie, Erik, and the other many people who’ve had a hand in making Stymie Magazine everything it was for readers and for writers. Thank you for asking me to write for your Why I Write feature, too, because now is one of those times when I really need to remember.