Colorado State University Center for Literary Publishing

Stealing a Whole Dog

Dec 12, 2013

by Ben Findlay, Colorado Review Associate Editor.


“So many activities!” [1]

I’ve taken on a variety of responsibilities during my time as an assistant and associate editor at the Center for Literary Publishing. I’ve read submissions, designed book covers, typeset issues of the magazine, and lots of other activities that have helped me develop a pretty diverse set of skills. At this point I think I’m pretty good at answering the phone. As satisfying as that is—answering the phone, being good at something—I think I’ve crossed over a plateau of sorts. I’ve passed the bliss point for answering the phone and am now experiencing a kind of sensory-specific satiety. [2] That is, each subsequent answering of the phone is less satisfying than the last. I don’t feel the same thrill of accomplishment for correctly answering questions as I used to. It’s not that I don’t love talking to people when they call; it’s just, you know, losing its luster, like growing comfortable with a house plant that I once considered exotic. [3]

I’m in my third year of the MFA program here at Colorado State, which means my primary focus is on crafting and completing a thesis. I should be thesising [4] right now, actually. Right now my thesis is this fragmented, unrefined, mess of stories, annotations, and ideas. It is a metaphorical pile of unfolded laundry. It has mass in its incessant looming, its demand to be addressed and dealt with, but if you were to pick it up, it would slip apart and fall like so many unmatched socks.

Earlier this semester, I was fortunate to work on the production of Intimacy (forthcoming) by Catherine Imbriglio—winner of the 2013 Colorado Prize for Poetry. I typeset the book, which means I’m the one responsible for the way the book looks between the covers. I chose the fonts, created the interior graphics, placed the poems on the pages, and so on. I have typeset issues of Colorado Review in the past, but working on this book, Catherine’s book, felt different. It felt like a weighted, living thing—which is a strange way to describe a manuscript that’s really just a stack of papers and a Microsoft Word document. Unlike my own thesis, I was working on something complete and whole. This generated two reactions from me.

First, a strange mothering instinct kicked in. I felt responsible for bringing this precious thing into print in a form that would accentuate everything Catherine had given to it in its creation. I thought, if I screw this up, she is going to be so disappointed. This is bigger than answering the phone. An artist lived with this work. Maybe for years. Maybe she spread this work out on the hardwood floor and reordered it nightly. Maybe she cried about it, or at it. This work is special. This work is comprehensive and self-referential, and I wondered if taking a poem away from it would feel like separating twins. Would the poems published separately in other journals and magazines feel like they were coming back home to live in this book. And what do I even know about building houses? What if the poems don’t like it?

Second, panic. My thesis is not even close to being this kind of done. My stories hardly even know each other and many of my annotations are (pardon the cliché) barely glimmers in their father’s eye. I put them in alphabetical order. I tell them to line up by height. I have no idea what I am doing.

The truth is I don’t need someone else’s completed work to collapse myself into an anxious origami bird. I can do that pretty much on command. Working with Catherine Imbriglio’s book is soothing—fulfilling, even. Sometimes I pretend that it’s mine. Maybe this is why people steal dogs or babies. I hear it a lot at the farmer’s market.

 

“Oh my god, Kaelyn, that is the cutest puppy. Steal it for me. Seriously. I want it.” [5]

Just replace puppy with book to complete the metaphor. Maybe that’s what other people get out of holding babies. I get nervous that I’ll drop them or that I’ll do something wrong that will make it cry or pee, but maybe the enjoyment other people seem to gain from the experience is a kind of hopeful optimism for the future. Holding a book is like holding a baby. Kind of.

Maybe the puppy is a better comparison. Crafting a book is like potty training a puppy. Both acts can involve laying out lots of paper on the hardwood floor in the living room. Trying to get a story to find its ending or a poem to find its turn is like leading a puppy that either doesn’t want to go anywhere or wants to go in an entirely different direction. Stay out of the trash, poem. Stop digging up the begonias, story. Stop rolling around in dead things. Don’t bite. Learn these tricks so my friends will be impressed.

 

 

 

 


[1] Step Brothers, directed by Adam McKay (2008; Culver City, CA: Columbia Pictures, 2008), DVD.

[2] Moss, Michael, “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,” The New York Times Magazine, Feb. 20, 2013.

[3] His name is Bruce. He’s a ficus, I think. I got him at Home Depot a while back.

[4] Thesising, verb, the act of writing, thinking, or worrying about one’s thesis.

[5] I said this.

 

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