devil's advocate

Always aiming to please.

Yeah, we used to fight every single fucking day. This was back when I was still running the magazine, and it was never to his satisfaction--and mind you, it wasn't his magazine. He read it because it was something that I did, and I think he delighted in telling me that what I did was insufficient. Sometimes there weren't enough stories, or maybe there were too many. They were all too similar. There was no coherent theme in this issue. I wrote too much in the way of editorial comment. I needed a stronger editorial voice. One time he said to me something like "I feel like this isn't a magazine anymore so much as it's just a few of your friends writing for you. Don't you ever publish new talent?" For the very next issue I published some new authors (I told myself not because he told me to, but I'm not fooling anyone with that bullshit) and he complained that those stories were terrible.

And for some reason I still talked to him about the magazine. I'd tell him what I was planning to do. I remember telling him about an idea for a theme issue--I wanted spring stories for spring--and he asked me why I thought this was interesting enough to bother with. That was always his complaint: what I was doing wasn't new, or interesting. In his eyes I was completely failing to distinguish myself. He was constantly degrading the thing that I poured all of my energy and being into. And every night I had to defend it.

Nothing worked, though: I pointed out that we were doing well and he said some bullshit about how many popular things fail to distinguish themselves. I described what I felt was unique about our stories and our publication and he merely denied that these qualities were in any way interesting. I realized I'd hit a new low when I actually staged a little experiment where I picked stories from some other lit mags, and the stories I was planning to print in the next issue, and had some friends blindly guess which ones were mine. I came to him proudly bearing the results, that my friends could reliably guess which stories were mine, and he just told me that it was probably a sampling bias.

None of this could deter me, but I felt drained. Or, more precisely, I felt attacked. I was losing my will to fight. So I stopped. Winter had finally come and the seasonal melancholy set in and he was telling me some bullshit or other--something about how directionless the magazine seemed--and I finally said: "You know what? You're right. It's a useless fucking lit mag that nobody reads. It's got no direction because nobody cares about it. You win. I'm done."

He seemed taken aback by this. "Jesus, what's gotten into you?"

"Every fucking day you have another complaint. I'm done fighting. If it will shut you up I'll stop publishing the damn thing."

"I never asked you to shut up. I think it's great what you're doing."

"That is bullshit and you know it. You are constantly belittling me and the magazine."

"Look, I just want you to strive to improve. I think that's important for everyone. I thought you understood that. And I love seeing how passionate you get about it. It's beautiful. Don't ever lose that passion."

I wish I could say I'd said something witty, or slapped him, or even stormed off theatrically. But I just felt defeated--it should have been something momentous. Instead all I learned is that nothing is as easy as you hope it will be.

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