A Damn Fine Compliment

photo-12A funny bit of trivia: When I first arrived at the University of Pittsburgh in 1997, my goal was to become a Great American Novelist. Pitt has the oldest creative writing program in the nation (a fun distinction, even if it doesn’t really mean anything), and I wanted to study fiction writing. I was salivating to write mind-blowing short stories and books and then publish them everywhere. Since I had odd tastes, I fancied myself the future Umberto Eco.

Since those whimsical early years, I have become almost every kind of writer but a novelist. I have been a working journalist since 1999, earning nearly all of my income from newspapers and magazines. I have written more than a dozen plays and scores of monologues, and they have received splendid productions by talented theater companies. I have written marketing material, press releases, PSAs, how-to guides, and award-winning poetry. I love writing, and I try to do just about every kind of writing there is.

Just recently, Pif Magazine published my short story, “B.”, about a blind date gone horribly wrong. I originally conceived the story as a short film, but it was birthed more naturally as prose. Heartrending as it is—at least in the middle—I love how the story turned out. I particularly enjoyed the challenge of writing fromt the perspective of a shy young woman. Just as pleasing as the story itself was its placement: I first stumbled into Pif my sophomore year of college, not long after I discovered the Internet. It is a very old for an online magazine, predating the blog trend by nearly a decade. Pif’s acceptance letter was among the most exciting affirmations I’d received in years. (Which is really saying something, given how many people have supported my hairbrained projects in recent memory).

To top it off, I received a “ping” from fellow WordPress blogger Mariah Beckman. We have never met. I had never heard her name before. But in the middle of a longer text about NaNoWriMo, she had this to say:

I love Flash Fiction, by the way. I just had the immense pleasure of nominating this story by Robert Isenberg, who I am now quietly obsessed with, on Pif Magazine. It’s one of the best short pieces that I’ve had the opportunity to read in awhile, and I’m so glad my colleagues concurred. Short stories like this one remind us that there are moments that are in us, and that their very stagnant and coagulated memories are actually brick and mortar ones that we are free to use. We can find a place, hours or days or months later, for the ugliness. The self-doubt, as Anne Lamott can tell you, is essential to your progress.

I’m reluctant to admit that I had a very strong emotional reaction to this, the kind of bleary-eyed, crooked-smiled euphoria you feel at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. I was probably an odd sight, sitting (as I was) in a supermarket cafeteria in downtown San José, a fork full of gallo pinto hovering in front of my quivering lips. Luckily, there was hardly anyone there and Costa Ricans don’t bat an eye at that kind of thing, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, since I was lost in a haze of happiness.

Writers so often work in isolation that we often have trouble complimenting each other. Coming from the theater, I find this absence of applause can feel tepid after awhile. I publish a short story maybe once every two years, and usually in journals so small that friends have to search high and low to find them. To Mariah, I offer enormous thanks for the tremendous words, not to mention the initial nomination. And believe me, there will be more.

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2 thoughts on “A Damn Fine Compliment

  1. Reblogged this on Paper Beats Rock and commented:
    I have every intention of posting later, but I wanted to share this post by an impressive writer that I have been quietly stalking.

    Recently, I mentioned that Robert Isenberg is definitely an author worth familiarizing yourself with in one of my Captain’s Logs about NaNoWriMo. (Speaking of which, shouldn’t you be working on THAT instead of checking out your WP Reader?)

    Anyway, I guess HE was touched that I was touched by his writing, which in turn I found really touching. You did it, fella–your short story was awesome, and, clearly, you should be churning them out. I hope you’ll let me know once you’ve compiled your first collection.

    In this Reddit-friendly, meta, snarky world, it’s easy to get used to recycling the same weak memes and that familiar haughty superiority. Sometimes, though, there’s something to be said with just being genuine. Isenberg’s writing is just that.

    See what I mean by visiting his blog, linked below.

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