We have been instructed to kill our darlings when we write, as if the adherence to form requires sacrifice, as if our readers will be put off by our earnestness, as if to love something is a form of weakness.
Emailing with an editor today, she wants to publish a story you wrote a few weeks ago, though she is asking for some substantial cuts. The editor is a young woman, already established in her career. She is known for being tough on writers, and sometimes she is mean. She wants to cut half of the story and revise what’s left. In short, she wants a completely different story. One part, in particular, she hates: the long section where you’ve made Jesus Christ into a Lakota Indian who, out of compassion, makes love to a women with one eye—this part, the editor says, needs to go for sure. You agree. It’s an example of a writer’s indulgence. It’s exactly the sort of darling you have been constantly instructed to murder.
“Yes,” the editor writes back. “There is no room for a writer’s indulgences with this modern 21st century internet crowd—they are all looking for short things they can read while waiting for a train or riding the train or getting off the train. And no one wants to read about Jesus Christ anyway—they don’t really want to read about Lakota Indians either, truth be told (but of course we can’t say that). But if you are going to write about them, why not show a little goddamn respect?”
These things make sense. Stories should clarify the world. You never meant to offend anyone.
A few weeks later, the day your story goes live on the magazine’s website, you go to see Yo La Tengo; it’s a small show with a low ceiling, and they play “Cherry Chapstick” and Ira Kaplan tells a long story about Daniel Johnston, and you wish it were still the early 2000s, and you miss all of your actual darlings even though they were terrible darlings, each one of them terrible in a special, unique way. Given your track record, your future darlings are likely to be uniquely terrible as well.
This one darling in particular was blind in one eye and used to take pictures of you obsessively, would pose you and coach you into making a certain face or whatever. This person treated you like a doll most of the time and sometimes asked you to sit still for hours so the lighting would be exactly right, so you would look perfect for the camera—rolls and rolls of film filled with you. At the time it bothered you, though it doesn’t seem like such a big deal now. You wish you’d been more flattered by the attention, but you weren’t. You felt the camera removed intimacy—this person hid behind it. Maybe it was protection because you are a terrible darling as well, in your own way. In any case, how could you love a person like that, the camera always intruding on your relationship? Even while you had unprotected sex in the dimly lit bathroom of that apartment, you could feel the camera watching you from the little shelf like a disapproving high school friend, judging you, a third person who met your darling long ago, someone who knows your darling inside and out, a person incapable of murder.
Kaj Tanaka’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Electric Literature, The Master’s Review, 3:AM, New South and Midwestern Gothic. He is the nonfiction editor at BULL Magazine.