It has been over five years since we began publishing Conversely, and now it is time for us to take a break. We don't know if this is a permanent break, so we're calling it a hiatusan interruption. We don't know either whether it will be a long or short interruption. Nevertheless, we all believe it is necessary.
Conversely will remain "alive", in the sense that we intend to keep it online. Our archives, with some exceptions, will be available to all comers. And we do, of course, reserve the right to publish something or other now and then.
This, our last "issue", is one that has been long in the making. We offer two short stories, The Lovely Margolia, by Robert Caporale, and Orange Lipstick, by Keren Douek. Also, a personal memoir by Marie Lyn Bernard titled I'd Like to Have a Lover Like Yours, and finally, the winner of our 2005 Antidote Essay Contest, Zipper, by Jeremy Gill. The artwork that accompanies our stories is kindly shared by Diane Leon.
Thank you to all who have read us over time, and especially to the many who wrote us to inquire as to the fate of our publication.
Now that the election is over, we refocus our energies on more rewarding pursuits. Although we did skip an issue (in case you hadn’t noticedit was the summer, after all) and are planning to skip another, we are very happy to send you this short missive and ask that you not wait another moment before coming back to the site and reading four new wonderful pieces.
Start with Excuses. Sally Hilton manages, in just over 2,000 unexpected words, to wrap her arms, and our heads, around the painful and slow process of mourning for love. Cruel Love, through no fault or design of our own, feels its way along the same subject in quite a different way and style. Then there’s Valeria Vegas’s Stolen Biography of a Father, part of our Unhinged collection. Lastly, we offer Lucille Bellucci’s More Than Half a Life, the winner of our 2004 Antidote essay contest, which also touches on the subject of mourning, this time in the voice of a widow who begins dating again forty-two years after she married.
We’re also fortunate to bring you in this issue the photography of David S. Martin, whose gallery of work can be seen here.
We hope you enjoy this issue, and we thank you for your patience. Happy holidays!
The Saga Continues...
As you probably know, the word “saga” has been downgraded in the same manner that words like “legend” and “hero” have been devalued by those who would wantonly apply them to trivial, commonplace events and people. It’s a form of grade inflation. We are not satisfied with calling something good, so we call it great. And if the good is great, then the great must be extraordinary. And the extraordinary? Legendary. Heroic!
Four years ago we drank a few shots of gin and came up with a mission (another one of those words) for Conversely: “to probe… hidden places…delve from new angles… to explore every aspect and every stage of relationships.” After much soul-searching during the last couple of months, after much re-reading of everything we have publishedgood (and great!) and not-so-greatwe came to the unequivocal conclusion that we have made absolutely no progress in understanding relationships.
This conclusion saddened us for a few days. Then we decided that progress was overrated and we took comfort in a few more shots of gin and in the notion that getting thereexploring, as we called it thenis almost all the fun.
The only other insight we have gleaned (or rather, confirmed, since we think we knew this all along) over these four years is that relationships, and the people who participate in them, are irrational. “Irrational” being a nice word for “stupid”a nice word, in fact, for a specific strain of stupidity that is characterized by two main features:
We have published at least a dozen articles that describe this type of stupidity in extensive and depressing detail. The topic, however, is not nearly exhausted, and we have Gary Cozine’s memoir, The Long Distance Plan, to prove it. If this relationship saga (and here we use the word with indulgence) doesn’t convince you that we’re right (about irrationality), then we don’t know (nor frankly, care) what will.
But if misery is not so much to your liking, please read Tod Goldberg’s Romantic Comedy, which is more upbeat, or listen to Natural Disadvantage, one of our first published essays from 2000 and our FLASHBACK selection for this issue. We also offer you, back in more somber territory, Annie Leyson’s Diamonds Are Forever (our 2003 Antidote essay contest winner), and, lastly, Brendan McKennedy’s short story Two Fish, in which he again demonstrates his uncanny ability to find people, and relationships, in the most precarious of moments.
To those of you who’ve been paying attention, and who’ve been with us since day one (or since last Monday), thanks for your support. Drop us a note (really!) and let us know what you think of our great new look, of our extraordinary magazine, and, particularly, of the word “saga”.
The Cruel City
When my friend Sugar returned from Paris, where he went with the express purpose of falling in love, he summed up his trip with the phrase, "A string of near misses." Three months in Paris yielded him six "romances" (he is nothing if not prolific) with an international potpourri of women, most of whom he met in the museums of the city, from the Louvre to the Picasso to the Orsay. (Women, he claims, are enamored of the idea of meeting a man in a museumthey immediately associate with him a plethora of positive qualities that might otherwise require several conversations to establish.) With the exception of a Moroccan woman who was too sophisticated for him, Sugar thought, at first, that he had fallen in love with every one of them. Sometimes it was love at first sight, sometimes it happened in the early twilight as they sipped Kir Royales on a sidewalk by the Champs Elysees, sometimes the magical feeling piped hot into his blood as they traded stats in the low-lit corners of the Buddha Bar. No matter how it began, however, Sugar's precocious emotions never survived longer than a week, and often no more than a couple of nights. And later on, as he walked alone by the Seine, wondering what had gone wrong, he admitted to himself that the pain he had interpreted so eagerly as the ache of love, had in fact only been that of his longing for it. Paris, he told me, is the worst place not to be in love because it is hard to be there and not imagine yourself so. The city casts a cruel spell, a tiny flame of hope, and then lets you let yourself down.
Sugar's story came to mind as we selected and prepared the photography which accompanies this issue. Once again, we're featuring Craig Kohler's work, this time from his winter-spring sojourn in Paris. You can visit the complete gallery of his pictures here. In this issue you will also find three new features: a story on the violent side of love, a personal essay that explores the delicate moment when a relationship hangs together by an ever-thinning thread of love, and, from our 2003 Antidote Essay contest, the runner-up entry, Best Before, which delves into the crumbling dreams of a marriage.
Also in this issue, results from our Open Mike question on age differences in relationships. You can see the highlights and data from our Three Minute Survey, or read the opinions (for and against) of a handful of our readers In This Corner.
Before signing off, a reminder that next spring will be our fourth anniversarylook for a special issue and some other surprises.
You'd Rather Not Know
You wake up one day and you don't know what your relationship is all about. You scratch your head and make coffee and ignore the question but now that you've asked yourself it's hard to ignore the fact that you don't really want to know. You think it's about being with someone, and a little also about love, and maybe about caring.
But you worry that maybe it's about not being alone. Is that a firm foundation for a relationship? Fear of loneliness? Or maybe you worry that this relationship is actually about getting over the last one; you know, helping you to move on, to feel better about yourself, to gain perspectiveshe wasn't the only woman for you, after all. Perhaps this relationship is about revenge. That's right. Revenge on him, the last one, the one who flicked you out the window of his life like a cigarette butt onto an empty highway.
It's also possible that this whole last year has been about being pampered. You know she's not the one, you know she's too sweet or too wild. Yet for now you enjoy the way she treats you, or the sex. You know there's no future here but right now it's all about you, about feeling good, about postponement and selfishness.
You think, I'd rather not know. I'd rather not accept that his jealousy is addictive and that I like to stoke it, just for the thrill of seeing him react. Or you think, I'd rather not acknowledge that she's just very convenient right now. That she's in the right place at the right time; that I'm moving back to wherever I came from and why tell her? Why tell her when it's just a few more weeks and I'd rather enjoy them?
So you wake up one day and you don't know what this relationship is all about, but the truth is: you do know. You know only too well. You click on your Favorites folder and open Conversely and you admire the beautiful shots of Australia (Sydney and Cairns and Byron Bay) and you read a story about a woman who pretends she doesn't know what she's doing when she's sleeping with her boss while giving his daughter flute lessons on the side (Employee-Manager Relations). Or a story about a boy who can't remember if the girl he just had sex with is beautiful or not (Chickadees), or about a Girl who tells herself she's ready to move on, to forget him, hoping she'll make it come true by pretending it's true.
Or you read a short memoir (Good Lovin') about a first kiss that thirty-five years later still evokes an entire summer vacation; a memory all the more intense because time has proven that it was unique. Or perhaps you choose to read In the Details, which is about the way that reality will seep, like unstoppable water, into even the most comfy and idyllic of relationships.
Another day you come back and visit us and you think, there's that Portrait of My X, the one by Adrian Blevins who just published her book of poems, and it's one of those Flashback pieces that they put up on the site as though it were new although the truth is they published it two years ago.
But you read it anyway, because even if you did read it two years ago, you probably still can't decide what that one is all about.
Truth or Dare
With this summer issue, Conversely has published over one hundred articles (we had an independent auditor count them, to make sure), each one written (we were assured), selected and edited (we seem to recall) with loving care (from the first to the last comma), each one dispatched into the great black void of cyberspace (in the hope that it will find at least one person to move in the same way it moved us).
Honesty is, we believe, the most genuineand also visceralway of moving through writing (for the same reason that it is probably the least-favorite choice among Truth or Dare enthusiasts). Sometimes the truth in a story or a memoir is explicit and stark, but more often (and this is the crux of the matter) it is subtle, simple, almost prone to be overseen. It is the recognition of truth that leads to changea phenomenon which is remarkable when it happens (because of said crux), yet is even more astonishing when it doesn't, when instead it entrenches (perhaps cynically, perhaps self-destructively?) ghastly patterns of behavior.
Truth comes in different flavors: as a blurted confession, or a failure to speak, or averted eyes and other barely hidden (but all-too-intentional) gestures. It comes usually in small shapes that are symptomatic of larger weights and denser volumes. It comes in the shape of small vanities, or cruelties, or, as in the story by Elizabeth Real in this issue, small kindnesses. It comes to some of us, and (in many cases) it leaves others of us untouched.
In this issue, you will find, in addition to Small Kindness, another story entitled A Sudden Education, by Mark Rigney, as well as a memoir by Jane Underwood and an Unhinged essay by Aviva Luria. I won't describe them (since I fear I will give away their truths), but we hope they shake you up somehow, or if not, that you at least find them honest. We have also revivedas we will be doing from now on, with every new issue, in our aptly-named (a name chosen from among hundreds of alternatives) Flashback seriesan essay from our archives by Stephany Aulenback, on the sick nature of love.
To those of you who have complained about the lack of turnover in our Open Mike section, we are happy to share that a new Your Turn and Three-Minute Survey are up on the topic of long distance relationships: Miles from Nowhere.
To give your eyes a rest from all that text, colorful artwork by Nicole Elias will accompany our cover and articles, as well as our advice columns, over the next few months. Read more about Nicole and her work here.
Until next time…
Better Late Than Never
Most Esteemed Reader,
Often have I heard the phrase, 'better late than never.' In most cases it is uttered as a truism: When a loved one arrives an hour behind schedule, or when a plane eventually lands. (Though I can remember times when I would have liked to say, 'better never than late.' When my second grade teacher showed up, fifteen minutes latejust as a seven-year-old's hopes were beginning to flowerto administer a dreaded spelling bee. When a certain cleaning ladywho had neglected to complete her duties per her normal routineinterrupted the culmination of a five-hour-long seduction aboard a Carnival cruise ship. When a forgetful friend recalledimpossibly and at the last minutethe embarrassing anecdote he had been threatening to deliver at a birthday roast.)
So that now, as we deliver, one month late, the Spring issue of Conversely, I'd like to shrug off the delay and say, 'better late than never.' But I sense that it would be pretentious to do so. After all, we are already guilty of skipping the Winter 2002 issue (in case you hadn't noticed; see my Fall 2002 letter). Besides, it should be you who judges whether our tardy arrival is indeed preferable to a permanent delay.
Enough said, although I hope you will excuse our lateness. It is due, for the most part, to several technical and editorial projects (such as a new Online Submissions system for those of you who are interested in writing for us) that we have undertaken, and which have hampered our ability to meet our previously scheduled deadlines. We sincerely expect it will not happen again.
In return for your patience, we are very proud to offer you a strong lineup of features. As we begin our fourth year of publication, we feature two articles that swerve into less-traditional realms of romantic relationships. Record Shop Girl, short fiction by Kirk Nesset, and Oedipus Wrecked, a memoir by Kevin Keck, speak of loves that are not only not perfect, but not always healthy, either.
Two other short stories in this issue. Heat Lightning, by Hiyaguha Cohen, tracks the sporadic resurgences of a childhood infatuation. Games, by Sarah Arellano, presents a playful variation on the taste-of-your-own-medicine theme. In addition, in our Unhinged section, Jaimee Jackson writes Defilements, a collection of thoughts on a friend she 'lost' to Buddhism.
This issue's photography is by Greg Fischer, whose mostly stark compositions were chosen for a 'winter' themed-issue, and which we opted to keep even though we 'skipped' the winter issue.
As a final note, we were happy to find a positive mention of Conversely in The Boston Globe. It has not been our habit to seek much publicity, but we always welcome it (especially if it is flattering).
Drop us a letter, one of these days, and let us know what you think.
It Might Have Been Winter
Fall is in full swing, and only now, some forty days after its auspicious beginning was marked by the arrival of the twenty-third day of September, is Conversely deeming it appropriateyes, appropriateto publish its Fall Issue.
What conceit is this, people ask us? Why don't we get with the program?
Other magazines, after all, publish their fall issues well in advance of autumn. They mail out their November issues in the early days of October. So that you, they, we, can all be ready, issue in hand, once the indicated season arrives. Yes.
What is this slowness on our part, this disregard for publishing convention?
We have thought long and long about this question. It has derailed many an editorial meetingeditorial meetings which have been carefully planned in advance (by none other than Yours Truly) to achieve certain goals: To discuss the material which is to be published, and that which is not. To converse about the financial consequences of our most trivial decision. To exult over the commentary posted by our fine readership on our message boards, or the letters sent, here and there, by readers who have nothing but wonderful things to say about what we do and how we do it.
In the midst of these important meetings, then, we have argued about the question at hand. A white board has been involved, a string of emails, a mammoth amount of research.
And the answer?
The answer is that we don't know. We don't know why the program is not with us, or we with it. We don't know why we are so slow, or why we can't just be like everyone else.
We don't know, and we may never know.
One clever individual, whose identity will be protected, suggested that we just skip an issue, and call this one our winter issue. How clever! we thought. How damn clever!
But dear reader, we are not so bold. No. At least not yet. Who knows, one day soon we might be. We might, for example, just skip the winter issue. After all, we do dislike winter. It would be the perfect issue to skip. Come next February, we may just say: this issue, this February 2003 issue, is our spring issueand just like that, all will be set right.
And having explained that, I now have a few words to write about this issue, this fall-but-might-have-been-winter issue.
We have two pieces of fiction, one by O'Neil De Noux, about a sixteen-year-old boy and a princess who falls out of the sky, and one by Mark Budman, about a could-have-been Princess that lost a glass shoe.
We also have two new additions to our Unhinged collection, both on the more serious side of things, both offering material for meditation, should one be thusly disposed. Heather Kirk's Playing the Fool is a short and quick read about the contradictions that underlie an extramarital affair. CE Piper's The Perfect Is There is an unconventional eulogy that must be read at least twice, at different times and in different moods, to be fully appreciated.
Liz Scott, who won our 2002 Antidote essay contest, has a few words to say about the term 'soul mate' and the people who cheapen their love lives by using it in the same superficial way that they use the words 'legend' or 'hero'.
Lastly: a short memoir by Nanette Rayman about lucking upon a cowboy in a Manhattan bar. Good luck, or bad?
Artwork this fall by Mr. Craig Kohlerthis time a series of black and white photographs of Mexico City's zócalo (or central square), its cathedral and presidential palace; and color shots of Acapulco's Revolcadero Beach and the town of Uruapan, in Michoacán state.
And then, no more, alas, until winter… until well into winter.
Conversely Summer Time Good Time Party Time
Summer is my favorite time of year. It is the time when I like to do a little traveling. Take a jaunt somewhere exotic. Different. Provocative.
This year I want to go to Ischia.
Do you know where Ischia is?
In the Tyrrhenian Sea, between the Gulf of Gaeta and the Bay of Naples.
Compared with Capri, it is bigger and less popular and more beautiful. It is pronounced with a hard c. As in, "iskia."
Many of the photographs in this issue were taken on this island, by our star photographer, Craig Kohler. Just now he's somewhere else, somewhere in Mexico perhaps, or in Australia, snapping a few more. What a life.
There are also a few shots of Positano. They, too, adorn the very very very fine samples of writing on our website. They adorn, for example, an article about breakups. Oh no, you may think, not another article about breakups!
Well, yes. It's not sad though. No. OK, perhaps a little sad. But also scintillating. Awe-inspiring. Earth-shattering. Absolutely fabulousif I say so myself.
Gary Cozine's essay is not about breakups. I am sure of this. Nowthere is a breakup in there, or two. But that's not what it's about. He has given me his word. His article is about how he resembles a ball bearing.
We have all looked at his picture, and yes, perhaps he does resemble a ball bearing. In a way.
Bob Thurber sent us a story which we all enjoyed and wanted to publish. He agreed. So we have. I have no idea what it's about. It is set in Africa, however. Maybe Craig should go to Africa. Zoom in on some zebras.
Then there is Josh Capps' short story about puzzles. It's entitled Border Pieces. After reading it several times, it continues to shock. It has lasting impact. There is a man in it, and a woman too. They are not our run-of-the-mill man or woman. They've never been to Ischia, I am quite certain of that.
Or Africa, for that matter.
Roberta Gale's memoir begins with a quote from an Elton John song. I once went to an Elton John concert. In a massive stadium. It was a warm night and he was wearing those crazy costumes of his from the seventies. I was alive in the seventies but the decade didn't much register on me. Roberta grew up in the seventies. So did her friend. One night they almost kissed.
Is an almost-kiss better than a real kiss?
Is summer the best season for a fling?
No one seems to know.
We're hoping for the right answer.
And a trip to Italy.
Spring Issue of Conversely Now Ready for You
I am pleased you have chosen to read this letter. If only I had something intelligent to say, it would make your effort much more worthwhile. But my mind is so blank it's putting this empty piece of paper to shame.
Having a virgin mind is a good way to start a letter. Full of potential. Ramifications just aching to present themselves, and tangents too: beautiful tangents upon which one can ride, or write, endlessly.
While I wait for a point to make, I'd like to remind you that our Spring 2002 issue is now available. Finally, we got off our behinds and compiled the data from our Cheat Lie Cheat survey. Hundreds of responses. Cheating galore. And the women! Who knew?
There are also, of course, some very good articles in there. Self-Portrait in Discards is especially good, talks about scumboth human and non-humanthough if you have a short attention span you may want to try This and That instead. There is a wonderful awkward moment in this story by Brendan McKennedy. It is quite a fine piece, and there is some sadness there too. We have another new fiction, this one called Parched, by Elizabeth Rusch. It is
Something comes to mind now. The awkward moment, yes. Let me tell you about that. First, however, I should write of last week's sadness. Not the most uplifting part of this letter, I admit, yet I must mention it.
It was not one sadness, it was three. Three separate instants of sadness. The first came while having dinner with an old friend who sat lovelesswho sat girlfriendless, and dateless tooacross from me. I could hear the loneliness in his banter. I could sense it in the heavy drinking, and in the flash of anger when I called it a night, too early for him. The second one happened as we were leaving the theater the other night, before the play ended, right when we walked past the actors who were waiting in the wings for their cues. I couldn't look them in the face.
I believe sadness is always present in a relationship. Somehow. One of the things I like about Nate Hendley's personal story, Julie's Christmas Sweater (also new in this issue), is how it captures the subtle melancholy of a relationship where one person gives more than the other, and where that same person doesn't even realize they're in a completely different orbit. Another sadness is the way he lies to protect her from his true reactions to her presents. There is something biting about this dishonesty.
Dishonesty: now I think I'm getting somewhere.
So, the awkward moment. The other day, over coffee, remember? Awkward moments are like blank pages, I believefraught with the potential for new beginnings. Relationships too soon draw down their stock of magic, the low-hanging fruit is too readily discovered. An awkward moment, properly handled, can be just the thing to start again.
Anyway, over coffee, you asked an innocent question. The correct answer was obvious in your mind. In retrospect, it should have been obvious to me too. After all, how much time has it been? How many days and nights and dinners and breakfasts? How many words exchanged, and how many silences, too? But I didn't know the answer. I paused and considered and made some laughing noises that did not help. Then I threw my arms up and threw something out, something terribly inadequate.
There: the third instant of sadness, which dwarfed all the others. Steaming mug in hand, I said to myself, 'I do not know who you are.' And what is equally sad, 'you probably don't know me.' Once again I have rushed to conclusions. I started sketching in ink when I should have been tracing with pencil. I have been dishonest, in such a particular way: by lacking the openness to know you. I took the first few mounds of information and molded you into the shape most familiar to me. I have not asked a meaningful question of you, of us, yet.
Meaningful questions don't tend to alight on my head, out of nowhere, and beg to be asked. More often than not, they come to me days after the proper time to ask them has passed. But then they stay and will not go away until answered, and they fester inside my blank mind like fevered ants on a bed of crumbs, and they change the relationship permanently. If you read Parched, look for 'What if I have to bring my love home in a body bag?' and see how that little query changes the relationship.
Dear reader, I'm going to let you in now. I've opened the door. I promise to let you draw and not to steal the crayon from you.
A toast: To starting over.
Conversely Goes Quarterly
In Conversely's March 2002 issue, our last monthly issue before switching to a quarterly format (our Spring issue will debut May 1, 2002), we are happy to feature three new articles:
Back in 2001 we featured Adrian Blevins' portrait of her ex-husband. This time, read all about her seemingly insane, post-divorce encounter with a wooly madman in the forested hills outside a nameless American town: Late-Breaking Yew-Berry News from the Madman's Love Shack.
Having one lover is plenty of work - but what about two? In her personal essay Balancing, Cristy looks at her current double-duty and decides two is better than one.
In Rusty Barnes' story, What Needs to Be Done, the shortcomings of an unsatisfactory marriage are worked out while living - and sometimes not just living - with the rest of the alcoholic husband's family.
Also this month, we are pleased to announce our first annual essay contest, with top prize of $250. The contest is being held in order to promote writing for our Antidote section. For more information, click here.
As for our newsletters, they will be issued at least once a quarter, along with each new issue, and we may send an extra one here and there when occasion merits.
Until May -
In this installment of Conversely's not-so-monthly newsletter, read all about three new features, and then some major changes to our online magazine.
First things first.
The last time Alan Varty wrote for us, he applied his quirky mind to the destiny of lost love. This time he ventures up to Edinburgh on the train ride that changed his life - When Marje Threw the Big One at Me.
It has also been a while since Jandro took to the keyboard, but this month he opens up his heart and mind to the ministrations of the self-help gurus. The results have been made public and are available at Electrocution.
Our final feature this month comes from Canadian writer Ramona Barckert. Her short story, Stomach, describes the first few days of James' life after Cynthia leaves him for a movie star.
Next order of business: major changes.
Conversely launched almost two years ago, April 2000. With our upcoming March 2002 issue, we will have completed two full years of publication. After careful thought we have decided to switch from a monthly format to a quarterly format. Conversely will now have four official publication dates: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Our Spring issue will come out May 1, 2002 - there will be no April issue. (Note: We will continue to publish our advice column every two weeks.)
This change is mostly about tailoring our calendar more effectively to the needs of our editorial and production teams. However, we do expect to publish about 20% - 30% less articles per year, while at the same time increasing our average pay rates by the same ratio. In addition, there will be some changes to our standard contract terms.
Another important change is that, as of February 1, 2002, Conversely will no longer consider previously published material. For some time now we have been receiving a significant volume of high-quality original submissions, and since we always give preference to original work over reprints, we are in effect only making official what has been a de facto policy for some time. Read our updated guidelines.
Conversely will continue to strive to be the most compelling publication on relationships on the Web, bringing our readers original and compelling essays, personal stories, and fiction while avoiding the tired and clichéd approach of the preachy (how-to) and superficial mass publications. Thanks for following us so far, and let us know what you think of our changes.
Until March then, when we will have additional announcements to make...
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