You pour your best two hours of sleep into a mug-shaped awake, climb back into the car (assistant editor/tag team partner in tow), drive the ninety minutes back to Champaign-Urbana, and set up for an all day book fair at The Pygmalion Festival. One part music fest, one part lit fest, one part handmade/vintage boutique fair, and four parts killer, you think about the opportunity to finally “meet the neighbors,” the fellow writers, presses, and journals populating your adopted corner of the midwest.
You feel like the new kid in school–not the cool, troubled James Dean loner–not the detached rebel outcast with the tall shadow and leather jacket heart wrapped uncomfortably insecure in the parenthetical danger of clenched fists with bloody knuckles.
You feel a little more like the weird kid jokingly invited to a raging kegger at the head cheerleader’s house (while Daddy and her latest Mommy-type parental substitute are away in the Poconos for the week). In your excitement you forget your station, skip out on the Friday night D&D game (delusional in your thought that you’ve rolled a real-life 20 on charisma), and suddenly realize (halfway to Miss High School Cool’s jello-shot love in) this may all be a trap (in your best worst Admiral Ackbar voice). Suddenly, you get cold feet because, in your head, you did the Admiral Ackbar voice and you know how dyed in the wool uncool you really are–your dice bag heart spills Platonic solids into the hollow void of your chest, growing more and more black hole-like with each quick, hot breath.
All the confident and cool you think you have–all the Pete Townshend windmills to the bedroom mirror rush to fill this swelling well welling up just south of your sternum. You think of the Cygnus tumbling into the Walt Disney surrealist Hellscape–Dr. Rinehardt trapped with the cocoon of his creation Maximilian–why the fuck am I thinking about The Black Hole at a time like this–I even worry in nerd metaphor. What chance do I even got to being something resembling normal?
You snap out of your private teenage emoist revival by your assistant editor who has been talking, for you imagine quite some time and at some extensive length, about the night before, the day ahead, and a plan of attack. You stop for gas somewhere outside of Decatur, at a one-stop BP/McDonald’s. The midwest gothic landscape loses some of its hardness by the punctuation of RVs and tailgating footballers gassing up in more ways than one. A sea of orange diffuses the weathered wheat and concrete of the paved heartland landscape. You think about how funny it is that almost everyone at this gas station is going to the same place as you but they couldn’t be any more different than the color of your skin against their very caucasian DNA. You thought about the double helix last night at the reading downtown–how you didn’t look like anyone else really. That difference wasn’t in the Fight Club “You are not your khakis” way you are used to feeling when you tell someone you make your living trading in words, lines, and margins. Your hair, your Lands End khakis (I know…), your Elvis sideburns, The Replacements shirt worn like armour beneath your linen bowling shirt, your lack of an Iron and Wine beard, your abundance of pigment. Even in Manhattan you didn’t feel this exposed. Usually, walking into a room of writers, you have that Bee Girl from the Blind Melon moment. You did and you didn’t–you pretty much chalk it up to you being you–awkward wrapped in shy, and deep fried to a crumbly crispy crust of detached aloofness you hope comes across as charming (the intersection of Hard Days Night-era Beatles and…a Monte Cristo sans the raspberry dipping sauce? Ugh.). You mingle. You join in. You calm down. You quietly wait for the midnight Breeders show, knowing you will feel more like you once you are leaning hard against a security rail reaching out to Kelly Deal, singing along to “Cannonball” with your fellow Gen-Xers, slightly grayer but equally enthralled by hearing Last Splash in its entirety.
By the time you hit the second reading, you’ve calmed down. You backfill your nerves with a Jameson. You are in a room of your people–it’s the ink not the skin, right? You are in full-on misterjim mode. You listen to Kyle Minor, Matt Bell, and Roxane Gay tear the house down in the earshot echo of Dawes in the pavilioned distance. You remember why you were hired. You do the voodoo you do so well. You know The Breeders are waiting.
Of course you don’t tell anyone. You know what this world means to you, and more importantly, what it means to Quiddity. You’ve overfilled the gas tank. In the hopes to cash out at $25.99, you spilled the last two pennies or so down the side of your car. Typical. You load up. John grabbed you an Egg-white Delight McMuffin. You haven’t had fast food since you moved to Springfield. You pull back onto the highway. Next stop–a bookfair full of bees.
Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in various journals including The North American Review, PANK Magazine, and Drunken Boat. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University. He lives in Springfield, IL. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.