Dreams and Fears

by jkatejohnston

21 and 22 January 2015

Dear Max,

Teresa dreamed that I shot her and wouldn’t let anyone call 911. And I refused to shoot her again and kill her. Finally Enzo called 911, but it was a foreign country. He handed the phone to Teresa. The foreign 911 dispatcher said things in another language. “English?” Teresa kept saying. Then the dispatcher put her on hold and she lay there bleeding and wondering if she should just hang up and call the operator, but what if she did that right before someone who spoke English came to the phone?

“Why wouldn’t I shoot you again?” I asked.

“You wanted me to suffer.” Then to Waddie, the dog: “Where were you? Aren’t you supposed to throw yourself between me and a bullet?”


I’m thinking about having Teresa read my book so I can re-write it, but since she’s one of the extremely few people whose good opinion I can’t do without, it’s a bit scary. She has good judgment too. Frighteningly good. And she knows me well: no hope of passing off affectation as wit.

I dread criticism and need it. I’ve sent my query and sample pages only to the fanciest agencies because it seems safely hopeless and therefore nothing to do with me when I get rejected. Like the agency that only represents Brits—I sent it there.

And thinking of Teresa reading my book, I imagine handing her a set of highlighters so she can color-code her response according to my instructions: yellow for affected; purple for boring, green for you’ve made that joke at least once already, turquoise for too legal. All intended to insulate me from her real reactions.

It reminds me of grad school writing workshops (hated that word then and hate it now, a workshop is where you do work, you lazy illiterates) anyway, grad school writing workshops where, before you read your story, you gave a little speech explaining what you were trying to write and what you needed help with. And the speeches were always lame attempts to pre-empt any real criticism. Or just soaring pretension. Usually people don’t know what they need help with. If they knew, they’d fix it (if they could). In grad school, I never made the speech. I’d just say this is fiction or non-fiction and then read, and I always got laughs and then got criticized for being shallow. Dumb people don’t know that funny writing is serious.

At CCS (the formerly great College of Creative Studies, now under attack by the forces of evil) you didn’t make a speech. Your writing stood on its own. Or fell.

Poor writing!

All this reminds me that my diaries from grad school ought to be more known. They’re fucking hilarious, and many other things too. Thus, some links:




Next morning. I see that even thinking about grad school—twenty years later!—makes me ascend my high horse and gallop about. Well, it’s nice up there.