Monday, January 7, 2013

Stealing Time (Litmag Review)

Among the things that parents say all the time that non-parents find aggravating is that there is much about the experience of being a parent that cannot be intuited from the position of never-having-been-one. It is, nonetheless, demonstrably true.

One such experience that could only make sense to a parent (though not to all parents, certainly) would be paging through a commercial magazine geared toward parents and looking carefully at each page, even as one bemoans its sexism (e.g., the legerdemain by which Parenting can be subtitled "What Matters to Moms"), its heteronormativity, its propagation of middle-class cultural and consumption norms, its writing on a fifth-grade level, etc. After all, if one were to skip all that garbage, one could end up missing some nugget of information, parenting technique or must-have product without which one's child's pursuit of happiness would be lastingly impaired--and there is no greater anxiety, in certain households, than that.

It is perhaps that experience that helped give rise to Stealing Time: A Literary Magazine for Parents--a journal edited and published in that other Portland.

[Before I continue my review, I should offer full disclosure: I submitted a short story for their yet-to-be-published second issue--which was rejected--and am pondering submitting a poem for their third.]

Issue 1, Genesis, is a flawed but hopeful start. Too many of the pieces begin, "In the beginning...." There is little evidence of diversity among the contributor population, not just of those types specifically named in the submission guidelines--"single parents, queer parents, transgendered parents and parents of transgendered children, blended families, grandparents, families including children or parents with a special needs diagnosis, parents of children lost or deceased"--but others I would like to see as well--parents of color, parents who did not graduate from or even go to college, immigrant parents, children of immigrants who have become parents, abuse survivors who have become parents. More diversity of characterization and emotion would be welcome as well; the only story or essay that reveals transgression against conventional notions of what it means to love one's children is Rebecca Kelley's "Twenty-Seven Ways to Wear Your Baby," which ends up being one of the more compelling. (Though even there, elements of its appeal to me likely stemmed from the ways in which it referenced the Maya Wrap, the lactation consultant, the attachment parent, i.e. the mundane spoor of middle-class urban parenting in the early 21st century.) In terms of genre and style, the MFA voice is hegemonic.

Would a story that offered a sympathetic portrait of an abusive parent be accepted, if done well enough? Could a science fiction story that builds on a style of child-rearing very unlike the contemporary North American, like Ken Liu's "Mono no aware", find a home here? Would the next Tillie Olsen be able to steal enough time to make herself understood to the editors of Stealing Time? Time alone will tell. I hope so.

I am not writing it off because, in the end, I ended up reading more than 80% of the contributions attentively, from start to finish. That is, they were written well enough to pass the basic test of making me give a damn. That's a better record than most issues of such august journals as Tin House, AGNI or the Paris Review. Its appeal may not be as great to those in the literary universe who do not share that basic experience, but it is a worthy endeavor that I hope continues, develops and grows--much like a newborn baby.

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