One thing about being a writer married to a writer, and both of us being terribly concerned about our personal and collective trajectories, is that I, like my Ph.D. husband, am schooled in criticism, in getting to the meat of what’s going on. Most notably, I am splendid at meta-discussion: discussions about discussions. Ours might go something like this:
Me: It was not what you said, but how you said it.
Him: How did I say it?
Him: So I didn’t say it how you wanted me to, and now you’re mad.
Him: I’m gonna stay stuff how I say it.
Me: Fine. I’m gonna be mad.
Time well spent, right? Miffed at the start, miffed at the end. Going in unproductive circles.
My husband has spent four more years in graduate school than I have, and I imagine that sometime then—during the time I missed—he learned something that I haven’t yet: debating debates is for the birds. The “how” really, really matters to me, but from an intellectual standpoint, there is little value in getting off subject. Life is not a literary criticism class. The meta doesn’t matter, not while I’m slicing carrots and he’s washing dishes and Family Guy is about to come on.
There’s your real-life meta lesson for the week, not that meta can be clearly defined, and not that you need a lesson, because meta-everything is meta-everywhere. But here, right now, for Atticus Review purposes, let’s say that the essence of meta-ness involves layers, likenesses, referents, things-about-other-things, subknowledge, and abstraction.
Let’s just say….
We have published a flash by Marcus Speh before, but “The Last Story” is a full-length feature where his talents shine even brighter. This story is one of Speh’s “serious writer” series, in which the serious writer thinks a lot, lives a lot, and sometimes writes. Here, the serious writer discusses with a friend the significance of a writer’s last story, and Speh’s careful, nuanced approach to dialogue is captivating, so that a reader can feel the rise and fall of the serious writer’s breath, hear his bones stretch and resettle into his chair, all as he speaks to someone who is not there. Which, if we’re aiming for super-meta, is what writing really is anyhow. This is how Speh leaves his mark: by burying layers and layers of ideas and pathways beneath the deceivingly simple surface.
Read “Bug and Deck Job” carefully. Notice anything? Possibly not, which means that Joseph Gross has done his job: he’s written a story that stands on its own merit, with a no-frills blue-collar voice and so much more implied than written. But if you did happen to notice something—something a bit peculiar, something that turns your ear just a little—it might be that all of the words in the story are monosyllabic. This stemmed from a writing exercise Joseph did, which is its own kind of meta-experience, a kind of self-conscious writing in which the writer is aware of constraints.
Michael Bazzett, like Speh, writes about writing, but in “Dropping Roses,” pivots off an epigraph. The Don Marquis quote feeds the poem, and “the Don”—the quoted—makes appearances in the text, an echo made flesh.
And guess what? You may even be the rose-dropper, poised at the edge of the Grand Canyon. You’re a reader who just read about reading. You’re so meta.
Photo Source: Dude Date (James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor in the movie, Giant)