1. In other news, evidently The Daily Beast has some trouble figuring out the difference between sadism and masochism. And you thought your issues with affect and effect were bad.

    In other news, evidently The Daily Beast has some trouble figuring out the difference between sadism and masochism

    And you thought your issues with affect and effect were bad.

  2. The Privileged Few

    As a journalist, she fell in love with the people — with their culture, their life, and their struggle. Her ground-breaking reports brought accolades, awards, and offers of more — more money, more exposure, more time, more resources.

    She turned down all those offers save one. The long-term, low-impact documentary project aimed to show the real life of families in the area. She donated her entire personal income to a verified charity that worked with the people to improve their situation. For two years, she lived with a family in the region. Her unprecedented access allowed her to share their culture, their life, and their struggle. She found herself attracted to activism; she found herself empathizing with even the most desperate and violent attempts to bring attention and relief to this cause, and to the plight of these people she held so dear.

    Living with them, running with them breathless after one had committed some random act of vandalism or another had lashed out in frustration or anger, she’d never felt more real, more honest, more alive. She grew to hate all the people and circumstances that forced these vibrant people to suffer as they did — she couldn’t help it. She felt as if their pain was her pain, as if their struggle was her struggle.

    Late one night, as the calendar page turned on her two-year stay, she sat in near darkness talking to the teenaged son of the family who had welcomed her into their home. He asked her why she’d decided to do it, and she did her best to explain. His heavy nod contained wisdom and maturity beyond his years — characteristics learned by osmosis when actual survival has always been a way of life.

    And then he asked her why.

    She began an enthusiastic ramble about her passion for the people, for their culture, their life, and their struggle — but something in his eyes made her pause. When she stopped, he asked again: Why.

    “To understand,” she said.

    “No,” he said. “You will never understand. You can go home. You will go home. My home is here.”

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

  3. Vienna

    Her name was Vienna. Yes, her real name. Yes, like the city. No, neither of her parents were from there, nor were either of them Austrian. As far as either of them knew, none of their ancestors were Austrian. It wasn’t like that. When she was born — shockingly small and dangerously premature — her parents wished to connect her with something large and strong and old. They believed that to name something was to define it, and that if they gave her the name of something large and strong and old, their small and weak and early daughter would grow to fit it. They would name her after a city. A city with history, resilience, and permanence.

    Plenty of contemporary parents name their children after cities for as many reasons as there are contemporary parents who name their children after cities. Her parents quickly struck cities like London and Paris off their mental lists — too common, too popular. They had refined tastes that matched their educated sophistication and their well-traveled ennui. The last thing they needed was some random stranger assuming they’d named their daughter after some stupid celebrity (or some stupid celebrity’s child).

    Vienna fit all criteria. With well over a million inhabitants, it was large. With continuous habitation from 500 B.C. (although of course it wasn’t always inhabited by the same people, and of course it wasn’t always called Vienna), it was old. As a city renowned for its culture, innovation, and livability, it certainly was strong as well.

    Vienna, the city, is also known as the “City of Dreams.” Vienna, the child, also had dreams. Mostly they centered around not living in a small town in Ohio where nothing of any consequence ever happened, not being forced to participate in family events when she would rather read, and not being named Vienna.

    She lived up to her name the day she discarded it.

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

  4. Deadline Extended: Submit Your Stuff


    Hey y’all!

    So here’s the deal. Your valiant and esteemed Editor-in-Chief, Matt Freeman (raisethecurve), has been pulled away (kicking and screaming, I assure you) to attend to a crisis, so this lovely publication has been left in my hands. Naturally, I’m going to do what I normally do in situations like this — procrastinate. For this reason, The deadline for submissions to the next issue of A Literation is being extended an entire week, until July 28. Hopefully by that time Matt will have taken care of what he needs to take care of, things can continue to operate normally, and I will have successfully avoided doing stuff he’s supposed to do.

    Here’s what I want you to do: SUBMIT. Keep in mind our themes are not prompts and they’re not dictates — they’re intentionally left broad so that you can interpret them however your fantastic creative mind sees fit. Poets, writers, artists: there is absolutely no valid reason for you not to submit. There’s no fee to submit — all you have to do is click a couple things. If your submission isn’t accepted, you just post it on Tumblr like you would’ve done anyway. If it is accepted, then you’re published. You can lord it over all your friends (and even better, all your enemies) how successful and published you are.

    Also, I’ll let you in on a little secret: our editors have no quotas. That’s right — we don’t tell our editors to pick the top five, or the top ten, or whatever. Each editor reads the submissions and writes down the corresponding number to every single piece that editor believes is publishable. Every piece that gets the thumbs-up from two out of three editors appears in the issue. So technically, if we had 100 poems that 2/3 of the poetry editors thought should be published? They would be published. Same goes for prose and visual arts. You’re not competing against each other — you’re only competing against yourself.

    Honestly, if you don’t submit, I’ll hunt you down and cut your fingers off. Sorry, that was a lie. I don’t believe in violence, and even if I did, I don’t want you to submit only because you value your fingers. I want you to submit because you value your art. I mean, I bought you an extra week. It’s the least you could do. Okay? Okay.

    Love you; mean it —

    Founder, A Literation

  5. Someone said selfies make the world go ‘round. I don’t have any proof of that, but I’m hedging my bets.

    Someone said selfies make the world go ‘round. I don’t have any proof of that, but I’m hedging my bets.

  6. Great

    “You look great,” I said. It was true. She did look great. She always looked great.

    She rewarded me with a half-smile. “You always say that. Was there ever a time you didn’t think I looked great?”

    I realized the question was probably rhetorical but I thought on it anyway. “Yes. Yes there was. One time. That night at Ben’s when —”

    “That night at Ben’s when I got sick off So Co?! That night?! Jesus.”

    “Well, yeah. That’s the night I was thinking of.”

    “Wow. Okay. So that night, when you were holding my hair, when you said I was the only person you knew who could possibly still be beautiful while puking her guts out in the toilet, that was — what? Are you saying you lied to me?”

    Quick thinking is always key in crisis management situations. Unfortunately, quick thinking was one of those things no one had ever accused me of having.

    “I hope you know, empty flattery was the last thing I needed at that moment. I mean, was that — were you hitting on me?”

    I would think of the best possible way to rescue this conversation, of that I was sure — but it wouldn’t be now. It would be hours, possibly even days later, that I’d come up with the best possible thing I should have said in this moment, this moment that would then be gone. I wavered. “Well … right. That is … no. I wasn’t lying; and no, I wasn’t hitting on you. I mean, you were still beautiful. But you didn’t look great … you know, being sick and all.”

    “You weren’t hitting on me.” Her eyebrows were skeptical.

    “Absolutely not,” I said, summoning up every ounce of courage and quick thinking I had at the moment (which admittedly wasn’t much). “I’d never hit on you.”


    “Nope. Never.”

    She looked down at her phone for a second, then at the door, then down at her phone again. “Well I’m certainly glad we cleared that up. Look, I’ve got a — I’m running late for a thing, so … yeah. It was nice to see you again. We should do this again sometime.”

    “Yes, again, let’s,” I said to her back, watching as she walked through the door without turning around — not even a cursory wave over her shoulder.

    After the café adjusted to her absence and the white noise of conversation, laughter, and the whooshing and frothing of the espresso bar resumed its assault on my ears, I realized I no longer had her phone number. I no longer had any way to get in touch with her at all. I’m pretty sure she knew that.

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

  7. A Part

    And so they moved in together, but not in the way ordinary couples do. They didn’t combine their lives in any obvious way, nor did they buy anything together. They cohabited, but there was no pooling. In the living room, two separate bookshelves — one hers, one his. Some books duplicated each other from the separate shelves, as if vying for prominence. She’d have a hard-cover first edition where he had a dog-eared mass market paperback, perhaps — or sometimes vice versa.

    In the kitchen, her silverware rested in the drawer, while his occupied a jar that sat on the counter. Although they did eat together, they bought their own food. Presumably, they only did their own dishes. I never thought to ask. They each had their own bathroom, it should go without saying.

    The only room they shared rather than split was the bedroom, where there was definitely only one bed (I looked), but otherwise two nightstands and two closets. I never cared to imagine what they did there together at night, but if I’d given it more than a second’s thought I would’ve assumed they split their bed the same as they split the rest of the house — cleanly down the middle.

    No one ever questioned whether they were in love, but we all silently wondered how they went about it.

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

  8. One

    We decided then and there that we both were miracles, that we both had surpassed astronomical odds just to exist in this moment. You might spend your entire life wondering why and never getting a straight answer. I’d tried on a number of reasons over the years, all of which fit like borrowing clothes from a same-sized friend — workable, believable, but not mine. He’d probably done the same, but I didn’t ask. I didn’t have to.

    We like to have reasons for things. Reasons make us feel comfortable and safe. Perhaps, then, love is a good enough reason for anything — for everything we’ve never had a reason for. Because love is that rare piece you borrow from a friend, put on, and instantly know: it’s your favorite thing you’ve ever worn, you can’t bear to part with it, and you will never give it back. So you say to your friend “I’m stealing this.” And your friend lets you keep it, because that’s what friends do.

    Love looks less like a shiny new thing and more like that go-to shirt you always grab when you don’t know what else to wear. The one you’re always in the mood for, even when you’re not in the mood for anything at all. The one you’ll never toss, no matter how worn with age. The one you’ve run in, worked in, slept in, lived in. The one you’d more likely than not be wearing in a still frame from your bio flick.

    If we need a reason for things to’ve happened, love seems as good a reason as any. We never talked about it. We didn’t have to.

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

  9. Go the Spoils

    When we see successful creative people, we often imagine they have it easy — and perhaps they do. Or perhaps success breeds new struggles, new difficulties that we can’t even comprehend. But never let anything — not interviews, not promotional bios, not gossip-mongering websites — convince you those people didn’t have to work to succeed.

    There are outliers — trust fund babies famous for nothing more than famously spending daddy’s money — but every producer and publisher who gives them a break is looking for nothing but a fat paycheck. Those outliers aren’t really artists, though — they’re decoys. Pretty painted ducks designed to lure you into a trap. Don’t buy it.

    Artists work, and they work hard — both to perfect their craft and to network with those who could help propel them forward creatively and professionally. They struggle. They haggle for hours in a writer’s group over whether a phrase works better as a single hyphenated word. They memorize new dialogue for a scene ten minutes before it’s shot. They erase, they blot, they fumble. And ultimately, they create.

    Sometimes you won’t appreciate a successful artist. You may think their work is a waste of time, space, and attention. But rest assured, if that person succeeded, that means a significant number of people disagree with you.

    Thomas Edison characterized genius as “one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Those who succeed aren’t necessarily those with the greatest ideas or the most profound and brilliant art — they’re the ones with the audacity and tenacity to pursue it.

    We have tools, and we learn to wield them with efficiency, deftness, and precision. We fuck up. We learn. We dust ourselves off and try again. We fuck up again. We learn some more.

    We fuck up a lot — and hopefully, we learn a lot.

    There can be no end to struggle in art, because art is deliberate passion, and creation affirms life. We create; therefore we struggle. We struggle; therefore we create.

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

  10. The Fault With Our Words

    Yesterday I sent an email to an editor in which I needed to confirm the once-every-other-week status of something. Being someone who prefers my writing to be efficient (particularly where emails to editors are concerned), I used the word “biweekly.” But then, when I gave the email a quick proofread read-through before sending (something that is, again, particularly important where emails to editors are concerned), I thought: Wait a second … does biweekly mean “once every other week,” like I want, or does it mean “twice a week,” which I don’t? So I looked it up to double-check and ensure my meaning wouldn’t be misunderstood.

    Fat lot of good that did me. Turns out biweekly officially means both “happening every two weeks” and “happening twice a week.” It’s been more than 24 hours since I looked this up and it’s still bothering me. We logophiles search for the best precise word, and we typically expect that word not to mean both things you’re trying to distinguish between. As much as we raised a right stink about the addition of “not literally” to the dictionary definition of literally, that seems like a joke in comparison.

    Biweekly is an operative word. Having it mean both “every two weeks” and “twice a week” is a bit like defining clockwise both as “rotational movement from right to left” and “rotational movement from left to right.” Of course, that would be absurd, because we already have another perfectly good word, counterclockwise, to describe rotational movement in the opposing direction — which is handy, since counter- means “opposite” or “opposing.”

    But apparently, time periods in particular really do a number on that little prefix bi-. Typically it means “two.” Bilateral negotiations occur between two sides; bifocal glasses have two different prescriptions in each lens. However, when it comes to time, it also sometimes means “twice.” A biannual event, for example, occurs twice a year. There’s a totally different word, biennial, that means “every two years.” But here’s the thing: people typically use semiannual instead of biannual because people don’t know whether biannual means “twice a year” (which is the only thing it can mean) or “every two years” (which it actually never means).

    We have another word for something that occurs twice a week — semiweekly. Technically speaking, I would have been correct to use biweekly, since it’s the only word that means “every other week,” while there are two words that could mean “twice a week,” one of which means only that — because, of course, the prefix semi- means “half.” So something occurring twice in one week can be thought to halve that week, therefore occurring once every half-week, or semiweekly.

    Since biweekly has two definitions (and that infernal prefix apparently is just confusing all the way around), I ended up replacing it with “every other week” to avoid ambiguity. So I used three words where one would have done perfectly well — because apparently letting a word become meaningless by virtue of two opposing meanings is easier than taking a definitive stand.

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller