A Note from the Editor: On Saying No
This issue of Quaint has been in the works for over twelve months. That’s…really something.
Somehow, it’s actually been over three months since I wrote that Quaint will be closing its doors for an indefinite period of time – possibly forever. I won’t repeat the reasons why here, but if you’re interested in the rationale, check out the post. In essence, I no longer believe I am the best person to run Quaint, and without a larger staff or bigger budget, there’s simply nowhere for it to go from here.
It’s not in my nature to definitively give up on a project. Saying no is not really my strong suit. No is uncomfortable. It sits awkwardly, heavily on the tongue. There is no immediate reward for no; we are taught from an early age that good girls are agreeable and compliant, that good girls taken on all that is asked of them and do so with a smile. It’s how you get ahead in school, at work. It’s how you make friends and how you keep a partner. Yes is, after all and according to James Joyce, “the female word.” And its returns are immediate and intoxicating – people love it when you agree with them, when you tell them you’ll do everything they ask of you.
Unfortunately, saying yes is a short term strategy for, at best, fleeting satisfaction. This past year, I have said yes so much. I have said yes to a 50 hour work week, yes to managing my household, yes to volunteer positions and activist work and literary and editorial side-hustles, both paid and unpaid. I’ve said yes to emotional labor (I mean, don’t we all?) even when it comes at the expense of my own well-being. And I’ve said yes to almost everything over and above my own writing, because my own writing feels selfish and small and expendable.
I am not unique in this. People do it every day. Many people – most, even – are arguably balancing far more than I do. But here’s what I’ve learned about saying yes without tempering it with the occasional no; you’re not only shortchanging yourself, you’re shortchanging the people you’re trying to please.
I should have said no to Quaint a long time ago – because I have known for a long time that I don’t have the time or energy to put towards it. But I kept saying yes, kept reassuring and apologizing to our incredibly patient and kind contributors. These people did us the honor of trusting us with their exceptional work, and in return I dithered and I wavered and I hid under the blankets because I was too afraid of disappointing or upsetting them to tell them this issue might not happen, I am overwhelmed, I’m sorry.
So, much of last year was spent reclaiming no. It started in small ways; declining social engagements I didn’t have the time or energy for, or admitting that as much as I wanted to I couldn’t help friends out with projects or events. And while I am happy and satisfied that we did indeed stick it out with Quaint Issue Six (in no small part due to the help and support of an ever-rotating cast of phenomenal humans, whose names you can find on this issue’s masthead) I am sorry that it took so long for me to admit that it’s over. I am sorry that the incredible writers and artists in this issue had to wait so long to put these particular works out into the world.
Some people don’t have the luxury of waiting. And that’s the case for Elizabeth Caplice, to whom this, Quaint’s final issue, is dedicated. Elizabeth approached me in November of 2015, wanting to pitch us a piece on death and the body for the Quaint blog. When I read her piece, Dispatches from Hospitals, I knew I wanted to see it in print as well as digital publication. Elizabeth had a gift for language and a steely, unromantic grit that exemplifies to me what Quaint is all about. Her piece, which appears in this issue, is a frank and brutal examination of what it’s like to know you are dying of Stage IV bowel cancer. My last e-mail exchange with her was on the 28th of June 2016. She passed away just two weeks later.
Strange as it sounds, Elizabeth has been a source of inspiration around this idea of saying no. She utterly rejected the romanticized/sanitized cancer narrative, the sickly but plucky patient wasting bravely away in a hospital bed. Elizabeth refused to be anybody’s inspiration porn. On her blog, she wrote “i haven’t grown because i have cancer. i am not now some stronger, better, braver, more courageous person because i’m waiting for my liver to fail. i am sick, i am 32, i am going to die.” This radical refusal to allow the remainder of her short life to be co-opted by society’s expectations of what a sick person should act like was revolutionary. As Natasha Boddy, writing for the Canberra Times, says, “her raw and honest blog…unflinchingly documented the harsh reality of her illness.” Elizabeth did not want to be anybody’s hero. But her strength of character and blunt, unswerving honesty are inspirational nevertheless.
Many of the pieces in this issue of Quaint deal with the tension between yes and no. Lisa Mangini’s “Marriage” deals with the assimilation of woman into man that takes place in heterosexual marriage, how it is “to make oneself masculine by adopting his surname, by adapting to new needs.” In “New Year” Lily Myers ruminates on the kinds of partners we say yes to and the kind we deny, and why, while E. Kristin Anderson’s unsettling speaker insists “I made a pact/I can take it back” in “Flowers at Lunch.” In Cowboy, Chachi Hauser chronicles a series of toxic yeses in a relationship that spirals out of control and then fades into apathy, while Ginger Ko’s Bone Clean is a litany of preface drafts, each one simultaneously a yes and a no. In The Rules, Jane Flett’s sexually experimental narrator struggles to untangle refusal, submission, and desire.
In the end, perhaps this tension between denial and acquiescence is what feminism is all about. Not only embracing opportunities to say yes, but having the courage to turn your back on the choices and opportunities that aren’t right for you. It’s been an immense privilege to learn from the writers in this issue, from my fellow Quaint staff and editors, and from the literary community at large. Thank you for being weird and unapologetic and brutal. Thank you too for your softness, your kindness, and your unfailing patience as we brought our final issue slowly and painfully into the world. Thank you for saying yes.
And thank you for saying no.
All my love,