The Slow-Cooked Sentence

From my perspective, all exhaustion and futility

Rachael Conlin Levy

I’m struggling with a story, one that’s earned its third rejection letter. This time, however, this time the rejection comes with hope. Editors love it BUT …

I open the file and tinker. Small edits grow into large ones. Big edits become a rewrite. I work and work and work til my eyes blear and my head aches. The changes drain the life out of the story.

Or so it seems to me, from my perspective. All exhaustion and futility.

M. suggests I take a break. Distance and time bring new point of view, he says.

Yes, yes, I say. Irritated. Dismissive.

Advice is attempted a second time: If you can no longer find the point of the story, M. says, push up against what you fear.

Want to know what I fear? I retort.

Not being able to write a story.

Not having an imagination large enough.

Delightful enough.


Enough. (Does he say this or do I?)



Weary in spirit, I walk.

One day I find a dead crow on the sidewalk. I bring it home, dig a hole in the front yard, bury it. A white-trash move? (Here, I shrug and tilt my chin up, defiant.) I’ve been hearing that since I was ten years old. I heard it from the father of my best friend, from teachers, from a boyfriend’s parents, from a brother-in-law.

I grew up among the working poor. As a girl, I lived in a used trailer that stunk of cat piss when my parents bought it. They hauled it to a place where land was cheap and people few. Eight of us lived in about a thousand square feet.

We ate day-old bread, washed our clothes at the laundromat, lived with cars that were forever breaking down. Open our fridge and there’d be bricks of commodity cheese and butter. My mother sent me to school with short stacks of dimes wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, payment for my free-and-reduced lunch.

I shared a bed with my baby sister and wore my cousin’s hand-me-downs or clothes my mother sewed. There was no privacy inside, but out the back door was a desert empty enough to get lost in.

I’m not afraid of poverty. What I feared was the shame that came with it, the teasing, the ostracizing.

I feared its irrelevance.

In honesty, I fear it still.




Prefixes that negate and extinguish life.

Right now, I need to get a little lost. Bereft of a desert outside my back door, I lose myself in other stories.


2 responses to “From my perspective, all exhaustion and futility”

  1. Andrea says:

    So much about this resonates with me. A wander in the desert sounds like the perfect antidote.

  2. Thanks, Andrea. It’s the long view that I’m in need of at the moment.

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