NotGraphs Short(er) Form: An Actual, Final Swansong


I was ready. I had received last sacraments, and the important thing about last sacraments is that, vis-à-vis the other sacraments, they’re last. Sacrament-wise, it doesn’t get more poignant than that. I had also eaten my last meal. Do you want to know what it was? Sure you do. Now that we’ve been granted a bit more time, you want all the details of what turned out to be my penultimate meal, because, yeah, given last night’s stay of execution, I did have a small bowl of cereal this morning.

Anyway, since all reasonable predictions had indicated an earlier NotGraphs expiration, my “last meal,” as scheduled, had been what I call NotGraphs Lasagna, i.e., a base of meaty insight topped with layers of blistering wit and simmering genius, all crowned with lasagna noodles and ricotta cheese … and, OK, perhaps a sprinkling of “I’m not unpopular, just misunderstood.” I had made my peace.

But then the Royals had to go and score seven runs in the second inning of last night’s game, prompting not only a rousing chorus of “Yay, baseball!” but also an 11th-hour call from the Internet governor and a quick return to my cell, i.e., my desk, in which custody, reintroduced, I was forced to plot my actual valediction.

What does one write, one thinks, when one has already written THE END?

Indeed, last week’s longform trilogy – aptly, “NotGraphs Longform: The Story From Those Story Ideas” – had been my NotGraphs swansong, a bittersweet farewell. In advance of said trilogy I had solicited story ideas from readers, and, using each of those ideas, had crafted a three-part narrative as a way of honoring a short-lived but eternally memorable relationship with that same audience.

The ending, written by a character (me) created by an author (also me) whose character/narrator (alas, me again) had spent the entire trilogy talking to himself (alas and again, also me!) and thus to the audience (you, or at least some of you), had been fashioned as a triple entendre of theme and meaning. The final idea had been posed: awards for the best NotGraphs commenters.

The author/narrator/character, having gradually and then suddenly recognized his own limitations and, worse, his own mortality as it related to the end of NotGraphs, had then written, “Uh-huh. You know who you are.”

The author now had wondered, and wondered, and wonders: Did the ending work? Did the audience infer what the author implied? Even after several days he still wouldn’t know. Writers are all of a cast: a combination of confident swagger – why else would they toss their ideas, their prose, into the brutality of the public sphere? – and whimpering, cowardly weakness, always afraid they don’t measure up. Since my debut at NotGraphs early this year, I’ve been the poster boy for this very writer: The Writer, upper case, the one who at once considers his stuff the bee’s knees and who then, either at his own awakening or at the rousting delivered by clear-eyed readers, realizes to his chagrin and grief that his stuff, after all, occupies no part of Apoidea anatomy, least of all the knees. Yeah, bees really do have knees.

And they must be really awesome knees, because, with words, I’m still trying to find them, in public, among peers in whose shadow I shrink and vanish. Indeed, to have joined this group of all-stars is at once to have been honored and intimidated, thrilled to have entered their ranks but afraid that I don’t belong, an assumption that’s been validated on a twice-weekly basis.

This is the life of the writer, or some writers, or this writer, and now, at last, a part of that life, at once intoxicating and sobering, is about to end. So, what does one write, one still thinks, when he has already written THE END? My limitations will linger and I will be gone from this place, yet the rest of the message might still remain: You know who you are. Right? You know this.

Individually, sure, maybe a few commenters have put a bit more effort and pizzazz into their comments. And maybe, as writers, they have felt both the pride and the fear – those conjoined literary twins! – upon posting the passages in this weird public sphere. But I see it like this: As a group, you know who you are. This, I hope, has been the award: a cool relationship with a group of writers who, if I am any indication, have felt equally rewarded, blessed with the best commenters in the whole of World Wide Web. Upon tonight’s final pitch an amazing blog will go dark, but at least one partisan will remember the light from “these electronic pages.”

John Paschal is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual.

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9 years ago

I hope we receive an unmarked postcard from Fort Hancock, TX, right where you crossed the border. We will see you on the other side mi amigo. Say it with me.. Zihuatanejo.