How Not to Be Intimidated

I don't know how. I am reading submissions for our little literary magazine and I am cowed by a cover letter from someone with several books who sent us a travel piece and informs me (not really me; the letter should be addressed to me but it is not) that two similar pieces of hers have been published in fancy places. Prestigious magazines. Unknown to most people but well-regarded among us in the MFA set. I like the piece but I can't tell how much I like it because I should like it, how much I like it because I want to snap it up before a fancy magazine snaps it up. I don't love it. I don't feel like calling friends up to say, You must read this. But her essay made me want to visit the country she was writing about. I learned from it. But it didn't tell enough about her heart. Do all pieces of personal nonfiction need to do this? It's also written in present tense, which is annoying. But who am I to tell her that? I am the editor (more or less) she sent the piece to. After all. That's who. She doesn't even know I exist, didn't care enough to look up my goddamned name on the masthead.

I keep thinking about the writer who sent an account to me (addressed to me) a few years ago at this very magazine, and I thought it was boring and I rejected it and lo and behold later it turned up in the Missouri Review and then Best American Essays. I still think it's boring. Should I have accepted it because it had the whiff of Prize-Winner on it? The idea it explored was interesting but it was hard to get into, the writing at the beginning was working against the piece. The beginning was slow. The rest of it wasn't so great, either. But it was about medicine, so that made it interesting. In theory. Jeez, and now this person has two books of essays, is an M.D. and Ph.D. And I am just ol' Cancer Bitch with two books and one breast and one-and-a-half eyebrows. Neither of my books was praised, as hers were, in the New York Times and Washington Post. Not only that, she's probably at least, at least, 10 years younger than I am.

The ol' Desiderata, which we memorized and tacked up on our walls in the '70s, back when that Medical Bitch was only knee-high to a stethoscope: If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter.

Well, guess what? It was already too late then.