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Dubious Distinctions

Jacquelyn Bengfort

I've reached a new peak. A new point in my writing life. An unexpected and unlooked-for distinction. I was included on an inspiration chain email.


No idea how common these are. It practically chirped at me: "This is for fun." "No pressure." "Just email it to twenty of your writer friends who will have twenty more friends to forward it along to." I felt obligated. Good lard,* I felt obligated.

I sent the person whose name was in position 1 a favorite poem, "Sharks" by Ada Limon. That was the easy part. In my sailor days, "Sharks are people too" became a mantra I repeated almost daily. When I stumbled into Ms. Limon on Twitter this morning, quite by accident, it was a wonderful reminder of her wonderful poem (and she graciously thanked me for my tweet, which was a very fun thing to have happen).

Phew. Sent that email off. But then came the email to another twenty writers.

I may know twenty writers. Let's count, shall we? I've had at least two or three teachers through Gotham Writers' Workshop. I took two writers' classes at Politics & Prose. Two of my college English professors are also working writers. I know a couple of freelancers in the city; one of my neighbors has an MFA; I've taken courses from two more writers through the Eckleburg Workshops; one of my grad school friends is a poet in Boston. (That's thirteen.) I can count four more--no, five--that I know through readings I've participated in at Kafe Bohem. Ok, and then the students from one of those Politics & Prose classes, that might be six more. And I suppose there are the other students from the online classes I've taken, only none of us have really kept in touch. There are a few people I know only through Twitter. And my college roommate who used to write poetry sometimes. And, of course, the writer who sent it to me.

God bless him, I'm sure he has loads of writer-peers he knows from his MFA program and his subsequent literary adventures, but once I pared down the list above to the people I felt reasonably (and only reasonably) comfortable including, I think it was seven people. I included a note at the top--basically saying they could participate if they wanted to, but that I wasn't going to be policing it--and sent it off, palms sweating. I'm not checking my email for the rest of the night. My stomach is in knots.

When Eleanor Roosevelt said to do one thing every day that scares you, I'm almost certain she wasn't thinking of pressing the "SEND" button on a chain email. But that's where I'm at.

On an unrelated note, anyone know a good shrink in the DC area to treat a case of self-diagnosed social anxiety disorder?

*I have a child. The A is intentional.