The Scamp: On Retraction Letters

By Jens Tamang

There once was a man who tried to kill his cousin, a saint residing at a monastery. He attempted murder several times with such elaborate schemes as unleashing rabid animals and giant boulders. Each time, however, the saint came out miraculously unharmed. It took many subsequent attempts before the jealous cousin realized, wandering down a river road, that he was in the wrong and it was precisely at that moment that the ground opened beneath his feet and he was subsumed into hell.Every preacher’s dream.

It took me years to realize that I had experienced similar changes of heart. Younger, I could never find them, simply because I always looked for them in the results they produced. But changes of heart don’t produce results or anything like it. Regardless, changes of heart abound everywhere, fruitless or otherwise.

For example: I once composed a collection of poems for a magazine in Oregon. When they received the submission they said that, on top of being poorly written, the poems were lewd. In the nights following this dismissal I fantasized about the editor sending me a retraction letter that read something like this: “Dear Jens, I have never understood the complexity of the human spirit until I read your work. Please forgive me for everything I’ve written. By the time you read this I will be dead.”

And that, of course, is the only letter a writer ever wants to receive.

Unfortunately no letter came and, taking their critique to heart, I changed my hobby from writing to photography, a passion that ended in a similar fashion-with someone telling me I was bad at it. From the wreckage of photography came film, from film dance, and from dance I returned writing, back where I had started.

Everyone changes their mind all the time to no particular end, and if this comment seems jejune to you it’s only because I feel as though I have little to no explanation for the anti-climatic ending of the following story, one of my favorite stories of a change of heart, one that involves our very own Mac Weekly.

In 2008 I transferred here from Hampshire College, where I had been writing a column for their newspaper, The Climax. Thinking highly of myself I asked the newspaper staff at my new academy if they wouldn’t also give me a column. They said that they’d consider it, which in the writing world–I think I’ve ascertained–means “piss off.” But I insisted, so they asked me to put my money where my mouth was and submit a prototype to be run in the opinions section.

What resulted was a single article that, according to The Mac Weekly website, attained the highest readership that week. It was entitled “Sarah Palin is a Feminist.” A couple days, three angry girls, and one death threat later I asked the staff if that was the kind of thing they were looking for and they told me I’d be better off writing crosswords.

That was when I peevishly decided to become a wine enthusiast.

I never did fantasize about an apologetic retraction letter from The Mac Weekly, but I am immensely thankful to the latest staff members for allowing me to have the masturbatory, pleonastic column I asked for all those years ago. With that in mind I would like to invite the Macalester Community to partake in “The Scamp,” a bi-weekly box of words about which you are bound to have mixed feelings.