Bookmarked A Cow with a Hole in It | Jess Zimmerman (Catapult)

When editors ask you to be vulnerable, what they really want is for you to be permeable, for the windows you place in your defenses to offer a sense of the area beyond. The walls don’t need to be breached, and they don’t need to come all the way down in a way that puts you in danger. Hence our guiding light, the cow with a hole—who is in no danger at all, but whose innards are in easy reach for those who need to understand them. Putting a cannula in a cow is not opening the cow up to further damage; it’s surgery-level safe, unlike all usual ways of putting a hole in a cow, and it only reveals what it needs to reveal. But it makes the cow penetrable, so that some things that might otherwise be mysteries can be investigated directly.

Jess Zimmerman argues that rather than vulnerability in our writing, we should be aspiring for permeability. She uses the metaphor of a cannulated cow, a device used to gain insights into the digestive system of a cow without cutting it open.

there’s a limited amount you can learn about cow digestion from (sorry, gruesome image follows) just cutting a cow open and letting its guts fall out. Even if you then proceed to look at those guts with a microscope! The structure is gone; they stand in no relationship to each other, or to the cow as a whole.

It is interesting to think about this alongside Ian O’Byrne’s reflection on ‘writing identity as a facsimile’.