June 25, 2014 § 1 Comment
Jenny Spinner with a fascinating consideration of narrative blogging: “As with the essay about my father, part of the lure of the narrative blog is that it’s written in the raw. It won’t stand still. Neither the writer nor the reader knows what’s going to happen next. “
Originally posted on Twin Prints: An Adoption Story:
I often advise my students to avoid sharing their work with a larger audience until they are able, and willing, to create art from life, a process that requires distance or a craftsman’s care or both. I’ve ignored my own advice at times. A few weeks after my dad died, for example, I wrote about watching him die. The essay, which earned a spot on the “Notable Essays of 2002″ list as cited in The Best American Essays 2003, got its power from an immediacy that read as intimacy. I couldn’t have written the same essay even six months later. “My Father’s Dead (If Only I Could Tell You)” had to be created when I could still hear my dad’s last gasps echoing in my ears. It had to be written while I was still shell-shocked.
This blog is also an exception. I’m writing the story of the reunion with my birth family…
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June 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
Amy Monticello explores the nonfiction confessional form, BECOMING A NEW parent, and why it is wrong to perform certainty “around massively complicated life stuff” in a fascinating Essay Daily blog entry this week. She cites a Brevity essay as an example. See the excerpt below, and further down, find the link and read her complete essay:
Though the hours together were long, my attention span was short. The combination of exhaustion and adrenaline made it difficult to concentrate on anything longer than a page or two. In addition to the circuit of parenting sites I visited daily (the rabbit hole of BabyCenter must be circled cautiously), I began reading my daughter back issues of Brevity, with its maximum 750-word essays. This is how, somewhere in my second or third week of parenting, I worked my way back to Issue 39, and J.D. Shraffenberger’s “Dropping Babies“.
The title alone almost made me skip it. My postpartum hormones had already sworn off Animal Planet (polar bear cubs starving in the Arctic, cheetahs picking off baby impala in the East African plains), Children’s Hospital commercials, and Jezebel, which, for some feminist reason, seems to report on every grisly infant death in America. Fears that something would happen to my daughter (or to me, or my husband, leaving her without a mother or father) were already keeping me up at night, my two selves—parent and writer, one horrified to imagine, the other compelled to imagine—locked in battle for my thoughts.
But I was too intrigued, and so began to read aloud Schraffenberger’s braided meditation on babies dropped or dangled from the heights. Yes, literal heights.
June 16, 2014 § 14 Comments
A guest post from Risa Polansky Shiman:
We call them Summer Submission Parties. Every two weeks, my MFA friends and I reserve a classroom from the English department. We spread out around the long, conference-style table in front of our respective laptops, armed with bottles of water and Fig Newtons and a community bag of almonds that we agree somehow taste like walnuts (walmonds). Someone writes each of our names on the big, white board at the front of the room, and we get started.
“So-and-so, I think XYZ Review would be a good fit for your stuff – check it out.”
“Guys! Such-and-Such Magazine is calling for experimental nonfiction!”
“Ugh. ANOTHER one that charges three dollars to submit. It’s not the money – it’s the principle.”
“Shoot. I just missed the submission period for Journal That Definitely Would Have Published My Piece Had It Been Accepting Submissions.”
You know. A Submission Party.
Our Facebook invite reads: “Really, just a gathering wherein we can actively encourage each other to submit pieces, share knowledge about journals, explore the inner workings of Duotrope, and make recommendations as to where we think we (and our friends) should submit. The goal is to bite the bullet and officially press ‘send.’”
Whoever does press “send” then documents it on the board underneath his or her name to a heartfelt but kind of distracted smattering of whoops and applause, like when you put money in the tip jar at Cold Stone Creamery.
A Submission Party is about community. About encouragement. About ambition and confidence and tenacity. About doing. A Submission Party is where writers’ dreams start feeling a little more like reality.
“Submission Party,” my husband said. “Sounds sexual.”
If you Google “submission,” here’s the first entry that pops up:
The action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.
And the second:
The action of presenting a proposal, application, or other document for consideration or judgment.
Riddle me this: What’s the difference?
When writers submit work to a publication “for consideration or judgment,” we are most definitely “yielding to a superior force.”
We are submitting, and we are submissive.
Literary magazines are the doms and writers are the subs. We share pieces of our souls, receive rejection letters in return, and say, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”
Of course, the editors are just doing their jobs – selecting the best writing most fit for their venues.
A lot of the time, it’s just not mine. Yours. Ours.
A lot of the time, it’s discouraging.
The director of my creative writing program, in an end-of-term address, told this year’s graduates that for a while it will seem like no one cares about their writing.
“It will seem this way because it will be true,” she said.
We submit, and we submit to this reality.
We submit to vulnerability, offer up our egos for bruising, pucker our lips and lean in again and again knowing editor after editor will likely turn their heads, letting our kisses land on their cheeks or somewhere near their eyes.
We submit to wondering, some days, whether we’re any good. Whether we should bother.
My professor also said that no one caring won’t be the case forever, but until it’s not, we need to be the ones invested in our work.
“Continue to give a damn about your writing, and persist in producing, honing, shaping, and sharing it,” she told us. “That is your job now.”
So we do.
We write. Crunch our walmonds. Hit send. Put our names on that big, white board.
An antonym for “submission,” according to Google, is “defiance.”
Writers submit in defiance of rejection. In defiance of the odds. In defiance of the part of ourselves that questions whether we have what it takes.
Writers submit to honor the other part of ourselves, the bigger part, the part that is driven to write, moved to put words on a page and to share them. We keep writing the truest pieces we can, whether or not anyone wants to read them, but holding out hope someone will.
You know. A Submission Party.
A former news reporter, Risa Polansky Shiman is now an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at Florida Atlantic University, where she also teaches. She was recently selected to read a piece at Lip Service, a South Florida storytelling series, and her written work can be found in publications such as Harlot, Miami Today and Gainesville Magazine. Find her on Twitter @RisaAriel.
June 13, 2014 § 8 Comments
A guest blog essay for Father’s Day from Alexis Paige:
When I was a child, I remember my father growing irritated, impatient even, when people made a fuss over his single dad status. When my parents split in 1983, Mom moved to Texas, and my little brother and I to New Hampshire. Our family story happened this way for many reasons, some of them practical, some of them tragic, but Dad always felt that he got special notice when single moms never did.
“Aw, your daughter’s running a fever, and you are going to pick her up from school?” a lady from the office might coo, sighing longingly as Dad grabbed the keys to his Datsun 210 and hustled his tall, gangly body beyond the cubicles and out the door. As if his leaving work, scooping me up from the school nurse’s office, and dropping the pink, chewable aspirins into my fleshy hand were somehow more heroic as a dad, as a man.
The winter I turned nine, we moved from an apartment complex that smelled like cigarettes and burnt SpaghettiOs to a modest split-level ranch about a mile away. Our new house sat on a tiny cul-de-sac in a subdivision grandiosely named Windsor Pond. Upstairs were two small bedrooms, one bathroom, and a kitchen/ living room, and downstairs was an unfinished basement, where we roller-skated in tight, dizzying circles.
For the first four or five months while Dad and my uncle refinished the basement, my brother Josh got the front bedroom and I the back, and Dad slept on a secondhand sofa in the living room. At six-foot-three, he dangled off of it from all sides, his spidery arms and legs draped over the armrests, his outside arm hanging limp on the floor like a vestigial limb.
He would go to sleep with the television tuned into M*A*S*H or Hill Street Blues, the foil-muffed antennae crackling into the night. An early insomniac, I would rise in the dark and grab a snack or read, and hear his snores rumbling against the hiss of the television. Back then, stations would sign-off around midnight with a long BOOOOOOOOOP, followed by a shower of black and white snow, and not return to life until dawn with an instrumental rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
I had stopped sleeping one night when I caught the beginning of a scary movie about witches; one witch in particular wore an indelible sneer. For months she terrified me: I would find her under the covers, in my closet, hiding behind my bedroom door. I took up reading during these long stretches of night, with a little flashlight I held under the covers.
I read anything I could get my hands on—Judy Blume, the Ramona Quimby books, the Babysitters’ Club series, an Amelia Earhart biography, The Red Badge of Courage, and even Dad’s copy of The Happy Hooker. I feared something in the maw of nighttime, and the TV-movie witch may well have been the easy symbol I projected to blot out the deep.
Dad found me one night, the flashlight glow seeping through my polyester bedspread, so I found other ruses. I would lie on the bathroom floor with my books; if Dad stirred, I would flush the toilet and go to bed. At one point, I clipped a desk lamp to the rod in my closet and read in there, sitting on an exercise mat with a book propped on my knees.
Dad eventually caught me on another night, rolling the door open with great fanfare and shouting, “A-HA! Gotcha! What are you doing up kiddo? You’ve got to sleep!”
“I can’t,” I whined. “I get nervous.”
“What are you nervous about, Pumpkin?”
“I don’t know, the witch, I guess—and everything,” I said.
He checked under my bed, inspected the attic hatch, and showed me behind the bedroom door. “See? All clear!” he said. “Now, let’s get you back into bed.”
“How did you know?” I asked.
“I grew up with eleven brothers and sisters; I know every trick in the book.” Once in bed, he sat alongside me and scratched my back until I grew tired.
“Use your nails, like Gram,” I begged.
“Want me to crack an egg?” he asked, and as I nodded I began to feel the happy tingle of yolk oozing down my scalp, my head growing heavy under his hand.
Dad showed up for everything—for late night crises, ear infections, homework, and field hockey scrimmages. He planned father-daughter dates on my birthdays, showed up on Sunday mornings with fresh donuts or raspberry danish, and at the dinner table on ordinary days to talk about Algebra or Amy’s dad’s new drum set.
He showed up five years too early in the training bra section of Bradlee’s Department store, and an hour too late with tampons when I got my first period at 15.
Ten years after that, Dad showed up when I called from a phone booth in Italy to tell him I’d been sexually assaulted the night before. Because he was 6,000 miles away in San Francisco, he sent me to the embassy. “The Marines will be posted out front; they will take care of you,” Dad said. They weren’t much older than me, but in their dress blues, I was reminded of Dad’s own Marine Corps portrait from 1967. When my plane landed in California 36 hours later, Dad showed up at the airport and waited for me at the gate, so his was the first face I saw as I stepped off of the jetway.
Dad showed up at the emergency room six months after that, when I cut my wrists and took a bottle of antidepressants, and he showed up yet again a few years later still, when I got arrested for drunk driving. I was 29 at this point, and he should have been tired of showing up by then, but he did anyway.
At 38 now, I am grateful that he stayed long enough for the happy stuff and for me to finally show up for him. I know what Dad would say to all of this. He would say that he was just being a father. He would say that showing up doesn’t make him any more or less of a hero than other parents. But I would say this: it does make him mine.
Alexis Paige’s work has appeared in Fourth Genre, The Rumpus, Pithead Chapel, Ragazine, 14 Hills, and on Brevity’s blog. Winner of the 2014 New Millennium Writings Nonfiction Prize, she also received a recent Pushcart Prize nomination and a feature on Freshly Pressed by WordPress. Twice named a top-ten finalist of Glamour Magazine’s essay contest, Paige holds an MA in poetry from San Francisco State University and will complete an MFA in nonfiction from the Stonecoast creative writing program in July. She lives and teaches in central Vermont.
June 11, 2014 § 1 Comment
Stephanie G’Schwind, editor of Man in the Moon: Essays on Fathers & Fatherhood, discusses the challenges and creativity involved in assembling a coherent anthology:
A little over a year ago, I decided to venture into anthology land.
I was pretty sure I knew how to do it; I’d been working in publishing for more than twenty years and have a firm handle on both editorial and production matters. An AWP-Boston panel on the subject confirmed I was on the right track. But better yet, I prevailed upon my good friend Hattie Fletcher, of Creative Nonfiction fame, and got tons of great anthology-building advice from her. And in short order, Man in the Moon: Essays on Fathers & Fatherhood began to take form.
I put out a call last spring to fellow literary-magazine editors asking for essays on fathers/fatherhood they’d published in their magazines. Throughout the summer, three of my nonfiction editors and I read the essays we’d received, then winnowed them down to seventeen: five from Colorado Review and twelve from other publications.
We typeset and proofread the five from CR first, simply because we already had those files, then set and proofed the others in the order of when we received them from the other editors. When at last, in February of this year, they’d all been typeset and proofread—by our staff and the authors—I printed out the whole collection, knowing I’d need to determine some kind of more thoughtful arrangement before sending it off to the printer.
But how? This was one question I’d neglected to research, though it had quietly nagged at me all along. A procrastinator at heart, I ignored it until the very end, hoping the solution would be magically delivered to me, perhaps in a dream or a fortune cookie.
Alphabetical by author, though perhaps not the most innovative choice, is always an option—simultaneously orderly and random—but not for this anthology: I already knew that the title essay, Bill Capossere’s “Man in the Moon,” would lead, while Dan Beachy-Quick’s pivotal and tentatively hopeful “Puzzle and Music Box” would conclude the collection.
The only, and ultimately obvious, answer was that the essays themselves would determine the order.
Though attached to my computer and all manner of iThings, I knew I couldn’t do this on-screen. I needed to see all the essays at once, in both bird’s- and worm’s-eye view, and most of all, to touch them, move them around, put them back. So I arranged the seventeen essays on my office floor.
The considerations that emerged were emotional heaviness of the essay (including, where applicable, whether the father was alive or not) and author gender. To keep track of these things, I turned to one of the editor’s best friends: sticky notes. First I applied blue notes to the essays written by men and—yes—pink notes to those by women. Then on those stickies I made notes along the lines of “heavy/alive,” “medium/not alive,” etc, so as not to put the reader through the emotional toll of reading several heartbreakers in a row (though even the heartbreakers might have moments of levity), while trying to achieve the best distribution of male and female writers.
Is it a perfect arrangement? Maybe not. Three of the essays feature ICU scenes, and I see only now that one immediately follows another. But not everyone reads an anthology in order anyway, so even the best laid plans, well, you know. Still, in whatever order one encounters Man in the Moon, it’s an amazing collection of stories and voices.
June 10, 2014 § 5 Comments
A guest post from Andrew Panebianco, on the act of imagining:
Because as you probably know, Pooh has his own Tao, now.
So let’s leave it here—there’s an immensity to Pooh. There’s a touch of eternity to all his bumbling; a bottomlessness to his most rumbly of tumblies.
There’s a stare into the open eye until the closed eyes open kind of Zen to Pooh.
He’s got Pooh-dist leanings, you could say.
I want to talk about everything that makes Pooh, Pooh. But I don’t even understand it all. So instead I’ll focus on a single point—my very favorite moment, from my very favorite character, from my very favorite story from the entire World of Pooh.
Which is my very favorite.
Here’s how it starts:
Christopher Robin has sent Pooh off to gather the provisions they’ll require for a hastily-planned expedition to the North Pole. Neither Pooh nor Christopher Robin is really sure what the North Pole is, per se—merely that it’s a thing that exists to be sought out.
There’s a strange pull to it, perhaps. Magnetic and invisible.
Pooh tromps merrily through the Hundred Acre Wood and comes across Rabbit, who—characteristically—would much rather have never been come across in the first place.
“Hallo Rabbit,” says Pooh, “is that you?”
“Let’s pretend it isn’t,” says Rabbit, “and see what happens.”
“I’ve got a message for you.”
“I’ll give it to him.”
“We’re all going on an… an Expotition with Christopher Robin!”
“What is it when we’re on it?”
“A sort of boat, I think,” says Pooh.
“Oh! That sort.”
“Yes. And we’re going to discover a Pole or something. Or was it a Mole? Anyhow we’re going to discover it.”
“We are, are we?” said Rabbit.
“Yes. And we’ve got to bring Pro-things to eat with us. In case we want to eat them. Now I’m going down to Piglet’s. Tell Kanga, will you?”
Now, if I had the time, I could with spasms of delight tell you of just how happy this scene makes me. I would love to do this. But I have no time.
So instead I’ll point out the immense side to this scene.
How, for all its acidity and dark comedy, it manages to house one of the purest, most wonderful, most beautiful, most honest phrases about what it is to be, to exist, and to imagine that I’ve ever read.
“Hallo Rabbit,” says Pooh, “is that you?”
“Let’s pretend it isn’t,” says Rabbit, “and see what happens.”
If I believed in literary tattoos, this would be my tattoo.
“Let’s pretend it isn’t, and see what happens.”
Has there ever been a more elegant description of the act of imagining? Of the creative impulse? Of the urge to unsee what you’re looking at, and to look for what it is you want to see?
In a single spendthrift phrase, Rabbit captures the delight and abandon and valiant, deliberate choice of what it is to imagine.
I think about this story a lot.
About Pooh and how he wanders through the Hundred Acre Wood looking for something he can barely describe.
And I think of Rabbit, and how, with one tiny utterance, he defines the very thesis of daydreaming.
I think of how, according to this story, to imagine and to live are, in their truest sense, an adventure. An expedition.
And then I think of how often I forget that fact.
How I’ve grown old enough to fret over adult things. About my growing waistline. And my wasting hairline. And how I’m not exactly doing the thing I want to be doing… and how isn’t that always the way? And how unlucky am I? And oh bother… why bother?
And suddenly everything turns dark and grim.
Even creativity—even writing—becomes this winding bumble toward some hazy, unknown pole. A journey for which I feel woefully, almost comically underprepared. How I’ve got nothing to say. And how I’ll never write a thing to be proud of.
And every hope and excitement becomes rank and heavy like a blackbird on my shoulder.
And then, I think… this is what it means to be a writer.
So let’s pretend it isn’t. And see what happens.
Andrew Panebianco is a writer, teacher and storyteller in Philadelphia. He received his MFA in creative nonfiction from Antioch University Los Angeles in 2009, and his work has appeared with The Nervous Breakdown, Avenue, and the Kelly Writers House. He is the author of over 200 invented definitions, and is currently working on a dictionary. Learn more at wordsthatarent.com and @wordsthatarent.
June 9, 2014 § 1 Comment
An interview with Dinah Lenney, Brevity contributor and author of The Object Parade: Essays. Lenney, a working character actress, has written for The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Rumpus, Creative Nonfiction, and elsewhere:
Dinty W. Moore: What I find most striking about The Object Parade is how what seems at first to be a series of “sketches” – brief reflections on various objects in your life – quite rapidly transforms into a layered family history and nuanced memoir, the very intimate account of a young woman embarking on a professional acting career. Was that your intention all along, or did the true heart of the book reveal itself to you along the way?
Dinah Lenney: Was it my intention to write another memoir—a full-blown memoir? No. No, it wasn’t. It’s just as you say, the true heart of the book revealed itself to me. Even when I knew I had a book—or an idea for a book (and geez, it’s daunting to have an idea for a book, isn’t it? I’m sort of the opinion that we should fool ourselves out of the idea that we’re writing books… Or at least I should. And that maybe reveals me as a novice—but truly, I just as soon not have some grand idea. Because, in a way, it’s like deciding how to perform a role before playing it, scene by scene. To anticipate a performance is a sure way towards a lousy performance, right? But that goes to your second question—so let’s put a pin there for now.) Where was I. I was fooling myself out of my parade. So—so I did know I was writing memoir, short form memoir—that the objects were prompts. In most cases, though, I had no idea where each object would take me. And I certainly didn’t know how they’d line up—in what order, I mean—nor did I realize until after I’d lined them up, that they told the story you describe. But that is the story, isn’t it? That was my preoccupation, over and over: to figure out how I got here from there. What sort of career had I had? What informed it? What got in its way? What defines me in the end: The dream, itself? Its fulfillment? Its failure? Do you know the writer Lynn Freed? She wrote this essay I love, “Embracing the Alien”—it’s in a book called Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home—which she ends with two wonderful lines: “For what is writing, after all, but a bid for the truth? And what is the truth, if not the life at the very heart of failure?”
DWM: I have long been struck by how “persona” in an essay is a form of method acting, and how the need for an actor to believe her role carries over into the voice of the author. Do you have thoughts on how these connect? Has one art form fed the other for you?
Dinah: Do I have thoughts about acting as it informs “persona” in the essay; and does the one craft feed the other? Yes and yes. First of all, I’m convinced that the urge—the impulse to write or to act—comes from the same place. And—and this will sound ass backwards, I suppose, but either way it’s an impulse to be oneself. To put one’s intensity and passion and intelligence to work. See, as soon as you use the word “performance” somebody’s liable to raise an eyebrow, as if “performing” is somehow suspect. In truth, the best performances feel true. Because they are. They’re imbued with the essence of the performer, right? Am I exactly the person I project in my work? Well, no. In life—in the privacy of my home anyway—I am frequently stuttering and thoughtless and inarticulate and ineloquent and self-conscious. Or I can be a blowhard. I can wax self-righteous on occasion. I am too proud. Too impatient, too quick to anger. As an actor, I’m lucky to know myself that well, so as to truthfully bring those qualities, as needed, to the role at hand. As a writer, same deal: I have to have the same sort of control of my “voice.” And… And, in terms of strategies, there’s so much overlap. I used to teach young actors. And what did I ask them when they got up to play a part? Who are you? Where are you? When is this scene taking place? What do you want? Why do you want it? How are you going to get it? Well, but “the how”—that’s a result that you cannot anticipate. And, by the way, show don’t tell. (Or don’t tell without showing anyway.) And less is more. And—back to question #1—don’t play the end of the scene before you get there…
DWM: One of the more interesting turns the book takes is the addition of letters to your deceased father, whose murder you’ve explored in an earlier book, Bigger Than Life. It comes near the end, followed by your Brevity essay, instructing your husband where to scatter your ashes, when you are gone. There is so much room in nonfiction to roam, even into speculation, into the future. I don’t know if I have a question here, but I wanted to remark on how the book lifts at this point, takes a certain flight. So, speaking of the future: where are you headed next in your writing? Do you have any idea, or are you just waiting for the next book to find you?
Dinah: Room in nonfiction. This is so much on our minds lately, isn’t it, having to do with the requirements of genre: if the truth is subjective and shifting (the truth, not the facts), how to define what we’re doing? How to insist on labeling it one way or another? For me, it has to do with the writer’s intention as much as anything. First, it’s my intention to stick to the facts. Not to spin or bend them, but to face them, to burrow into them, to use them. Second, it’s my goal to thoroughly interrogate myself—to be honest about what I think and pretend: therefore, if and when I take some flight of imagination, I’m going to let you know that’s what it is. So I hope it’s understood that the letter to my father (a letter I can’t finish, a letter I keep starting over and over) is not an actual letter. And not actually meant for him. He’s dead, after all—I know that, the reader knows that; I’m not fooling anyone right? But the letter is the form that made the writing possible—the way I found to include my father in this book. And—and in the letter I manipulate him as I would if he were alive: Dad, this is what I’d want you to know about who I am now; about what happened to me after you died—of course, in this way, I’m manipulating the reader, too, aren’t I? Even so, my intention is nonfictional.
And then followed by my “Instructions” for Fred. And you’re right, this sort of speculation gives us so much room—I’m fascinated by real, truthful, nonfictional speculation. I keep going back to the work of this guy Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist who has focused, at least in part, on memory and creativity, and the way we humans straddle the past and the future more than we actually live in the present.
As for my next project—I’m hoping it will find me, yes. On the other hand, I don’t feel like I have a whole lot of time—I got such a late start as a writer and I’m bloody slow besides. I was reading an interview with Edward Albee this morning—in Studs Terkel’s The Spectator (subtitled “Talk About Movies and Plays with Those Who Make Them”)—and boy, did it make me uncomfortable. Because Albee says:
“While we may not be responsible for everything that does happen to us, we certainly are responsible for everything that doesn’t.”
If that’s true, I’d better get cracking, right? And now I’m thinking of David Brooks’ column the other day (David Brooks is a Republican I love to love), which he ended this way:
“The only way to stay fully alive is to dive down to your obsessions six fathoms deep. Down there it’s possible to make progress toward fulfilling your terrifying longing, which is the experience that produces the joy.”
Oh, I do long to be joyful. And I’m somewhat obsessed with the overlap we’ve talked about here, you and I—writing and art, writing and music, writing and acting—I want to write something vivid, contrapuntal, in relief, and seemingly improvised—hoping to dive in and dive deep very soon.
June 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
Writing “Calcification” was difficult, but not because I didn’t recall what happened that afternoon – it was difficult because I feel bad for feeling so angry then. Little girls are allowed to miss their dead pets. Normal little girls are allowed to get sad and cry to their living mothers. So I almost didn’t write the essay. I almost deleted it when it was written. I almost changed the name of the dead guinea pig, and that of my childhood friend. But then I didn’t. I clicked my mouse and sent it to Brevity, and I sat on the couch and drank some wine and ignored my guilt by watching a home improvement show.
Because it’s MY story. It’s about my feelings in a difficult moment in an absolute shit period of my life. It’s a moment when I realized I was different, would always be different, from my peers with not-dead parents. That no matter how hard I tried to be normal and fit in, I wasn’t and wouldn’t because my mother had died and that was a permanent, sad fact that I couldn’t make un-true by pretending.
So I want to say to that childhood friend, if she happens to read Brevity and get pissed, that my adult self is sorry. I’m sorry I got so weird on you, and on your mom. You didn’t do anything wrong. If you still miss Buttercup, well, I’m sorry for your loss. She’s in a better place, maybe.
Also, my ten-year-old self still wants to choke ten-year-old you.
So no hard feelings.
Except for the ones I remember.
June 2, 2014 § 3 Comments
Jill Talbot discusses the ideas behind the upcoming special “road” issue of Sundog Lit, featuring “creative nonfiction and other works that blend genre, that bend and experiment, that rumble down new roads.” July 1 deadline. Full submission guidelines can be found at the end of the interview.
- What inspired the theme for this issue, (Letters from) the Road?
When Justin L. Daugherty, the editor of Sundog Lit, announced that Brian Oliu would guest edit the first theme issue, Games, I e-mailed Justin to ask if I might guest edit at some point, and in keeping with the one-word theme, I suggested Roads.
I write overwhelmingly about the road and connect with essays that do. It would appear your editors do as well. Roxane Gay’s “There Are Distances Between Us,” Brenda Miller’s “Swerve,” Bob Cowser Jr.’s “By A Song,” B.J. Hollars’s “On the Occurrence of March, 20, 1981 and on the Occurrences of Every Night After,” Sven Birket’s “anti-road” essay, “Green Light,” Sean Prentiss’s “Tonight (the Big Dipper, You Leaving,” Steven Church’s “Overpass Into Fog,” and my own, “Stranded,” all appeared in Brevity.
Every chance I had in graduate school, I got on 84 west out of Lubbock. Yet the moment I discovered I was drawn to roads in literature happened while reading a road scene in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, and if you’ve read that novel, you know it’s a road of destruction and drunkenness. Desperation.
In fact, the tag line on the Easy Rider film poster in 1969 read: “A man went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere.” And Steinbeck, in Travels with Charley: In Search of America, declares, “I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found,” as he acquires the Wolfean knowledge that You Can’t Go Home Again.
I like the way the road can be the catalyst for self-inquiry, how William Least Heat-Moon in Blue Highways discovers: “I had learned what I had wanted to know because I hadn’t known what I wanted to know. But I did learn what I didn’t know I wanted to know.”
Road narratives are imbued with a search for what may not be found. They’re a desire not to leave, but to leave something behind. And because it’s a genre derived from the Western, a chord of violence or its threat trembles at least once within each narrative: Thelma and Louise. Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing (or The Road). Don DeLillo’s Americana. More recently, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Mary Miller’s The Last Days of California.
But it’s not all threat and edge. It’s also contemplative, ruminative. And for Virginia Woolf, a haunting—“For if we could stand there where we stood six months ago, should we not be again as we were then?”—just one of the questions she poses in “Street Haunting: A London Adventure.” The road narrative offers side roads we never intended, but find. For this reason, it is essayistic.
I worried announcing the special Sundog Lit issue as simply “Roads” would invite either clichés or Kerouac imitations, and I’m invested in the ways in which writers modify, innovate, and deconstruct conventions (essay and road). So I wondered, “What would imply a voice of distance, of then/now, here/there, Wolfean/Woolfean wisdom?” And then I had it: “(Letters from).”
- Some people claim every essay is an experiment, given the root word assay, or “to try.” So what, in the current state of the literary essay, makes an essay experimental?
The essay foregrounds thought, what Phillip Lopate refers to as “an intuitive, groping path” which, paradoxically, is carefully crafted by the writer. The essay is a sleight of hand.
So in that way, the experiment is the reader’s—we start reading, and we don’t know where we’re going, and we hope to be taken aback by what we find. What did Eric LeMay say on this blog not long ago? Oh, yes: “An essay, by its very nature, isn’t finished by an essayist; it’s finished by a reader.”
As to the experiment of the “(Letters from) the Road” issue: I’m seeking essays, first person fiction, prose poems, photographs, and digital work in order to usurp genre with mode and create an essayistic issue.
For example, one of my favorite journals is Smokelong Quarterly because each story takes essayistic turns. Some examples: Kevin Sampsell’s “True Identity,” Jeff Landon’s “Thirty-Nine Years of Carrie Wallace,” and Jennifer A. Howard’s “Amateur Trailmaking for $1600.”
I recently discovered Anders Carlson-Wee on a night when he read his poems to a hushed room, and I whispered out loud with awe: “Those are essays.”
So my aim for the issue is to expand and extend the idea of “essay” beyond the boundaries of genre.
- Which do you like better, Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” or the Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?”
I am more (“Whiskey River”) Willie than I ever will be Beatle, that’s for sure, but this is an excellent opportunity to highlight the tone of Sundog Lit, a journal that “publishes writing that scorches the earth.”
So if you’re not familiar with the “rusty-nail” writing Sundog Lit publishes, listen to Paul McCartney wail “Let’s Do It In the Road”—his voice a rage, a ruin, the last mile of a day-long, desert-heat drive.
May 30, 2014 § 1 Comment
Joan Wilking discusses the origins of her recent Brevity essay, “Too Soon“:
There are moments in life that follow you. They linger on the edges of your day-today, unexamined, never expressed, yet always there, a little ache that never goes away. So you learn to live with that hidden bit of pain until something occurs, which compels you to reach into yourself and make something more concrete out of it. In my case it was a death. That’s where my essay “Too Soon” comes from, that place of unspoken pain and probably a dose of guilt as well that writing and publishing the piece has forced me to examine while still trying to hold it close, even though it’s now out there in the world for anyone who cares to read.