November 17, 2017 § 3 Comments
Chicago, IL—Slag Glass City, a nonfiction literary journal of the urban essay arts, announces a special call for submissions: Dear City: The Urban Epistolary. Nonfiction prose, photography, and hybrid works submitted for this call are accepted from November 15, 2017—February 15, 2018.
Epistolary essays selected for publication by the 2018 editorial board will be published in the online journal and promoted broadly, as well as considered for publication in the annual miniature print edition.
We seek: creative nonfiction essay-letters addressed to-or-from your city, and/or letters of exchange between cities. Although all essays should inhabit the form and/or intention of an actual letter, Slag Glass City welcomes fresh takes and variations including: mosaic, montage, photographs, soundscape, drawing, image + text, video, audio, and/or hybridity. We have no length requirements and will consider prose from short-short/flash to longform.
Submit all work to our special submission portal: https://tinyurl.com/SlagGlassCity-DearCity. (Visual artists should submit low resolution samples, or contact us to share work too large for the Submittable portal.)
We are open to any perspective on cities, for better-or-worse, from praise-to-critique, from love-to-protest, from application-to-cease-and-desist, and anything in-between. We seek:
Essay-Letters FROM YOUR CITY. For instance: Dear America, This is how it feels to be underwater. Love, Houston. OR Dear President, Would you drink this water? Love, Flint.
Essay-Letters TO YOUR CITY. For instance: Dear Orlando, We are still grieving. OR Dear Dubrovnik, Here is how you heal me.
Epistolary Exchanges BETWEEN CITIES or between people in cities. Collaborative essays are welcome.
Regular submissions are still open October-June. Slag Glass City considers nonfiction prose, graphic narrative, video, audio, soundscape, photography, mixed media, or any other form of essay arts. The prose cannot be previously published, including on author blogs, but visual art may appear on artist’s sites. We are unable to pay contributors, but artists retain all rights, we promote widely, and all work published stays “in-print” online.
Slag Glass City— www.SlagGlassCity.org —is a magazine of essay arts, textual burlesque, and post-industrial forms, edited by Barrie Jean Borich. Published at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, we are an international creative nonfiction and multidisciplinary media journal engaged with sustainability, identity, and art in urban environments. The living city is broken and blooming. How will our roof gardens grow?
November 17, 2017 § 2 Comments
By Melissa Cronin
Some Bright Morning I’ll Fly Away, by Alice Anderson, is not only a telling of a battered woman’s storm-ravaged life, it’s also a story of redemption, resilience, survival, and a reclamation of one’s true self in face of one trauma after another. The cascade of events begins with her father, whose sexual abuse of his four-year-old daughter continues through her school age years. Just as she finds her “soul-deep” place while in college, Anderson is thrown airborne from her scooter by a rogue car. She sustains critical injuries, her long recovery whiplashed by endless setbacks, convincing her to drop out of college. At her mother’s urging, Anderson attempts to re-fashion herself into a model in Paris. But six months later she’s had enough, and returns to school. Her life is blown sideways once again when Hurricane Katrina blasts through Mississippi, where she lives in an upscale neighborhood with her physician husband, Liam, and their “sweet three,” as she so tenderly refers to her children. Their home was the only one remaining intact, missed by what Anderson describes as “the wrath of the twister.”
But the most epic flood of all is just beginning. In the wake of Katrina, Liam’s OCD and alcoholism spirals out of control, reaching its high-water mark when he attacks Anderson at knifepoint. To protect her life, and the lives of her children, she finds refuge in a FEMA trailer far from Liam’s fury. For her children’s welfare, for self-preservation, she walks straight into the ensuing wind-whipping legal battles, holds her own in face of a misguided social service system, and powers ahead despite her fearmongering husband, who has threatened to take their children from her and to have her locked up in a psychiatric ward. Scariest of all, is Liam’s Plan B threat: “I’ll kill you. Without a second thought.”
Anderson’s moment-by-moment detailing of her husband’s violence, the kind seen in psychological thrillers, drove me to question why I couldn’t, wouldn’t, seek shelter from the book, why I continued reading, page after page, late into the night and, yes, even while out for a walk.
I was committed to the book because I have a personal interest in traumatic memoirs of this nature. In the memoir I’m currently completing, I write about the personal trauma I experienced when an older driver confused the gas pedal for the brake and mowed down dozens of us at a farmers’ market fourteen years ago. The book, which is about how I take back my life after sustaining severe physical and emotional injuries, is not always uplifting. And there are stories of how the crash affected others: survivors, the dead, the driver himself. Brighter moments do lend meaning to the narrative: finding consummate love for instance. But it took me a long time to figure how to paint the page with such levity. As perverse as it is, people have a morbid curiosity for the tragic; I assumed my readers would possess the same macabre inclination. But I quickly learned, after reading lots of memoirs, and receiving feedback from editors and writing mentors, that levity is essential to traumatic narratives. Buoyancy gives us space to breath, to re-align ourselves, offering us enough emotional reserve to keep reading.
So how does Anderson do it, deliver disaster relief among all wreckage? A stellar, award-winning poet, she sings from the page with intoxicating beauty. When referring to her children, she writes, “Sweet three attached like sequins.” Later, she notes how they “smell like starlight and sugar cookies and sing like birds filling blue skies.” And while in court, her friends and family on her side, we are on her side, afraid with her as she describes her interior world, “I was moving through fog akin to shifted night sugar.”
More than her poetic finesse, Anderson’s humor is priceless, the way she rouses laughter with her Mississippi dialect: “Doesn’t that seem a little … down the bayou of batshit crazy?” she asks when another model tells Anderson the owner of the agency for which they work is a big-wig oil trader.
There’s no arguing that Anderson endures untold devastation equal in destruction to Hurricane Katrina. Yet, from deep within the wreckage, she digs up the remaining scraps of her broken life and, piece-by-splintered-piece, recycles them into “dazzling scaffolding”—a gift really, one she leaves for us to unwrap in the very first sentence of the prologue: “We make chapels of our scars.”
Melissa Cronin is a freelance journalist and author. Her work has appeared in publications such as The Washington Post, The Jerusalem Post, Narratively Magazine, Saranac Review, River Teeth Journal, Under the Gum Tree, and Intima. She is currently completing a memoir. Melissa holds a BS in Nursing from Boston University and an MFA in creative nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
November 16, 2017 § 4 Comments
When you’re wandering the aisles of the local megastore, already tired of Christmas carols you’ve been hearing since Halloween…it’s time to pop in those earbuds and enjoy the latest Brevity Podcast.
Stream the show right from this post, or click over to iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. If you’re subscribed, we’ll show up in your podcast app queue. And wherever you listen or download us, please take a moment to leave a brief review–it helps us show up in searches and recommendations.
Episode #7 features an interview with Kristen Arnett, author of Felt In The Jaw, on debut authorship, the value of literary social media, and how she got her beloved agent. We also continue our mini-series on conferences with on-the-spot chats from speakers and participants at the Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference.
Show notes and links to people, places and things we’ve discussed are below. Next episode, we’ll be talking all things submissions with JoBeth McDaniels, Geeta Kothari, Erika Dreifus, Irene Landsman and a few more Hippocampers.
Show Notes: Episode #7 People and Books
Find out more about recording your own work
Submit your One-Minute Memoir to Brevity
Lisa Ko’s The Leavers
Terry Heyman’s The Kushner Family Passover Haggadah in McSweeney’s and A Letter to the Woman In Whose Body I’ve Lived For 38 Years, From Her Period at The Higgs Weldon
Rebecca Fish Ewan’s By the Forces of Gravity
Memoirists Anonymous: Turning Trauma Into Narrative was led by Laurie Jean Cannady
I Remember: Unlocking Memories to Lay the Foundation of Your Memoir was led by Jamie Brickhouse
Additional music, Later Fruits, thanks to Axletree via freemusicarchive.org
November 15, 2017 § 4 Comments
By Sonya Huber
As many essayists and memoirists know, poets often stroll into nonfiction and bowl a perfect strike, knocking us all over like so many bowling pins. Kelly Davio’s skill as a poet is in full effect in the pages of her new essay collection, It’s Just Nerves: Notes on a Disability. She’s underselling with that word “notes,” as each of the twenty-five essays contained here is a miracle of compression. And as the best poems and essays do, these works pull upward and outward with taut energy, connecting specific experiences and resonant details to overarching themes relevant to any reader who happens to live in a body.
As someone whose body is also awry, I dove into this collection hoping to find that special sanity that comes from having one’s reality reflected in the experience of another. Although my rheumatoid arthritis is different from Davio’s condition, I am pulled toward memoirs and essays of illness and disability because it feels like these authors are engaged in a collective project of understanding and analyzing the way ableism functions. Davio’s essays delivered even more than I’d hoped, opening outward and inward.
Davio’s progressive neurological condition, myasthenia gravis, is named in the book’s epigraph, but that physical state is referenced in a circling, round-about way in the essays themselves. With a balance of intimacy and intellect she brings the reader immediately into the most urgent dilemmas that refract from that condition, dilemmas that reflect on all bodies and especially female bodies, such as the pressure to be “strong and healthy,” the ever-present question about one’s reproductive choices, the monitoring of appearance, food, and clothing, and even the way we think and use our senses.
Although I have delved into the pain experience, I realized in reading this collection that it’s still quite easy to detach from the actual fact of my body, spinning out into abstraction untethered from flesh. For Davio, the sensory and physical world is ever-present, but also intimately connected to larger issues and ideas.
There’s an essay that emerges entirely from the smell of old books and raises itself to the question of which bodies enjoy the experience of being the “default” in our cultures. The last two sections of the book dashes headlong through topics as varied as Kylie Jenner, David Bowie, oxygen tanks, Empire, mindfulness, and a range of other topics, leaving the reader wondering what Davio cannot do. The final essay, “Loss Report,” manages to knit the collection together and offer yet another lens through which to view the whole collection.
Experiences as a patient—both here and abroad—provide a fascinating window into healthcare as experienced by the female body. I found myself wishing that the collection’s longest essay, “Our NHS: One Sick American in England’s National Health System,” might appear in a high-profile venue like Harper’s or The Atlantic, as it provides a valuable and relevant look into the challenges and benefits of a government-funded healthcare system as experienced by someone with a reference point outside of that system—especially important as we watch the collapse of a funding system here in the United States.
Compressed description and an eye for resonant detail are paired with endings that arrive almost before you expect them, with observations that cut to the quick and echo long after each essay reaches its close. One essay in the collection, “The Service of Lesser Gods,” manages to weave together the risks of a major surgery, wool socks, the poetry of Wallace Stevens, and Davio’s religious upbringing, all into a stunning four and a half pages that ascends into an ending that leaves the reader entirely clear on the connection among all of these themes and slightly breathless. Davio makes it look easy, so I asked myself whether I could do a similar exploration of Catholicism, the rheumatoid disease running through the family line and striking one of my aunts in the convent, the way faith is entwined with a kind of reverence for suffering? And in four pages? I’d have to walk away from that challenge.
The writing community comes up in more than a few pieces, including one disturbing instance in which Davio, while walking with a cane, is assaulted at the sprawling book fair of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference. As in other essays, Davio hovers with precision on the moment after that impact, asking the reader and herself to reflect on the gap between what we expect of each other and what we deliver. Her persistent probing raises the question of whether we as writers are so immersed in our own text and world-building that we may fail to engage with the embodied people around us. And part of me wants nothing more than to have this essay read on the stage at the next AWP book fair, though many disabled writers have decided that the barriers in attending the conference are too great.
As with the best of essay collections, the writer’s voice is the persistent presence that unites the pieces. The dry humor contained in these pages both cuts and delights. In each essay, Davio’s dry wit skewers the assumption that she might be considered a disabled “inspiration” for abled people because of her health condition, and in the next moment her vulnerability and intellect offer the reader so much more.
Rather than aiming to transcend her body or to be sanctified by physical challenges, she freely admits that the body reveals the self, and she lays bare her experience at the intersection of body and mind in the service of essaying, thinking, reflecting, and connecting.
Sonya Huber is the author of five books, including Opa Nobody, Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir, and the new essay collection Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System. She teaches at Fairfield University, where she directs the low-residency MFA program.
November 1, 2017 § 5 Comments
By Dinty W. Moore
Here at Brevity, we’ve known Michael Perry — humorist, radio show host, recidivist memoirist, volunteer firefighter, and intermittent pig farmer — for more than twenty-years, before he wrote his first wonderful memoir, Population: 485- Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time. He graced Brevity early on, back when we had around ten readers, with his essay “Boat People,” and, shucks, we just love the guy.
And now he was written the alarmingly thoughtful (but still funny) Montaigne in Barn Boots and we thought, “Geezus Weezus, let’s interview him already.” So we did:
1. Do you entirely believe Montaigne? You fill the readers in on his extreme wealth, the constant tutoring, and the trailing zither players, but does knowing of this extreme privilege ever lead you to doubt his sincerity? I mean, really, the guy was a prince.
In the main, I don’t doubt his sincerity. But he must still be read through a lens that corrects for parallax.
For starters, there is no getting around the fact that he was an uber-privileged rich male European dude. He was furthermore, as the excuse and epithet has it, “a man of his times.” There was mitigation in the fact that his wealthy father chose poor villagers to be Michel’s godparents, and then sent him to live in a small cottage with paupers for the first few years of his life. This didn’t likely do much for the peasants and comes with its own set of problematic assumptions, but the fact remains that his father wanted him to confront his privilege, and take that privilege into account when dealing with others. That he shouldn’t be blithe about it. This is reflected in much of Montaigne’s writing, and some of his insights outside of his class are powerful, including the way he addresses ethnocentric bigotry in his essay “On Cannibals,” and how he used his experience as a judge to write bluntly of how little hope those trapped in poverty have for true justice. So, yep: Super-privileged, but capable of useful self-examination. None of this means you’d have wanted to be his manservant. Or his maid.
Montaigne also openly admitted his honesty had practical limits. That you can’t serve princes and tell only the truth. Others have noted that for all his self-revelation, he tends to describe personal faults that place him in the lovable goofball category. More troubling things may have been left in the dark. But even this tendency I have tried to leverage, for instance, by writing about my comical absentmindedness in contrast with the fact that for my wife, the cumulative effects of my behavior are not comical at all. There is no punchline.
I also believe–and hoo boy am I under-weaponized and in over my head here–that he never completely showed his hand regarding the Catholic church. One gets the sense that he was covering his bases.
- As you mention in your “Shame” chapter, Montaigne once wrote that “our life is part madness, part wisdom.” Is that still true in the age of Trump, or has madness finally won the day?
Well, I’ve lately been reading Voltaire, and he fashions a frame that fits a little too easily around our daily news. It seems we are deep into the golden age of gas-lighting. I come from blue-collar roots. Tend to kick my foot in the dirt and be all diffident. Properly so, in most instances. But there’s a huge gulf between being ignorant (as I am, to great depth, and across vast expanses) and proudly ignorant. I love big ol’ pickup trucks, but they wouldn’t be the same if some European polytechnic math whiz hadn’t worked out that whole turbocharger thing. I dunno. I know what it is to be condescended to in certain artful circles because I deign to pay half the mortgage telling cow jokes. But the effects of anti-intellectualism are insidious and currently flowering up in big fat rot-blossoms. That’s why I spend time in the book exploring the great debt non-academic me owes the academy. Sticking up for the perfessers. It’s so hard not to sound preachy, and I’ve had enough of that for a lifetime. But lately–including this week down at the fire hall–I have taken to reminding some of my buddies, “Them founding fathers we all hear so much about? They were farmers who studied French philosophy.” In the end, I don’t know if madness has won the day, but what Montaigne teaches me is I’ll be double-damned if I’ll let it win me.
- Do you think Montaigne, if he had been born in rural Wisconsin, could have raised chickens?
In fact he did have chickens. And pigs. Alain de Botton reckons Montaigne’s frankness about sex came from watching barnyard critters doing it (Mr. de Botton would want you to know that is a paraphrase, not a direct quote). Key difference is, I doubt Montaigne cleaned his own chicken coop. Speaking of rural Wisconsin, it is a pinnacle achievement of my literary life that the cover of the book features the great philosopher/essayist wearing a blaze-orange ear-flapper cap, standard issue around these parts come late November so as to keep you from being shot by some rifle-toting roughneck mistaking a sixteenth-century philosopher for a deer.
- The book is funny, of course, because that’s who you are, but to be honest, I was surprised how spiritual it became, and in the end, how positive. It made me feel as if I could be a better person. Were you surprised as well?
I was raised in an obscure fundamentalist Christian sect. These days I’m a bumbling agnostic with traces of amateur existentialism. I ain’t lookin’ for trouble, I’m just lookin’. But despite where I’m at now, and despite the profound misrepresentation of Christ’s spirit and intent by those who wield the Gospels like a cudgel dipped in spit and fear, my “fundamentalist” childhood was filled with love, peace, songs, and joy. These were (and are) people of charity and humility. So my enduring yearning for spiritual ties doesn’t come as a surprise to me. It’s always there. I’m just wary of where it leads, and how much good it does in the face of all the blow torches and barbed wire. And that tricky bit where faith transmutes into an abdication of responsibility for our neighbors, or for that matter, our own behavior. Or the behavior of our leaders.
In the book I quote former Black pentecostalist Ashon Crawley on the joy black gospel music still brings him, and I quote Bill Friskics-Warren on how Johnny Cash navigated his own contradictions of doubt and belief, of rectitude and misbehavior. Even when we leave our faith–even as we wallow in our contradictions–we trail the threads of that prayer rug. Even if I no longer buy the whole program, I am open to the idea of my insignificance. To the hope of being lifted up by something bigger, something purer, something more timeless, than I. In the end, even this ragged spirituality is a form of hope, and as grim as I find things to be, I want to fight for hope to the very end. Even if it’s only making one more ambulance call. Or sticking up for one more persecuted person. Even if I’m throwing cotton candy at a steamroller.
October 19, 2017 § 12 Comments
When I teach a workshop, I like to audiotape it. Partly so I can send the recording to the class, which takes some of the stress off taking notes and lets everyone participate a little bit more. But also because ItalkamillionmilesanhourifIdon’tstopmyself.
The same thing applies to readings–when I head up for the podium, I leave my phone voice recorder running at my seat. After, I can listen–did I pause in the right places? Was there audience laughter I didn’t make room for? Often, just glancing back at my chair, seeing the phone there, reminds me slow down. Take a breath.
It’s valuable to listen to our own voices. Find out how long that piece really is with audience reactions in it. See if we really sound like a dork (spoiler: usually no). If the recorder is in the audience, it often picks up the kind of supportive murmurs and agreement breaths listeners make when we’re enjoying a story. Those noises aren’t always easy to hear in the moment, when we’re stressed about getting through a piece. And it’s always awesome to re-listen to applause.
As well as being a great tool to improve our own reading, there are places to submit audio stories. The Drum is a fantastic audio literary magazine, and Story Club specializes in nonfiction performance, with the author setting the text after a live show. The Brevity Podcast will be calling for One-Minute Memoirs next week. For all of these, you don’t have to be an audio whiz, but a few simple tricks will help you sound your best.
Check your phone. Phones usually record better than computers if you’re not using a separate microphone, and you probably have a native Voice Memos or Voice Recorder app. On most phones from the last three years, the built-in mic is good enough to get decent live-audience audio, and decent-to-good private taping. Look up where the mic is physically located on your phone, and point that end toward the reader. Try a couple of test recordings to see how close you want to hold it to your face–usually 4-6 inches away is good.
Check your app. On my iPhone, the Voice Memos app keeps going even when the screen locks or if I open another app. But when I’m doing more sophisticated recording with a plug-in microphone and an app called Motiv, the recording stops if the screen goes dark. I found that out the hard, embarrassing, can-I-please-interview-you-again way. Now I turn screen lock to “never” and put the phone in airplane mode. Some phones also stop recording if someone calls or texts. Find out for sure–or just put it in airplane every time.
Pad your space. Recordings are better with less echo. In a public reading, this is out of our control. Setting the phone on a wooden or plastic surface is better than a metal folding chair (they give a slight echo), but it’s not going to make a huge difference for personal recordings. If you’re taping for submission–like, say, the upcoming Brevity call for One-Minute Memoir–test the first paragraph in a couple of spaces to see what sounds best. Rooms with carpet, lower ceilings, and soft furniture work best. Walk-in closets are great. In a pinch, I record in my car (parked and turned off, until it gets so hot I have to take a break) or with a blanket or towel over my head. (Table fort, anyone?)
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I always bobble on a few words the first time I read an essay aloud. Plus, speaking into the recorder affects my pace. I try to tape a reading at least three times. Even if I can’t edit, I can at least pick the best take.
Whether you post or submit your work, or just listen for your own edification, taping is a great way to see how you sound. Often, extra lines or awkward phrases jump right out from the audio, or we instinctively smooth out a sentence as we speak it. Why not give it a test run? We’re hoping to hear from you soon, and we’ll tell you how and what next week!
October 17, 2017 § 12 Comments
Sometimes it’s all about brevity. Other times, the writing practice is all about length. Fifty thousand words in thirty days, to be exact.
Yes, coming up in November is the annual National Novel Writing Month–NaNoWriMo. If you’re not already familiar with it, the goal is to blaze through a first draft of 50K words, in one month. There are online forums for checking in and discussing your work, and timed “sprints” on social media. Many cities have in-person meetups to sit and write. And a fair number of agents dread December, when inexperienced writers send out their newly completed “novel” without realizing there are a few more steps between getting the idea on paper and a submission-ready manuscript.
NaNo has its fans, and for good reason: it’s a great way to start a habit if writing more frequently is your goal; online support is everywhere; and joining a regional group can be a way to connect with writers you didn’t know you lived near. But there are plenty of detractors. Jim Breslin blogged about his experience in 2010:
During Nanowrimo, I’ve tended to breeze through certain points because I’m trying to make my word count. For me, slow and steady may prove to be a better way to win the race.
My most successful NaNo experience was a few years ago, when I joined the Mumbai online group–I was heading to India at the end of November and thought it would be nice to know some writers before I got there. I didn’t finish a novel, but I met some terrific people, taught some workshops, and still love having a tenuous connection to that literary community.
Whether the idea of whipping through that many words in that short a time appeals to you or not there are some useful takeaways from the NaNo process.
What writing pace suits you? NaNo is all about speed, sometimes at the expense of craft. Breslin quotes another blogger quoting Kurt Vonnegut:
…there are “swoopers” and “bashers.” Swoopers can write a first draft quickly, where bashers tend to plod along slowly, perfecting each sentence, each paragraph as they go. Marc identifies himself as a basher and makes a valid argument on why Nanowrimo is really an event for swoopers. I’ve come to believe my style is also more basher than swooper, and that my next attempt should be written away from the Nanowrimo playing field.
I’m a basher. I also tend to write the first third, then the ending, then fill in the middle of a novel, not necessarily in order. At some point I make an outline and figure out what’s missing. I polish and edit as I go. NaNo is often better suited to writers who, as Alice’s King of Hearts suggests, “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
What could you accomplish in a focused time over a number of days? We all love workshops, conferences and residencies. As well as community and a setting conducive to focused work, it’s also focused time. By setting numerical goals, whether that’s word count or chapters or number of submissions, for a specific period, we feel a little more obligated to get to the page–and a little more entitled to stay there, despite laundry, spouses, and children calling our names. We’re not just dicking around with that writing thing we do, we’re working on something.
How much prep do you need? Just as NaNo’s word-count goal gives us a target to reach in a hazy process, it’s also a reason to think through our plans. The most successful participants are often those with a detailed outline, a substantial pile of research, and a focused idea as of November 1st. The act of preparing for the run can help solidify ideas, think through plots, consider which incidents to include in a memoir. The decision to participate brings our work to mind more regularly, then gives us a deadline to shift from preparation to the creation stage.
Whether you’ve got NaNoWriMo coming up or plain old November, it might be worth setting out a project with specific goals and a dedicated time. Maybe send out X number of submissions, or revise a set number of pages. Read a group of books you’ve been meaning to get to, and boldly give away the ones you don’t like after all. If you like the community aspect, pair up with a writer buddy who’s got a project of their own. If you need accountability, enlist a friend of iron will to report to when you hit a milestone, or plan rewards for your accomplishments.
Whatever you plan, pick something with an end you can tick off when you get there and feel satisfied. That’s the real strength of participating in NaNoWriMo: you know when you’re done.