I Am A Genius Writer In The Night Hours As Proven By These 3 AM Ruminations Gifted By The Muse And Recorded On My Notes App

February 1, 2017 § 13 Comments

zsarahbroussardweaverBy Sarah Broussard Weaver

When I wake in the night to pee, I am often blessed by thoughts that are, quite frankly, genius-level. They just flow into my brain like manna from Heaven. I must then decide whether or not to blind myself by unlocking my brightly backlit phone and jotting them in my Notes app.

Sometimes I choose to spare my eyeballs, and the world loses these priceless ruminations. I apologize for my failings in this area, and to make up for it, I am sharing some of my actual notes, which are mind-blowing and may make the world implode when they are released, pure and unadulterated, into so many minds at once.

These are presented just as they flowed down to me, so they are perfect and not misspelled or otherwise flawed. Respect the Muse. If you use any as a writing prompt, please send a small token of your gratitude. I do accept PayPal.

  1. In those nights if waking sweating and shoving off blankets to be turned cold and shivering
  2. Ideas for what happened to trumps something
  3. Dad is missing link
  4. Brain doesn’t make connections roads maps oh how did we end up here?
  5. Trump America rules- dead rat hair sexiest
  6. It’s quite right then I something it’s kind of right that something it’s not right at all that something
  7. Here comes a jelly roll all dressed up and ready to go
  8. Adraid of world never been in by hone school
  9. Things I’m surprised the president has not gotten defensive about- hair etc
  10. potato chip walls
  11. Beautiful names for ugly things bluebottle fly cabbage rose opposite?
  12. Lit critmy life
  13. Maybe c mixed with bup and sert
  14. Leaky vessel making drops of life
  15. I can’t tell how much is passing I keep staring at my burge
  16. He says affected him sleepingly
  17. This busy world writing is what makes me know what I think, because I think these things and I don’t have anyone to say them to for everyone is busy and we’re all busy really that my notebook or laptop is always there when I have time to try to figure out what it is that makes us human or that makes me long for thaT

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Sarah Broussard Weaver’s essays have been published in Hippocampus, Full Grown People, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Bitter Southerner, among others. She graduated last month from University of Portland, and is now a nervous MFA applicant who refreshes her email too often. Find her at sbweaver.com or tweet her @sarahbweaver.

Why I Write Personal Essays

January 24, 2017 § 9 Comments

By David Bersell

After Major Jackson

zz-david-bersell-headshotBecause I relate to Kanye West.

Because I am not a rapper.

Because I am not a comedian.

Because I am not a poet.

Because I am like you.

Because you are special, but your loneliness isn’t.

Because a tornado pulled me from my mother’s arm and I learned to fly.

Because AOL Instant Messenger and The Real World killed music videos and newsprint on fingers, on tongue.

Because my war was watching towers fall.

Because trees are beautiful.

 

Because Joan Didion is a fox.

Because I am where antique-green water meets mud, the in-between.

Because please, because thank you.

Because the train rumbles past my house every day. I used to pause when the walls started shaking, but now I know I am safe.

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David Bersell is the author of The Way I’ve Seen Her Ever Since (The Lettered Streets Press) and Nashville Notebook (forthcoming from Ursus Americanus Press). He is from New Hampshire and lives in Brooklyn.

A Writing Life, Despite

January 16, 2017 § 9 Comments

zz_nina_bw_02smallBy Nina B. Lichtenstein

A few years ago I took a fancy-schmancy aptitude test in an elegant historic brownstone in Boston. I had just completed my PhD in French lit, and had fast come to realize that a little “portfolio diversification” would be wise, considering French departments were shutting down across the nation, and that to each job opening there were typically 400+ applicants; this regardless if it was for a tenure-track or a contingent faculty position, or if it was in Muskogee, Oklahoma or at a small New England private college where I had envisioned myself growing old amidst the climbing ivy and quintessential campus quad.

I decided it would be worth the rather steep price for the two-day testing with a follow-up session deciphering the results, because as long as my work could involve writing of some sort, I was committed to keeping an open mind to options beyond academia. I wanted, or hoped, to leave with some proof on paper of other useful abilities of mine that I could combine with writing. What if I was really cut out for being a dairy farmer or social worker instead and just didn’t know it? The idea intrigued me as much as it horrified me. While I was afraid to learn things I was not prepared for, I also needed to find out that I hadn’t come this far for no reason.

After two days of intense testing, I left with one big, strange new word in my pocket: Ideaphoria: “An experience where one feels a constant onslaught of new ideas, creating a euphoric state of idea creation.” I, however, remain convinced that this term is just nice talk for ADD, the state of mind that can be both a blessing and a curse.

I know that this “diagnosis” might be a common problem among writers: Many of us keep generating neat ideas for essays and short stories, and we sit ourselves down, like Anne Lamott tells us to, butt in chair, and begin to write with enthusiasm and energy, only to find that after the second or third paragraph, we open another document, feeling urgently the need to move on to the next exciting idea, of which several have revealed themselves by association as we were writing. Enthused anew like a butterfly in its mid-morning ecstasy on a mild summer day, fluttering from flower to flower in an instinctive and euphoric search of the sweet nectar, we move on.

The problem is, of course, that few things are completed this way for humans looking to develop their vocation as a writer.

I can tell you that this ideaphoria thing feels like being high, and when it hits I run as if airborne to my computer where my fingers dance on the keyboard while I float, gleefully, like I’m catching an exhilarating ride on the wings of a butterfly. However, contrary to the butterfly who might be rescuing a colony of pupae, or ensuring the continuity of a genus of wild roses as it moves on to the next source, my fluttering remains just that: a sweet but brief lingering among fertile but incomplete paragraphs that cannot and will not develop unless I pollinate them consistently and with conviction. The result is that I have countless folders of undeveloped barely begun stories.

Just now, for example, I feel an immense and uncomfortable restlessness because since I sat down this morning and began writing this piece, I have a new, brilliant, and urgent idea for a blog post. I also thought of a pitch for “Israel Story,” the Israeli version of “This American Life,” that I simply must pursue, like now. Waiting until I’m done here feels like torture. Or masochism, since I don’t have to take it, but do anyway.

But, I will take it this time, because it would be too ironic if I leave this page now.

Since I was born and raised both in a time (1960s-70s) and in a country (Norway) where diagnosis such as ADD and ADHD were neither made nor medicated, I must have taught myself how to adapt and adjust. I recall report cards reading, “Nina disrupts in class and walks around the room without asking permission,” and as a kid I didn’t hide under the covers with a flashlight and book, but roamed my neighborhood in search of curiosities I would get in trouble for exploring.

Somehow, I managed along the way to complete a BA, an MA and then the PHD, requiring no small effort of task completion. I forgot to say that I’m also insanely stubborn and have occasional perfectionistic tendencies: curses in relationships but blessings in the business of finishing a project, although more often the butt out of chair kind, like painting or re-organizing my closet.

I have come to realize that in many ways I’ve learned to navigate this “diagnosis” ever since those early years in Oslo, since although I struggle to bring all the ideas I get so euphoric about to paper, and then onward toward completion, the stubborn part in me enables me to eventually finish a few of them, and send them out into the world. And there is struggle: the frustrations and disappointments from rejections as well as the inevitable self-doubt laced with resignation and self-loathing. But, occasionally it happens, an essay is accepted, and a veil is lifted as I realize I can do it. In fact, this sounds just like what I keep reading a writer’s life is often like.

And nobody said it was going to be easy.

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Nina B. Lichtenstein is a native of Oslo, Norway, and holds a PhD in French literature from UCONN. She has lived, studied/taught, and raised three sons in CT. A fresh empty-nester, she migrated north to Maine to pursue a quiet writing life, which is constantly interrupted (see diagnosis). Her first book Sephardic Women’s Voices: Out of North Africa just came out, and currently she lives in Jerusalem working on a new book project. Some of Nina’s writing lives on her blog https://vikingjewess.com/, and other essays have been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Lilith Magazine, and Literary Mama, among other places.

Collaboration as a Form of Love

January 12, 2017 § 3 Comments

zz-carol-guessBy Carol Guess

The things I can’t do with bodies I can do with words.

The things I can’t do with your body I can do with your words.

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When I was a dancer I stood at the barre, inches from others. During grand battements we leaned in or away so as not to get kicked, or kick someone’s pink shoe.

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I fall a little bit in love with my collaborators, and become angry at them when they leave the page.

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The delight is in wondering what comes next. Preparing, poised, for the bright thing thrown. This has expanded my understanding of what’s possible as well as probable.

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An ex-lover once told me I don’t share very well. But to send someone half a story is to share the best and most vulnerable parts of myself: not just language, but process, interrupted. To stand half-clothed and say, this is what it looks like when I think.

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Secretly I always think their words are better. This means I have to reach for a stronger line.

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Initially, my biggest fear was that collaboration was cheating – that the finished piece would not be mine. That taking credit for it, even shared credit, was stealing. That working alongside another artist would cancel out the pleasure I take in pronouncing, “I made this.”

This feeling was gone by the time I finished the very first poem I wrote in collaboration. It literally disappeared, replaced by delight in the playfulness and surprise of sharing. Because what had been missing from my work for so long was play. After my MFA, after publishing several books, after teaching countless students and mentoring so many young writers, after hoop jumping and the long road to tenure, I was burned out. Writing stopped being fun during my MFA program, and by the time I had tenure around 8 years later, it felt like a chore, like part of my job.

When I began collaborating, I noticed that my writing got funny again. Sound returned, and musicality, but best of all the will to write.

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Collaboration occurs with a gap in time. The risk is in that gap.

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To collaborate is to refine your ambition, angling it so as not to wound the other person.

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With every collaboration, you expose your weaknesses and vulnerabilities to your partner. A good collaborative partner notices these weaknesses, but never alerts you. The best partner views your weaknesses as strengths.

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Collaboration is sexy – give and take, release, the pang of the unexpected.

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When you collaborate, you both create space, and you both create structure, so what emerges, even if you haven’t written it, comes from an atmosphere you had a hand in creating. You learn to take joy in someone else’s success, in their happiness. It’s anti-capitalist. It’s generous. It feels good to want someone else to succeed.

When a collaborator takes a project in a very wrong direction, it can be acutely painful to see your words twisted, especially in relation to aesthetic or political ideologies you don’t believe in.

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Collaboration is easier when you actually like the person.

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Collaborating across identities feels complex, often risky and difficult. Most of my collaborators have come in the bodies of queer creatures, female identified at birth, white and middle class, and this has made identification part of our language. Of course I wonder whether that identification cancels out elements of imagination. What can happen in a collaboration that sets identity in contrast, rather than in control? I’m scared to collaborate across racial lines because my racism – it’s there, you can see it through my skin – will pulse through, and then my collaborator will know the worst things about me. Whatever unconscious beliefs I’m holding will bleed to the surface, and then bloodbath. When I collaborate in a non-queer context, at least so far, I’m surprised by how quickly the standard heterosexual romance narrative shows up. It’s disappointing. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, but I don’t want to teach my collaborators stuff, either. Collaborating is not teaching, not the place for teaching. You need to feel like a peer.

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So far I’ve played it safe with my choice of collaborators, but I’d like to take risks, even if that means mess.

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It’s harder to publish a collaboration than a single author collection, especially in poetry. This doesn’t matter, but I thought you should know.

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Alphabetical order is always the way to go when naming names. We’re not in a lab, no one’s lead author here.

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Working solo, I’m precise. I craft every line, tending to each word, spending weeks, months, years getting the music right. As a collaborator, I have to move fast or I get scared. I think the seams should show. There should be a few loose ends.

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Collaboration is always already happening – with whatever you’re reading, the street you live on, the person who shares your bus or your bed. Talk to someone. Wait for a reply. Let their voice resonate, let collaboration start with listening.

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Carol Guess is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose. A frequent collaborator, she teaches in the MFA program at Western Washington University.

 

 

Yoga and Creative Nonfiction in Costa Rica

January 10, 2017 § 4 Comments

img_1304In addition to writing, editing, and teaching, Creative Nonfiction founder Lee Gutkind is also a devoted yoga practitioner, and Lee plans to share his enthusiasm for both his interests this spring in a Yoga and Creative Nonfiction Immersion in Costa Rica.

Lee, a frequent speaker about the genre of creative nonfiction, has always stressed the need for writers to keep a regular schedule, as he has for decades. “It can be exhilarating, frustrating or exhausting experience — and sometimes all three,” he writes. “My yoga practice helps me reflect on what I have written and prepare for my next writing day.”

The yoga and writing immersion will take place April 8-15 at the Blue Spirit Resort, located on an isolated five-mile beach (also a turtle refuge) along the Pacific. “We will write every day, then discuss the craft of the genre and share our work. There will be daily yoga and meditation sessions.  Not to mention good food and drink,” Lee explains.  “At the end of the week, I am hoping that we have written something we feel good about and that we have established a schedule and a rhythm of work we can follow when we return home.”

Lee will be joined by Sean Conley, a former NFL kicker turned yoga instructor. Conley is author of the book, Amazing Yoga: A Practical Guide to Strength, Wellness, and Spirit.

More information and a registration link can be found on the Amazing Yoga Website.

The Power of Listening to What Your Practice Demands

January 6, 2017 § 13 Comments

franz.pngby Beth Franz

“What do you want to achieve by sending your work out?” Allison K Williams asks this of us in her book, Get Published in Literary Magazines, offering three possibilities for consideration: publication (the reward of seeing your name in print), payment (the reward of money in your pocket), and prestige (the reward of being “taken seriously” by virtue of having made it into a publication of some repute).  As Williams explains, “Thinking about your ultimate big-picture goal helps you choose where to submit.”

I struggled to make it past Williams’s three choices, none of which seemed to quite fit my situation.  Even now, my mind continues to search for my answer to that important question: “What do you want?”  (To make things a little more challenging for myself, I decided to stay with Williams’s preoccupation with the letter P.)  Here are the answers I’ve arrived at:

  • Participation – While writing has always been (and will always be) a way for me to “see” what I am trying to “see,” I want more than that now. I want to find a way to participate in the conversations I see going on around me.  I feel as though I’ve been sitting on the sidelines for years – decades, now – watching the other children around me jumping rope, double Dutch to be specific.  I’ve been studying when children jump in, how they jump in, how they stay in there, when and how they jump out.  I want to take my turn.  I want to jump in.
  • Put it out there! – Of course, in order to participate, I have to first find the courage needed to do so. That’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it?  The longer one waits to take one’s turn when it comes to just jumping in there, the scarier the prospect becomes.  I didn’t know that.  For the longest time, I believed that waiting was making me more prepared.  Perhaps it was . . . to a point.  But there came a point– maybe it was 10 years ago, maybe it was 20 or 30 years ago – a point beyond which the waiting only led to diminishing returns, for I eventually lost my courage to jump in there at all!  To make matters worse, instead of jumping in back in the 1980s or 1990s, when publishing involved primarily printed materials, I kept waiting.  And while I waited, the world changed around me.  I find myself in a new world today, when any piece that is put out there is subject to being responded to right away, in this digital age we now live in, making me even more hesitant to take a position on anything, for fear of the avalanche of responses my writing might trigger!  I have become paralyzed with this fear.  Or, equally paralyzing, I encounter a much more powerful piece that’s already out there, beside which my measly piece pales.  And again, I lose my courage.  I want to find my courage.  I know that the only way I can do that is to put out there what I have, warts and all.
  • Practice – I have long viewed writing as a practice, something that I engage in the way others engage in prayer or meditation or physical exercise. It is a “practice” in that the doing of it is its own reward.  And as is the case with prayer or meditation or physical exercise, the practice of writing also offers collateral benefits that spill over into real life, altering the way I go about the rest of the day’s activities.  But my son has recently made me aware of a facet of “practice” I was not aware of.

My son, who was born a full decade and a half after I started my practice as a writer and who will soon turn 23 is a practicing personal trainer.  He spent four years in college learning about how the body works and what people can do to increase their physical well being.  He recently explained to me that because of the body’s ability to “adapt” to what it is being called on to do, it is important to regularly “adjust” one’s workout.  Otherwise, the body – in its wisdom – adapts so well to what the muscles are being asked to do that they no longer benefit in the same way.  It is as though the body is “too smart for its own good.”  That’s where the personal trainer can help.

My son’s words got me to thinking.  A lot has been written about the practice of writing.  I have been a disciple of both Natalie Goldberg’s “The Rules of Writing Practice” and Julia Cameron’s “The Morning Pages” at different times over the last several decades.  There have even been times when I find myself agreeing with those who claim that the best practice is NOT one in which the writer feels obligated to write every day; rather, the best practice is the one in which the writer learns to listen, deeply, to herself:  to write when she has something to say and to stay silent when she does not.

But what my son’s words helped me realize is that the most beneficial constant in any practice is the practitioner’s willingness to be ever-changing in her approach to her practice.  The dedication has to be to the practice itself, not to the specific form the practice takes at any given time.

Just as the personal trainer must find ways to outsmart the body that knows so well how to “adapt” to the exercises it is being put through, so too must I find ways to outsmart my own writer within, who knows so well how to “play” whatever game she believes I am playing with her.  My practice demands that I find ways to participate, to put out there what writing has enabled me to “see” for myself.

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Beth Franz is a practicing writer and sculptor; a parent, partner, and educator; closer to the age of 60 than she can believe.  She plans on doing everything in her power to become a published writer in 2017.

Write Like You’re Giving Birth

January 2, 2017 § 27 Comments

sandramillerBy Sandra A. Miller

“Write from your guts,” I told my creative nonfiction students on the last day of class. “Don’t ignore the pain. Don’t act like it isn’t there and try tiptoeing around it. You have to write your way through your own dark woods.”

I recalled the excruciating experience of back labor when giving birth to my son. His head was positioned against my lower spine as opposed to the normal, on-top-of-the-cervix way, so whenever a contraction came, instead of him pounding down to open said cervix, his head struck my spinal cord, igniting the nerve center in a ripple of unmitigated agony. After twelve hours of useless back labor, I accepted a drug. “Yes-fucking-please.”

Bam! Ka-Pow!

My cervix went into overdrive and, in one hellish, body-wracking hour, blew open to the requisite ten centimeters, which meant it was time to push the baby out.

But instead of pushing, I stopped. I resisted. I clenched at every contraction, stealing myself against the pain that felt like a reckless trucker was driving his semi through my uterus.

“Push into the pain,” the British midwife urged in a high, clipped I know best voice that left no room for compromise. “When it feels the worst, Sandra, that’s when you must push the hardest.” She had Birkenstocks and long gray hair that would have loved a little Miss Clairol. She was kind, smart, and sensible; I wanted to kick her in the face.

“I don’t know what that even means,” I cried between gasps. “How do I push into the pain?” I actually thought that if I argued enough, I could altogether avoid having the baby.

“It means,” she explained, “that when the contraction is at its worst then you must push the hardest. Don’t shirk from the pain.”

I’ll shirk you! I thought as I felt the onset of a killer contraction and longed to rail against it. How to do this? How do you leave your fingers on the burning stove, or step more deeply onto the tack? How does a person embrace her worst fears and invite more? How does she choose a life of writing pain?

“Now!” the midwife, urged. “Push now!”

I shut my eyes and swallowed back my resistance. With my jaw locked, I pushed my hardest—or so I thought—screaming until tears streaked my face. I did that five more times through five more contractions, the pain so unrelenting that I feared I might die. I pushed as if my life depended on it.

When the baby still didn’t come, the midwife, her face betraying alarm as she watched the monitor, reached for a pair of surgical scissors. “We have to get the baby out now!” she announced. No time to numb me, just the sharp snip of raw flesh like an electric shock on my perineum. My child was in danger. His heart rate had plummeted, and, at that point, only I could save him.

And then, my boy.

Write into the pain, I tell my students. Just when you want to write around the Catholic pretense that hides the abuse, or the sight of your mother in a pink bathrobe dead on her bedroom floor, and how that day, for the first time ever, you touched her cheek and forgave everything; just when you want to ignore the acrid taste of blood, the colorless gray of loss, or the married lover whose forbidden lips, if for only a few minutes in the back of his beat-up Honda Civic, answered every prayer you ever whispered from your lonely bed; just when you want to skip a part because it’s too shameful to remember, then you absolutely have to remember it. You have to feel it wracking your body like a baby that will die if you don’t push now. Sit with each scene until it spins through every pain receptor and is ready to pull you down and drag you back and forth through your longest night, again and again and again.

Because I promise you this: if it doesn’t hurt at least a little, you will never birth your best writing.

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Sandra Miller‘s essays, articles, and short stories have appeared in over 100 publications including The Boston Sunday Globe Magazine, Spirituality and Health, and Glamour Magazine which produced a short film called “Wait” based on one of her personal essays. Kerry Washington starred.

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